The Dreaded Ghosts of Staffers Past

I don’t know what it’s like where you folks work, but my tiny office is a lot like a family. A dysfunctional family, to be sure, but a family nonetheless. Part of this is because there are so few of us here and so much that needs to get done that we end up leaning on each other pretty hard. The other part is bonding during the campaign months. You’d be amazed how much you can learn about someone over hundreds of late night slices of pizza. And you’d be less than amazed to learn that most of us hate each other by the end of it. But after a few days away, things mostly settle back to normal.

All of this is to say that it’s sometimes hard for people to let go after they’ve moved on to greener pastures or, in some cases, been put out to pasture before they were ready. This is how we end up with what I sometimes like to think of* as the Ghosts of Staffers Past. These are the ones who just can’t let go in some way or another. They write to us long after having left to recommend changes to the website, ideas for events and outreach, suggestions for our newsletter. To everyone else, it seems like a considerate thing to do. We sound insane when we complain about receiving a tip from a former staffer, a friendly voice, offering suggestions that would make Bossman look good.

And yet… It’s like a younger sibling using just the right tone that sounds innocuous to an outside observer but drives the older one completely crazy. It’s never really about being helpful. It’s all about that little dig, reminding the new people that they were there first. Needling under our skin, quietly shouting, “I know how to do this better than you do.”

Yesterday was a particularly bad day. In addition to receiving helpful suggestions from not one but two of these Ghosts, we were also unexpectedly flung into the wake of the Flaky Phantasm. Over a year after she was fired, we still can’t decide whether she actively sabotaged us on her way out or if she was really that incompetent. Either way, it was hours lost to trying to recreate work that had ostensibly been done long ago.

I like to think that there’s a quality unique to my particular type of job that causes people’s presence to be felt well after they leave, some sort of remaining loyalty to Bossman that makes them want to continue to insert themselves into the office. Some are better than others at leaving it all behind, usually the ones who were more well-adjusted while they were here.** I hope that once I move on, whenever that might be, that I will be able to leave it all behind.

What about you folks? Am I deluded in thinking that it’s a Bossman thing, or do you suffer similar apparitions? Or are you a Ghost who can’t let go of your past job?

*More often than not, I’m cursing the Ghosts of Staffers Past instead of thinking on them fondly. Much less entertaining than the Ladyghosts of TV Past.
**Maybe we should have the Casper types give lessons to the rest?

By BaseballChica03

Political hack. Word nerd. Stays crispy in milk. Oxford Comma user. Blogger since 2001.

8 replies on “The Dreaded Ghosts of Staffers Past”

I visited my old office today (I was in town, needed to ask a favor from one of my old coworkers, and went out to lunch with another who was my work-BFF), and it was definitely kind of weird. I didn’t make suggestions, but it was good to catch up with everyone. I tried not to stay at any one person’s desk for too long, since I know that gets really awkward (since you can’t really leave from your desk… that would be kind of rude.)

I think there’s a difference between visiting an old office, staying in touch with old coworkers, and popping in to say hi (all good things) and offering unsolicited advice via e-mail or otherwise (annoying). I am still friends with an older staffer she will occasionally give work related advice. I think the key there is that it’s in response to a question or while we’re talking about a topic, and not something out of the blue.

I work at a church, so a lot of our former staffers still attend the church. A woman who had my job before me (there was another woman between us) still attends; she was in my position for 30 years.

Every now and then I’ll get a phone call from one of her friends. “[Lady] said that it’s time to reorder candles. Just wanted to make sure you haven’t forgotten.”

So. Annoying.

No, you are not alone. I’ll admit, I have ghosted once or twice, but only once or twice, and I have been ghosted more times than I like to remember.
I’ve noticed something with theater people, who also tend to bond over late nights and lots to do. When someone leaves the theater world to work in a different field, people talk about them like they died. They aren’t ostracized or anything, they are always welcome when they visit, but if someone asks about them the response is “Oh, you didn’t hear? She works in IT now,” which is answered with the classic sympathetic head bob and a mournful “Oooh…”
Have you ever experienced the same thing?

Our wider political team is pretty incestuous, so often folks are shuffled from one office to someone else’s office, or another government or political job that they got through connections they made while on the team. But there is occasionally the, “Oh, she’s in law/grad school now,” sad response. I never noticed it before, but you are right. It IS similar to the “oh, she died” tone.

I was just about to say that this whole article sounds just like the theater I used to work at, too. You pinpointed it, Sara, in the mournful tone. Even in community theatre, when someone who hasn’t done a show in a while is brought up, it’s like “Oh, well, she had a baby, you know…” as if she’d been shipped off to prison.

And even though the staffers will use the mournful tone amongst themselves, when they see the old colleague and hear what they’re up to, there’s a “Well, that’s great!” tone that implies both envy that you’re actually making money and pity that you’re not creating art anymore. I’ve been on both sides of that one.

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