surly coworker resents that he’s in a junior role, parking lot gate wars, and more — Ask a Manager

It’s four answers to four questions. Here we go…

1. Surly coworker resents that he’s in a junior role

Ted and I were in the same PhD cohort at the same university, where we both now teach. However, I am in a senior position to him, having gained significantly more experience in the interim. We’re both on fixed-term contracts, although mine is longer and better-paid. I have an administrative role and research responsibilities, whereas Ted is contracted only to teach—the most junior position available. This semester, I am convening a class. Ted has been allocated to teach a few sessions, which makes me his immediate “line manager” in this realm.

Ted is some years older than me and came from a different career entirely, in which he was quite senior. His old job is relevant to what we both now teach: imagine I’m teaching Sociology of Basket Weaving, and Ted used to be a Senior Basket Weaver. He makes it obvious to everyone around him that he believes his experience makes him far too good for his current position. However, being a Senior Basket Weaver is a completely different skill set to being faculty at a college. Ted doesn’t understand this, and told me that he expected to easily walk into a senior academic job once he finished his PhD by virtue of his previous professional achievements.

The issue is that Ted does not want to do any work on my class and does not hide his disdain about being junior to me. He regularly pushes back when asked to take on work, despite his whole job being to teach classes and mark assignments. When I delivered an introductory lecture for the class and asked him to briefly introduce himself to the students he’d be teaching, he stood up, gave a surly “Yeah, hi,” and sat down again.

I believe the catalyst for this negativity was last month, when I declined to put several of his previously published articles on the reading list for my class. They weren’t relevant, were published in a professional journal (for his old career), not an academic one, and were poor quality. I told him that the reading list didn’t need changing and that I’d be leaving it as is. He began to protest, then just stared at me silently, fuming. After he left, I heard doors slamming upstairs. Even as a fairly burly man myself, I was rattled.

I have tried to reduce Ted’s workload, because I am acutely aware of the hellscape that is early-career university teaching – I’ve done his job myself! I’ve given him pre-written lectures and slides. I’ve also taken over some of the teaching responsibilities that were allocated to him by departmental management.

My managers know about Ted’s attitude, but aren’t aware of the issues I’m having with him. I have a good relationship with them and I know they would back me up (one commented that Ted is not adjusting well to his new lack of seniority and that I am the “boss” so I shouldn’t broach any BS and should go to them with any problems) but I don’t want to go above his head. However, dealing with this kind of attitude problem is quite literally above my pay grade and I am increasingly uncomfortable around Ted. I also hate confrontation. Should I just meet him and ask directly what’s going on?

You need to talk to your managers. I know you said you don’t want to go over Ted’s head, but I guarantee you that they’d want to know what’s happening; in fact, they’ve already told you that, and by keeping them in the dark (and also by doing work they’ve assigned to Ted) you’re pretty directly undermining their ability to manage your department, even though that’s not your intent. Think of this way: If you had any other serious work problem that was significantly interfering with your ability to do your job and causing you to do work that your boss believed was being handled by someone else, and you lacked the authority to solve it on your own, wouldn’t you loop in your boss? And if you didn’t, wouldn’t your boss rightly be annoyed if they found out about it later?

And Ted doesn’t deserve this kind of protection from you! This is a person who’s openly surly to you and the students he’s teaching and slams doors after meeting with you (!). If he’s like this with you, what is he like with students? Or with others who might not have the same invitation from your boss to report it? Tell your bosses what’s going on. You and they might conclude from that conversation that the next right step is for you to speak directly with Ted about the problems you’re seeing, but you need them aware of the situation first because Ted’s track record says there’s a good chance he’ll take it badly.

2. Parking lot gate wars

I work as the receptionist/admin at a children’s center that is on-site with a school. We share a parking lot and since it is so small, our employees can only use three spaces. We are unable to offer on-site parking to our visitors due to this.

I have had an ongoing problem with visitors using the parking lot when none of them are supposed to. This is despite including a reminder in room booking confirmations and saying on the gate intercom that the parking lot belongs to the school, not us. The problem is when school staff and their visitors don’t shut the gate behind them, so our visitors sneak in.

It grinds my gears that if the school took responsibility to shut the gate, we wouldn’t have the problem. The school receptionist regularly comes to scold me about it. (At best I have a very limited view of the gate. The school has a much better view.)

The easiest resolution would be to fix the gate, but it is a five-figure sum per repair and keeps breaking as the gate is too heavy for the mechanism. My boss, who has my back on this, has had conversations with the school’s head teacher and receptionist, but they still don’t understand.

It is no exaggeration to say that this situation is one of the reasons I am job searching. Is there anything I can do to make the school understand better?

Ideally the head of your organization would be dealing with the school about this and working out some sort of solution — even if it’s just “this is going to continue, but the school receptionist will stop scolding you about it since you have no control over it.” Short of that, can you get your boss’s blessing to at least tell the receptionist you’re not the right person to address it with and she should speak to your boss instead? (That said, what exactly does “scolding” mean here? If she’s just asking you to have visitors move their cars, that’s not unreasonable. If she’s chastising or berating you, that’s not okay.)

Meanwhile, although you have pretty limited power here, can you think about what pieces are within your control? For example, can you have signs at the gate and at each individual parking space making it clear the spaces are reserved for employees only and visitors’ cars will be towed? Can a sign at your entrance warn visitors their cars will be towed if they park in the lot? As you check people in, can you ask if they parked in the lot and, if they did, tell them they need to move their car ASAP? It’s a frustrating situation, but if you focus on the areas where you do have some influence, it could help.

3. My team uses the wrong pronouns for a new client

I work on a small team in a professional services industry. We recently got a new project with a new client. I noticed one person on the client’s team had their pronouns listed as they/them in their email signature. Later, at the beginning of the first meeting, they verbally stated their pronouns to the group.

After the meeting, I had lunch with my team and my boss and coworker kept using the wrong pronouns for the client contact. Since then, they have continued to use the wrong pronouns in our group chat.

Should I say something? How can I bring it up in a professional manner (especially to my boss!). I don’t think they are doing this maliciously, but I do think that the client was clear about their preferences and we need to respect that.

Yes, you should say something — in any situation where this is happening but especially since this is a client, who your company is probably particularly invested in not wanting to alienate or offend. (Obviously they shouldn’t want to alienate or offend anyone, but even if they’re cavalier about pronouns in general, the fact that this is a client may make them less so.)

Be matter-of-fact about it and use a ton that conveys “of course we want to get this right.” You could simply say: “I noticed people referring to Imogen as she/her — they said a few times that they use they/them, so we should be careful to get that right.”

4. I accidentally recorded and sent a transcript of an interview to an interviewer

I work as a freelance designer for a few agencies that only need part-time help here and there. For one client, I was sent a transcript of our call via an AI recording app. In order to read the transcript, I had to make an account. What I didn’t realize is that by making an account through my Google email, I automatically attached this AI app to any Google Meet calls I would subsequently be on. I don’t use Google Meet very much, so I didn’t realize this happened until just now, when I was on a call with a potential new client.

It didn’t bother me that it was recording the meeting, and I saw it as an easy way to access info later. However, when I went to check it I noticed it had also sent a transcript of the call to the interviewer, who is likely very confused as to why I did that. Should I acknowledge it in a follow up email, apologizing for the small mistake? Should I pretend that I meant to do that and not bring it up? I feel like doing the former would make me look bad but the latter would make me look strange. Please let me know if I’m overthinking this or if I should do some damage control.

If something potentially looks strange, I err on the side of explaining even if there’s a risk that the explanation itself will be awkward — because I figure that not saying something and looking like I deliberately did Weird Thing X (in this case, recorded a call without their knowledge and then sent them a transcript of it) risks looking stranger than just explaining it.

So yes, say something! “If you’re confused by receiving that transcript, so was I! I recently made an account with a new app and apparently it transcribes my Google Meet calls. I’ve turned it off and deleted the transcript, but wanted to explain why you received that. It won’t be on in the future!”

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