the summer camp cook, the cat photo, and other stories of long-running coworker grudges — Ask a Manager

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Last week we talked about coworker arguments and grudges. Here are 15 of the most ridiculous stories you shared.

1. The cheesecake

I worked for a government agency a few years back and for whatever reason right off the bat, an older coworker took a dislike to me. I have legitimately no idea why. She was clearly resentful of the possibility of having to train anyone, as I heard her talk several times about how she didn’t sign up to train people and she wasn’t going to.

Anyway, her normal M.O. was just general bitterness but she seemed to take it a step further. We had a potluck and I brought mini cheesecakes. I’m not sure what she brought, but she took ISSUE with these cheesecakes. She moved them to a different table out of the way so people didn’t know they were there. She walked around the entire day telling people about her cheesecake and how she made it totally from scratch. She didn’t even bring cheesecake that day, and also, mine were homemade too so I have no idea what she was on about.

2. The couch

I had a library coworker once with a years-long grudge against … a couch.

The Friends of the Library had used some of their funds to buy decent furniture for the break room, which most of us appreciated. She felt very strongly that any money the Friends raised should have been used to add to the collection, which we already had a pretty good budget for from other sources. She retaliated by refusing to sit on that couch, ever, for years. Unclear whether she succeeded in hurting the couch’s feelings.

3. The software admin

I worked at a small company where a department was run by an awful woman. She hired her entire old team from her last company and they immediately took over and started going on a power trip. They lied, refused to actually do their jobs and pushed it onto other departments, and made up unnecessary rules that had no basis in what our business needed.

They steamrolled over everyone else and I ended up being dumped with a lot of work they were supposed to be doing. And then they made up a ton of unnecessary requirements, and when I pushed back demanding they point to the ISO line they claim was required, they couldn’t and had to give up. So they hated me and decided to freeze me out and refused to talk to me.

It just so happened I was the admin of the software tool they had to use (the previous admin left and they never hired a replacement so I was just assigned this), and I was so petty that every time they pissed me off, I reset their passwords. They would keep trying to enter their password (when it was blank) and once they got frozen out, they’d have to come to me and ask for me to unfreeze their account and reset their password. I only did it because the software didn’t log things like admin resetting password. Also they logged in so infrequently (because they didn’t do their real job) they chalked it up to them forgetting the password each time and the strict password requirements that had to be changed every few months with no repeats.

Deeply petty and I probably shouldn’t be trusted with power because I took great pleasure in abusing it until I finally left.

4. The cat photo

I once had a coworker (Clara) who was inexplicably upset by the most benign things. Years ago, another colleague (Helen) gifted her a lovely photo of her cat, which Clara pinned up in her cubicle. Every time Clara felt Helen had done something to slight her (which was often), she would take down the photo. When they made up, the photo went back on the wall. The two of them controlled the energy in the office, so everyone could tell just by glancing at the wall whether it was going be a pleasant day or a miserable one.

5. The donut grievance

My first job after graduating as an engineer was in an automotive plant. I was a process engineer working on the floor. There was a steep learning curve to the job and some of the mechanics were really helpful when I had questions about the machinery. They were very helpful and kind and in order to thank them, I brought donuts to a meeting we were having.

Other employees who were not invited to the meeting (because it had nothing to do with their work) were incensed and made a complaint to the union. They launched a grievance complaining that some, but not all, employees were given donuts. When the union rep found out that I bought the donuts with my own money the grievance went away, but the other employees continued to give me nasty looks for months and complain that they hadn’t gotten a donut.

6. The long-running grudge

I once worked as an admin at a pretty big corporate employer in New Orleans. I had a coworker, N, who initially was really nice and sweet. We talked all the time and bonded over our love of animals.

One day about three months after I joined the company, I walked into work and saw N in the corridor. I said, “Hi, N!” and she actually turned her head so she couldn’t see me and kept walking. I shrugged it off at first, but it kept happening. I’d say hi, she’d ignore me. There would be food left from one of her meetings and she’d whisper to the other admins so that they could get the leftovers, but excluded me. She was my backup and was supposed to answer my managers’ phones when I was at lunch, but she decided she didn’t want to do that anymore so stopped doing it. My managers noticed and asked me to fix the issue, but N wouldn’t even discuss it with me. She just said she wasn’t going to answer my phones anymore.

I went to our big boss and he said that in his experience women admins always ended up in feuds and as far as he was concerned we had to handle it on our own and not to bother him anymore. So I stopped answering her managers’ phones. This made one of her managers so angry she stormed over to my desk and said, “Look, my phone is ringing. You answer it since N isn’t here.” I said, “Oh, N won’t answer my phones anymore, so I’m no longer answering hers.” She screamed, “I’m a lawyer and I’m telling you to answer that phone!” I smiled and said, “I’m an admin and I’m telling you I’m not.” She went running to N’s other manager but nothing changed.

It was the custom for admins to buy birthday cards and circulate them around for their managers. So when one of N’s managers had a birthday, she circulated the card. When it hit my desk, I told my coworker who put it there that I’d better not because N wouldn’t like it. She said, “Don’t let her intimidate you. Sign the card.” So I signed it and put it back on N’s desk which was in the cube next to mine. When she came back from lunch, she saw the card and I heard her yell, “OH, NO SHE DID NOT!” and then ripping sounds. She tore up the card and threw it away because I signed it. Then she sent out an email to the whole floor saying she was buying her manager a card, but if we wanted to send a card, we had to buy it ourselves.

This went on for months and months. A new admin started and was initially nice and then she started ignoring me and I asked her why. She said, “Oh, N told me that you are a slacker and don’t pull your weight here so I shouldn’t associate with you so I can stay in good standing with my bosses.”

N had more seniority than me and her manager was more important than mine. I was called into a meeting with mine and told that N was out to get me fired and if I were smart, I should start looking for a new job. I asked them if they could help me because obviously she was bullying me, but they said their hands were tied. So I luckily found another job in the same company, just a different department. On my first day HR sent out email to my old department and my new department announcing my new job and congratulating me and wishing me luck as was the custom. N responded with REPLY ALL in 57 RED font, “OH, HAPPY DAYS! HAPPY DAYS! SHE’S GONE!” Did she get in trouble? Nope. Just got a little talking to from her boss. I was happy in my new job where no one bullied me.

About two years later, I heard that N got fired because she refused to help another admin and her boss said, “Well, either you help her or you’re out” and N packed up her things and left.

Years later I went out to lunch with the coworker who’d encouraged me to sign N’s manager’s birthday card. We were both not with the company anymore and had other jobs. We started talking about our old jobs and she said, “Okay, I’m going to confide in you now. I know why N hated you.” Well, the reason was that I brought in a Witch’s Almanac calendar one day and hung it up in my cube. It was New Orleans and the vibe there is really eccentric and pretty much anything goes, so I didn’t even think it would be an issue. The calendar did not have explicit pictures or anything. It was arty more than anything. Crows, cauldrons, stuff like that. So N thought I was Wiccan and since she was such a good Christian, she made it her mission to destroy me professionally.

7. The promotion

I was hired into an org by a department head, Sansa, to be her assistant. She was clear in her hiring of me that part of my job duty was to do all the interfacing with other departments and clients, because she didn’t enjoy it. She hated making phone calls and was generally aloof, sullen, quiet, and didn’t identify as a “people person.” Perfect, because I came from a background of client relations, and I also enjoy people and making everyone feel valued and welcome, whether that person is a client or a colleague. So I did my job, and did all the interfacing for her. I made all the phone calls to clients. I talked to the other departments. Sansa adored me for taking all that off her plate.

After a few years of rarely speaking to a client or a colleague, she realized that I had become the universally-liked face of her department. Instead of taking a page out of my book, she decided that I should become more like her and start being more sullen and aloof. She demanded I stop being so friendly to everyone, because it was making her look bad. She told literally told me I should make my tone more flat and stop “being so warm” on phone calls, and that I shouldn’t go out to lunch with coworkers when I was invited, but eat at my desk alone, the way she did. I did not.

So she called a meeting with the CEO and head of HR and demanded that they fire me for being too friendly, and explained to them that she didn’t even need me, because she was doing all the work, and I was just making phone calls and eating lunch with other departments. Instead of firing me, they promoted me to be the head of a different department, away from Sansa. When Sansa wanted to hire a new assistant, they refused, because she can make her own phone calls, as she so kindly explained to them, and she didn’t actually need an assistant.

That was a few years ago, and she hasn’t spoken to me since. I’ve also gotten another promotion since then, and now work directly with the CEO. When we pass in the hallways I still give her the warm, “Good morning!” I give everyone, and she will not respond to me. So yeah, I have someone who hates my guts for being too nice.

8. The mugs of retribution

I used to teach full-time. One of the TAs was a good-looking younger guy, let’s call him Brad as in Pitt, who was the crush object of many students and a fair few staff. “Janet” from another department particularly thought of him as Hers, although he’d never shown any return interest (she was a good 20 years older than him for starters). This was fine, if rather odd, until one of my colleagues went on maternity and Brad started covering for her. His subject knowledge was okay but he didn’t know the nuances of the topic to teach to students, so I worked with him to fill the gaps, usually after school.

Now, I liked Brad in a “he’s a good laugh and never once tried to mansplain” way but didn’t fancy him in the slightest. The students referred to me as “goth teacher,” my taste in men ran accordingly. Janet, however, was Not Amused by us spending time together, and when it turned out Brad lived on my way home so could get a lift with me instead of her, she concluded I was out to steal her man. This middle-aged woman went full scorned teenage girl. It started with filthy looks at me and betrayed-puppy eyes at him. Blanking me when I talked to her, etc. Then Janet decided that the rest of the man-stealing harlot’s time at that school would go un-caffeinated. Personal mugs would occasionally go walkabout from the staff room cupboard but they’d return the next day. Mine stayed gone. I brought in a new one. Two days later, it vanished. Then another. And another.

I was mystified until I covered a lesson in Janet’s usual classroom and discovered ALL of my missing mugs stashed in the back of the storage cupboard.

9. The summer camp cook

At one summer camp, we had a cook who made terrible food, leading to a steadily building animosity between him and the rest of the staff. It finally exploded in a screaming fight (thankfully with no campers present) when someone asked him if he needed to be reminded how to use things other than the microwave, and he replied that you “shouldn’t f*** with someone who could poison you all.” He was ultimately fired for theft but not before deliberately serving us sandwiches made with spoiled lunch meat.

10. The desk gaslighter

My toxic, bullying boss would constantly move stuff out of line of sight (and I was pretty tidy – we’re talking about moving my notebook to an enclosed cabinet next to my desk, or pushing a small potted plant into the very dark corner of the desk behind my monitor). This boss was absolutely wild in how she behaved and this was just one of the many, many things she did. Of course, she denied ever doing anything and blamed the cleaning crew (!!!). Finally, I very obviously started taking photos of my desk before I would leave and made sure she would see me doing this. That stopped her desk-related shenanigans.

It’s been over a decade now but I still have the photos in my phone and every year between January and March I puzzle at why I am seeing photos of my old desk at this old job in my Google memories LOL!

11. The sun glare

During a standard interdepartmental spat over window blinds, one of the other managers became so offended by our manager’s love of sunlight that she locked him in the building during a fire drill. Claimed the glare of the sun confused her eyes so she “accidentally” put the key in the lock. They never spoke again, communicating through runners in a “X told me to tell you” system for fire years until she was encouraged to leave after locking him in a storage cupboard.

12. The speakerphone war

We had a speakerphone war at an old job. This was back in the old days when we all used hard-wired desktop phones, just for reference. Office Manager would come in in the morning, crank up her phone as loud as it would go, and listen to her voicemail. At best there’d be 1-2 voicemails, and it was usually over pretty quickly. Other Employee, however, simply could not deal with this. Other Employee would immediately start playing back her voicemails on speaker, as loudly as it would go. They also each figured out ways to amplify the sound so it was even louder than normal. This eventually got to where they were going back and forth with it all day long. It stopped only when Other Employee was able to move to a desk in another part of the building so they couldn’t hear each other.

13. The mini-fridge

In my public library, we had a very unpopular director. He was a micro-managing mansplainer, in an environment that was 90% female. Literally everyone on staff hated him, and he either didn’t notice or didn’t care.

At some point, he decided our breakroom – upstairs from where the staff worked and steps from his office – was underutilized. To be fair, no one used it because the odds of bumping into him or another administrator was high, and nobody wanted to deal with that during lunch. His solution was to remove all the refrigerators and microwaves from the downstairs work rooms to force people to eat upstairs.

There was a mini-fridge/freezer in our youth workroom that had been there for as long as anyone could remember. Unpopular Director said it had to go, but don’t send it to be auctioned, he could use it in his office to keep water cool for VIPs. We had a Youth Librarian who had real anger issues, and a hot burning hatred for Director.

Without defrosting the refrigerator or cleaning it out, she unplugged it and left it in his office on a Thursday evening, when Director planned to be out Thursday-Monday. Over the weekend it defrosted, ruined the carpet in Director’s office and set up a lovely mildew-y smell. As far as I know, the Youth Librarian faced no consequences (Director was a little scared of her). Within three months, the downstairs fridge and microwave had been replaced.

When Youth Librarian retired, she handed out buttons to staff with a picture of the mini-fridge on it.

14. The chain email

When working for the federal government, our admin once sent out an email to the entire office that was a chain email claiming you would get a free computer if you forwarded it to X number of people. I was so annoyed! It was 2012, not 1994, so this was absurd. Several more people then did the same thing! I got so fed up with these emails that I replied all to one with a snip of the employee handbook that specifically forbade chain emails.

For the rest of my time there (two years), the admin gave me the full silent treatment. She would shut doors in my face, turn away from me if I tried to ask her a question, refuse to respond to any email I sent her, etc. Luckily, she was pretty useless at her job so I didn’t need her help with very much.

15. The Pythagorean theorem

Years ago, I worked in a math-adjacent field. One of my closest collaborators mispronounced “Pythagorean theorem” painfully and frequently. For some reason, this caused me to completely lose my head each and every time. Was this a sensible trigger? No. Could I let it lie? Heck no! I proceeded to bring in evidence that his pronunciation was not one of the accepted pronunciations in any English-speaking country. There were dictionaries. There were subject experts. My colleague insisted that he was correct and I was wrong … but as the bigger person, he would not nag me about MY misguided pronunciation.

Finally, I dragged him to our manager’s office to declare, like a petulant child, “Manager, coworker is pronouncing ‘Pythagorean theorem’ wrong!” She stared us down for a solid minute, scowled, and, in a tone of utter disgust, said, “Get out.” We left. I never won the argument, but I’m still right.

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