A Balanced Workplace Is Hard To Find
Navigating the modern work environment can be a tricky task: having to deal with getting one’s work done in a timely and professional manner while simultaneously dealing with coworkers and trying to keep any problematic personalities at bay.
Some people luck out and get to work in a place where everyone is basically on the same page and vibe together, while others get stuck with crappy colleagues, bosses, or staff under them. Nothing’s worse than when you’re having or trying to have a good day and someone else in the workplace throws their bad mood or attitude at you, dragging you down.
Perhaps the worst situation of all occurs when you work in a pleasant, jovial environment where everyone gets along, and then a problematic person gets thrown into the mix and ruins it for everyone. Such was the case for one woman named Sara, who recently took to Reddit to chronicle her long and sordid saga of having to deal with an absolutely infuriating coworker who was thrown into an otherwise harmonious work environment. It’s a tale of oppression, conflicting personalities, and ultimately, sweet, sweet revenge. Strap in, because this is an odyssey of epic proportions.
Along Came Akari
Sara is the manager and lead server of a small, upscale ramen restaurant in Manhattan. She’s been with the restaurant since day one and worked her way up, helping them design menus, paint signs, and even craft deserts. Over the years, she cultivated quite a close relationship with the owners, who are a husband and wife team originally from Japan. It seemed like the perfect situation: a posh workplace in a hip, exciting city with work she was invested in and warm, caring bosses. But then along came Akari.
At the beginning of the year, the owners contacted Sara to let her know they had hired another manager, Akari. Akari was an older Japanese woman who was an acquaintance of the owners and Sara recalled briefly meeting and working with her during the restaurant’s soft opening days. Not even a week after she began working again, Sara started receiving complaints from the other servers. “Akari hasn’t been listening to us when we’ve tried to politely teach her about our policies and service style.”
“Akari interrupts us when we’re talking to guests to get us to do dumb, menial tasks.”
“Akari rants at us about the smallest, most pointless things that you and the owners never would.”
Those menial tasks that Akari would stop the employees in the middle of serving to do were things like collecting dirty dishes or picking up little pieces of trash. For example, she would flag down a server and point at something like a straw wrapper or piece of edamame on the floor, interrogating them, “What is that? What is it doing on the floor? Why is it there?!” instead of simply picking it up herself. If the server didn’t drop everything they were doing and adhere to Akari’s every whim, she complained to the owners that they were slow and lazy. It seemed as if she was on a power trip and even derived some sort of sick pleasure out of humiliating employees and making them feel lesser and subservient.
“Akari would nitpick things that were truly irrelevant, like how loudly the employees greeted customers with ‘Irrashaimase’ (Japanese for ‘Welcome,’ a customary way to greet guests in Japan) or how busy they looked even when it was slow,” Sara recalled. “One time, I walked in on a shift where the servers were greeting at the volume Akari desired and they were literally screaming, which was pretty disturbing. She literally judged servers ability based on their volume.”
Even though Sara was starting to get flustered, she knew she had to take it easy so as not to unnecessarily escalate the situation and cause conflict. But how long could she be forced to put up with Akari’s coarse, incompetent ways? And at what cost? Little did she know, but what she’d seen thus far was just the tip of the iceberg.
Her Strategy Just Wasn’t Going To Fly
Akari would even go so far as to say demeaning things to the rest of the staff, like, “I’m not like the rest of you, I’m above you and the owners asked me to come so I could fix things around here,” even when the more senior staff tried to instruct her on things. Sara was mortified at the way Akari was apparently treating people in the restaurant, but she restrained herself from going off on her, knowing that cooler heads usually prevail.
Every time an employee came to Sara with a complaint, she would try to calmly and amicably remedy the situation: “No, we don’t have to yell ‘Irrashaimase’ so please don’t,” “No, if it’s slow and you’ve completed your work you don’t have to run around just to seem busy,” or “Keep following our stand policies and procedures, they haven’t changed at all.” Sara told the other servers that if Akari got on their case about not following her special rules, they should tell her to have a talk with Sara about it. Unsurprisingly, she never did.
“For nearly two months I saw neither hide nor hair of her, and only heard about her from my staff,” Sara remembered. “She was supposed to be coming in on my shifts so I could train her, but she wasn’t. As far as I could tell, she was only coming in 3 days a week and only after 8 pm (once the dinner rush had ended and only hours before the restaurant closed at 11 pm).”
Then, late one night, Sara received a barrage of texts from her servers asking if it was true that the owners planned on firing two servers at the end of the months based on their performance. Apparently, Akari had held back all the staff for an hour after clock out one night, which is illegal, in order to lecture them about things like not working hard enough, not “loving the restaurant” enough, and, you guessed it, not greeting the customers loud enough. She said that at the end of the month she would personally be evaluating them and firing the two worst employees.
Sara could not believe her ears and immediately contacted the owners to schedule a private meeting during her next shift. She told them all about Akari’s scheme and how she viewed it as an ineffective, tyrannous form of management. The owners were appalled and said they absolutely did not ask Akari to do that, nor did they have any intention of firing anyone at all. They wanted the restaurant to be an enjoyable work environment more than anybody. After having her suspicions confirmed that Akari was yet again conniving her way into power, Sara asked the owners to have a chat with Akari about her behavior since she still wasn’t showing up to her scheduled training. Then she texted all the other employees and informed them that no one was being fired and that if Akari every tried to hold them after clock out again they should tell her it’s illegal and leave.
Akari’s ruthlessness and lies were getting to be a bit much, and the tension mounting in the restaurant was starting to be unbearable. Why hadn’t she been fired? How could the owners possibly be tolerating her behavior? Well, there was a strange yet understandable reason why Akari seemed to get away with being a flat out bully.
The Reign Of Terror
With Akari’s behavior reaching a crescendo of obnoxiousness and virtually everyone in the restaurant thinking she was detracting rather than adding to the experience, it seemed logical that the owners would be quick to fire her. After all, she would do what she wanted, come in whenever she wanted, and harass every single employee with seemingly zero repercussions. There was just one small thing keeping the owners from giving her the ax, and it specifically had to do with Japanese culture: age hierarchy. Since both the owners and Akari were Japanese immigrants, they still practiced most Japanese customs and way of life, including the idea that disrespecting one’s elders is one of the worst acts imaginable.
The owners were in their 30s and Akari was several decades older, so aside from being an acquaintance, they also viewed her as an elder and felt extremely hesitant to criticize or disparage her in the slightest. “When I talked to the owners I also found out that they didn’t even want to hire her,” Sara later recalled. “But she basically pestered them into it by emailing them nonstop about how much she loved the restaurant and wanted to work there and help until the owners agreed to take her on.” Sara wisely realized that it wasn’t her place to tell them how to run their restaurant, so she kept her opinions about age hierarchy to herself.
Akari’s reign of terror continued on, week after week, with Sara trying to do damage control and keep the rest of the staff as happy as she could with such an oppressive comanager. Sara would even sometimes come in during her off hours when Akari was working just to observe and make sure she didn’t do anything too crazy. “I watched her knock over the sign on the door and then wave over a server to pick it up and hang it back on instead of doing it herself,” Sara remembered.
“I watched her seat an incomplete party of 8 in our 36-seat dining room when our policy is to seat only completed parties, then wait half an hour for the rest of the party to trickle in. Once, I watched her ask guests that had been seated for 37 minutes to leave so she could seat another table, even though the waiting party had only been waiting for 5 minutes, because she felt needlessly pressured to seat quickly and wasn’t capable of quoting an accurate wait time.”
Sara quietly noted all the absurdities she witnessed at the hand of Akari, passing them along to the owners and reassuring them when they panicked that she would have a talk with her. But after Sara spoke with Akari and informed her of her errors in the most good-natured way possible, Akari immediately clapped back by attempting to form an alliance with her against the rest of the servers, claiming to Sara that the staff complained about her constantly. It was truly a diabolical mind game, but Sara saw right through it. Akari even went so far as to say that the servers probably complained about her, too, (of course) so they shouldn’t be trusted and that she and Sara shouldn’t bother the owners about employee management.
At that point, it felt like a battle of wills, with Sara dedicated to restoring order in the restaurant while Akari was determined to get her way and exert her agenda upon everyone the entire staff. What would it take for the owners to wake up and realize what a menace Akari was? Well, let’s just say Sara’s patience started to pay off.
Slow And Steady Wins The Race
For months, Sara and the other servers endured Akari’s degrading, mismanaging, and bullying. Sara would have to spend time and energy to ensure that Akari didn’t get her way, otherwise customers would be driven away. She told employees to simply ignore any direction from Akari. “Normally I absolutely don’t advocate for undermining fellow management but Akari was completely incompetent, spent most of her 3-hour shift flipping napkins over, making other people pick stuff up for her, and needling staff about things that truly didn’t matter,” Sara recalled.
“After a while, I knew neither the owners nor any of the other staff liked or wanted her at the restaurant so I would pass on especially egregious incidents to the owners, slowly building a case against her. Since it was difficult for them to ‘disrespect’ her by firing her, I knew I had to push her negative standing to a point where they wouldn’t care about violating social custom.”
Then, one Sunday afternoon, Sara heard from her coworkers that Akari told them to start addressing the husband owner as “Owner-san” at all times. They typically called him by his first name, and sometimes added “-san” at the end, as it’s a Japanese honorific. Akari claimed the order had come from the man himself. At that point, Sara was certain it was just another bold-faced lie, as the owners were very personable and even bought the employees cakes and gifts on their birthdays. They clearly had no interest in empty gestures of power. Just to be sure, she texted the owners to ask about the new rule. “No, we didn’t tell her to say that,” they replied. “You guys can call us anything, it’s fine.”
Then, later that day, a server texted Sara a picture of one of the restaurant tables with a “Reserved” sign on it and the message, “Akari says we have to do it.” Sara was fuming; it was one of the biggest policy violations she’d ever seen. “We don’t take reservations, we are too small, NYC is too expensive, and they’re just not a feasible business model for us,” she later explained. “We’d be in the red from the lost revenue of holding empty tables for guests that may be late or never show.”
She told the servers to never take a reservation and to tell Akari that she wanted to have a talk about it. “Akari is telling us not to listen to you, and that we should only listen to her and do what she says,” was what she received in response. Sara was self-aware enough to know that she was essentially giving the staff the same order about Akari, but it was obviously different since she had years of food service experience in one of the busiest cities in the world, whereas Akari seemingly had zero experience and just wanted to feel big by dominating other people.
The clock was ticking and the hour of reckoning was nigh. But how would the payoff play out? What would be the straw that broke the camel’s back? Akari was turning out to be quite a formidable foe and seemed to always be ready to take things one step further. Every member of the staff was reaching their breaking point, and Sara just prayed no one would lose it.
Ding, Dong, The Witch Is Dead!
Understandably boiling with rage, Sara forwarded the picture of the reserved table to the owners, who were quite alarmed and agreed that reservations were an awful idea. They said she was totally right to refuse to take them, and that she should tell all the other servers to do the same. Sara explained that she had tried, but Akari told all the servers to ignore her direction so they would have to speak with her themselves. After her text exchange with the owners, Sara realized that her phone was blowing up with additional texts from her staff ranting about Akari’s antics. “This is the last time we let her get away with this,” “I’m so sick of her lying all the time!” “I can’t stand it anymore,” “She never listens to us, she gets so upset whenever we say anything she can’t take”. Sara told everyone to be patient, and that she was handling the issue in her own way. Then Sara proceeded to screenshot all the furious texts from her coworkers spouting about Akari’s insanity. She explained that they should really talk with Akari about the way she treated the staff, as she feared some of them would get so fed up they’d quit.
The next morning, Sara opened her phone to find the most glorious text she’d ever received. It was from the owners, and simply read, “Akari won’t be with us anymore.”
Though personally relieved, thankful, and totally overjoyed, Sara replied professionally, “I see, I’m sorry it didn’t work out.” The war was over, and she’d emerged victorious. Though it was a long, painful process, Sara managed to outlast Akari purely because she had the best interest of the restaurant and its employees in mind, and she didn’t lose her cool even when she really wanted to. “I always say that a bad coworker is way worse than a bad customer because the customer will go away, so that was a somewhat stressful and delicate situation for me to deal with,” she recalled. “Hopefully I’ll have some peace for a while before the next big disaster strikes.” In the immortal words of Sara’s staff, “Ding, dong, the witch is dead!”
What do you think about the way Sara handled this situation? Would you have done anything differently? Have you had a similarly brutal experience in the workplace? In Sara’s case, it seemed like patience truly was a virtue, and that reason and logic eventually prevailed over tyranny and megalomania. It can be a beautiful and life-affirming thing to see that there is, in fact, some justice in the universe.