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I work for a small creative business of less than a dozen employees, with the founder/owner managing the team as a whole. I manage production, but am only responsible for one employee. This person performs admirably.

The problem is both the owner and the person who is on my team but not one I manage. This person has 4 more years more seniority than I have. They miss work regularly, come in late and take lengthy vacations.

They recently announced they intend on taking more time off. I expressed surprise, as they have recently had a flu and missed a week and have the Christmas vacation to look forward to. These absences have delayed our projects by two weeks already (by my estimate, they’ve taken off 45–50 days off this year. For the record, I’ve taken 6 days off.). They replied that they don’t care and went to the owner.

The owner responded by criticizing me personally. They set ambitious deadlines for my department that I do my utmost to meet. They consistently say they appreciate this, but claim I am stressing out my coworker. They say that I come across as overbearing and want me to apologize to my coworker for stressing them out.

I feel this is personal rather than constructive criticism. Am I wrong?

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    Which country/industry are you in? In the UK, your behaviour could be counted as verging on workplace harrassment. Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 13:49
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    "For the record, I’ve taken 6 days off" Why does that matter? Clearly, the owner is okay with them taking that time off, so it doesn't really matter what you think, especially if you're not their manager.
    – Dnomyar96
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 13:53
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    "miss work regularly, come in late and take lengthy vacations" How are they "missing work"? I assume he is still talking to his boss about it (since the boss has no issues with it), you just are not privy to his situation? You also answered your own question right here - "but not one I manage"
    – Kupo
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 15:08
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    This might come down to what you mean when you say "I expressed surprise". Commented Dec 23, 2022 at 2:51
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    Why is a person you don't manage/not on your team delaying you (and your team?) Who is responsible for managing this dependency? Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 19:09

6 Answers 6

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First, it doesn't matter how many days you have taken off via PTO or sick-leave compared to a coworker. When people are sick or need to take medical leave it's most of the time due to a good reason - and their health/well-being goes first, always. Another possibility could be that they need extra time off to take care of personal/family issues (moving, renovations, divorce, care-taking, etc.).

If the owner (and manager of the team in one person) doesn't see an issue, you shouldn't have confronted your peer with your worries about the delay in the deadline or complained about their attendance.

Instead you should have spoken directly with the owner/manager and should have informed them about the delay due to limited capacity in staff and asked them how to migitate this situation. They are the manager and therfore have the authority to either delay the deadline/milestone or take action such as additional staffing, etc.

"I feel this is personal rather than constructive criticism. Am I wrong?"

We don't know all the details about the altercation you had with your coworker about the described situation, but maybe you were the one that personally offended your colleague somehow and overstepped a boundry in terms of authority and tone. And complaints about soft-skills can be also viewed as constructive criticism in case certain behaviour might lead a toxic situation between colleagues.

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    100% agree that the right approach was to work out the staffing shortage with management, not to lay into the person who needs the time off. If the OP isn't the person's manager, it is definitely toxic for them to be publicly criticizing them over attendance. Wouldn't it be awful to have been so judgmental about them taking time off if it turns out their child had leukemia or they were dealing with something similarly horrible?
    – ColleenV
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 15:18
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    @ColleenV Exactly, since med-info is confidential who knows why they take a lot of leave-days - Could be anything from a chronical headache to worse such as regular clinical cancer treatments or a terminally ill family member that needs intense care-taking..
    – iLuvLogix
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 15:39
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    I'd double up-vote this if I could. If you aren't their manager, you should stay out of it, or at worst gripe to your own manager about any impact this is having on your own work (NOT about why the impact is occurring) so they can consider whether to have you work with someone else or adjust schedules or whatever. Do your own job; let management do theirs, and keep your nose out of other people's management.
    – keshlam
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 17:52
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First off, I can tell from your post that you have a lot of passion and are emotionally invested in your workplace. That can be a great thing, and I don't want to tell you to change that. Let's focus on your concerns, as you've laid them out in your post. BTW, If I missed the mark and did not correctly identify your concerns, please let me know in the comments so that I can correct myself.

You are concerned about project delays

I assume that this concern stems from fears about what will happen if a project gets delayed too much. First, it's important to accept that projects will get delayed due to illness or other circumstances outside of your control. It's inevitable. Make peace with it. Heck, even better than making peace, make contingency plans, if you can.

Anyway, it sounds like you are not being chewed out by your boss for the delays. In fact, you are being praised for giving what is probably more effort than is expected of you. If that's all true, and these delays aren't about to bankrupt the business and cost you your job, then there is no material reason to stress yourself out about it or to strain yourself or others in order to prevent the delays.

If you are actually being chewed out for the delays but just didn't mention it, then you should make a paper trail that explains the cause of the delays (e.g. Employee X was out for 2 weeks, reducing our velocity by N%) and then discuss it with your boss. But, keep that separate from the matter of the feedback you've already gotten.

You are concerned about another person's work ethic

I'm not going to be able to sugarcoat this for you. There are two problematic thought patterns behind this:

  1. You feel compelled to work very hard despite it giving you very little material benefit (all it seems to have done is net you some praise.)
  2. You feel that your coworker is not holding himself to the same standard as you, perhaps you even feel that he is lazy or is getting undeserved preferential treatment.

You should challenge your thinking on these matters. The second item is a good example of crab mentality. Whether or not your coworker has "legitimate" reasons to be late or take lots of vacations should be irrelevant to you unless it is causing you material harm. And, as I said in the section before, that doesn't mean delays; it means you getting (hypothetically) chewed out for delays.

In fact, even though you are middle management, you should still recognize that as an employed worker, you are a sucker if you work yourself harder than what your pay is worth. Praise does not pay the bills. I'm not saying to slack off, but you should understand that if you choose to work harder than what your pay is worth, that's on you.

You are concerned about being perceived as the bad guy, for doing what you think is right

This is totally understandable. You care a lot about your workplace! You want the company's projects to succeed. You have good intentions, no doubt.

There's just one little problem: there are more people on this earth who have this concern than there are people who are in the right in whatever conflict they're concerned about. Sometimes you're the bad guy, sometimes the other guy's the bad guy, sometimes both of you are bad guys, and most often, nobody is the bad guy, you're just well-intentioned people who aren't seeing eye-to-eye. And all of this is based on perspective, not whether someone is right or wrong in their beliefs. Sometimes, well-intentioned people do harm to others without meaning to: for example, a passionate colleague who works much harder than they need to tries to push their sense of passion onto others, and, when it isn't reciprocated, treats the people around them as if their lack of passion is something audacious. That just might get others to perceive them as a source of persecution–a bad guy.

If you don't want to be perceived as a bad guy, then you should take care not to do harm to others, and if you do, sincerely apologize about it–but don't flagellate yourself over it, either. Mature adults will recognize your sincerity and be more willing to work with you to find ways to resolve conflicts. Be sympathetic to others' thoughts and feelings. And, if someone is acting in a way that you can't interpret as being well-intentioned, first question whether you lack some critical information that is preventing you from seeing their good intentions. In general, you could try talking to them or people who know them about your concerns (of course, in a non-judgmental way, preferably even in a roundabout way that doesn't let on that you're suspecting malice.)

In this particular case, though, that ship has sailed, so you're probably better off just taking it for granted that your colleague is well-intentioned, apologize, and move on. Seriously. Even if he's actually a cartoonish jerk who's slacking off just to try to make your life miserable, in this particular case, you missed your opportunity to have a well-intentioned discussion when you expressed surprise to your colleague about them taking more time off. If you want to avoid looking like a bad guy, then you should assume he's not one either, and treat him nicely.

You are concerned about criticism of your personality/personal attitudes being non-constructive

Personality issues are real, lots of people have them, and it all comes down to whether your personality/personal attitudes are causing harm to yourself or others. If they are, then criticizing them can be constructive, especially if the criticism offers advice on how to change your mindset, or ideas on what you could have done differently, or insight into your subconscious motivations behind your behavior. It is what I have been doing in this post.

If you receive negative feedback about your personality or personal attitudes a lot, then you might want to see a therapist about it. I think Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or even better, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, can be useful even when you aren't trying to treat a mental illness. At the end of the day, if your thoughts/feelings are influencing your actions in a negative way, you can use therapy to change your habits. And DBT in particular can even change entire aspects of your personality, for the better. If you feel like these kinds of problems are recurring in your life, I sincerely recommend you consider a therapeutic approach.


Apologies for the verbose post. I hope it was useful to you regardless.

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  • "if you choose to work harder than what your pay is worth" - I feel that a problem with that answer that it assumes that there is some objective worth number can be but on one's efforts, but this is not true, it really depends on the work culture. It is entirely possible to work in a 996 culture and a laid back culture on a similar positions for similar pay and yet put drastically different amount of over-exertion. For each of the cultures those amounts would qualify as normal. Commented Dec 25, 2022 at 20:15
  • @AndrewSavinykh there is an objective worth number, it's called your salary. If your effort leads to your salary's worth of gross income for the business, you have done the work you were paid to do. Anything more and you have been working for free. You can argue whether the market overvalues some kinds of work (which I definitely think it does!) but that is not relevant in the micro-economic scale of your individual workplace's accounting.
    – 2rs2ts
    Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 19:01
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    Rule: Nobody will ever think better of you because you worked unpaid overtime.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 9:52
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    @gnasher729 I don't think that's a hard-and-fast rule, but, it's definitely true in aggregate. In fact, in my experience, there are some people (both workers and managers) who will get worried about you if you work overtime frequently, when not directed to. (And if you are frequently being directed to work overtime, paid or not, you need to find a different job. Both to avoid burnout, and also to defend your economic value as a worker and your dignity as a human being.)
    – 2rs2ts
    Commented Dec 29, 2022 at 19:51
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Am I wrong?

This question is somewhat irrelevant now. It doesn't really matter what anyone else thinks, but it is clear that your boss strongly disagreed with you.

I concur with the main points of the previous answer. The question now is:

What can I do going forward?

It is understandable for you to be upset under these circumstances; it is never pleasant to have difficulties with people at work. Since you don't want to have a repeat of this type of situation, when you are ready, it may be worth it to have a calm conversation with your boss.

If things remain tense for you, you can consider seeking out other opportunities outside your company (update your resume, look at job openings online, talk with colleagues). You don't have to act on them, but you might feel better just knowing that you are not trapped in your current situation.

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The other answers already address why you should mind your business and stop counting coworkers vacation. But I want to add something specifically to your case.

The fact that the owner specifically came to you to criticize that you are overbearing on your colleague strongly hint that they are well aware of the vacation and that it's most likely justified. What that means is that you should let this go, never mention it again ever.

Besides the fact that the vacation is probably well justified, as I said, it really is the owners company and owners money, so not your business. Apologize and immediately stop investigating your coworkers.

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I feel for you. You did what you sincerely thought was right and you didn't mean any harm. In fact, you meant good for the company and the employee too (you don't want him to get in trouble later).

One may say you shouldn't have comment on the application for leave but you did what you thought is right. Your boss shouldn't criticize you on your intention. Your boss should have told you softly that what you did is not what he want and you should change your behavior.

Since you are feeling hurt and you should be, use this as an opportunity to change your behavior. Obviously your boss wants you to be lenient about leave applications, so be lenient. See, he didn't ask you to bring to his consideration any special matters, so don't go to him next time any leave application come to you.

You tried to prevent a loss that you are sure would happen. You are explicitly told to stop doing that. So, stop doing it. If you are right the fall will happen and it will not be your fault. You are not the owner and you will get no financial loss (you will still be paid and you look competitive so you can find other job if this company fail). If you are wrong then no fall will happen and there will be no loss for anyone involved.

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    I don't think the OP is approving the leave applications (they are not the manager of the person in question) Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 7:42
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    This employee is not a direct report to the OP. The OP states the person who is on my team but not one I manage, so they aren't approving the holiday request. Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 18:22
  • "it will not be your fault" won't help - when the extrement hits the rotary impeller, everybody will be unhappy, and you'll be part of the team that's responsible for the problem (best case), or even made the scapegoat (worst case, rarely happens but something always sticks).
    – toolforger
    Commented Dec 25, 2022 at 7:48
  • I agree with the gist of your message here, but the commenters pointing out that OP is not the person approving the vacation are right. I don't want the downvotes to discourage you and your message of kindness, so you should just edit that part.
    – 2rs2ts
    Commented Dec 29, 2022 at 19:56
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Your superior has asked of you to apologize. When you can separate personal from business it gives you advantage in business and dealing with people. Chain of command is strongly encouraged follow your orders apologize it shows professionalism. Your work ethic says everything. In business letting emotions take over you are making it personal. Comparing your accomplishments to a weaker employee shows your allowing your emotions are stronger than logic. I would not take it personal in business i would call it professional to apologize while setting boundaries at the same time.

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    As it’s currently written, your answer is unclear. Please edit to add additional details that will help others understand how this addresses the question asked. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Dec 23, 2022 at 10:00
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    Without wishing to sound mean, this seems to be written in a very general and hand-wavy way. Try to tailor each of the points, that you are trying to make, to the OP's situation. Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 14:57

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