columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

A reader asks:

How would you suggest dealing with the guy who literally emails every single higher-up he can every time he catches anyone making a typo? My boss now has to go into meetings with the big boss to account for our making typos.

Ironically, this dude is literally the worst at making typos in the entire office--about one out of every four things he sends us has incorrect information. He claims to "spot check" and blames it on the people who send them to him, but he has to retype his information and that's all on him. He has a PhD and is higher up than us lowly clericals. Basically, we can't yell at him to check himself (or even ask him to) or pull the same crap.

Also, he is not my boss's direct report--he has another supervisor entirely who isn't involved in this, to my knowledge. She has no control over what he does. He is cc'ing my boss (which is appropriate) and then her two bosses above her, who come down heavily on my boss because we have to be absolutely perfect. She's defending us and keeping us out of the direct line of fire.

My boss is annoyed, but it seems like something we just can't do anything about. She suggested that we have her email the higher-ups every time he typos, but so far she'll only do it if he makes a huge mistake rather than the usual "wrote down the wrong number" crap, because we look petty if we complain. But he doesn't. In the end, I suspect there is nothing we can do about it other than be perfect, of course.

Green responds:

Well, first, I hope your boss wasn't serious in suggesting that she should respond by emailing higher-ups about this guy's typos. No one should be emailing higher-ups about random typos. (If there's a serious pattern with public typos, perhaps then -- but individual alerts about each of them, and on minor things? No.) If your boss started doing it too, it would make her look bad -- and it would prevent her from being able to ask him to knock it off, which is the real solution.

She should talk to the typo-reporter and tell him that while she appreciates his bringing typos to her attention, it's not necessary to cc several layers of management above her, as she will take care of the problem. She should add that if he's concerned that there's a pattern that needs attention, she'd appreciate him saying that to her directly -- and if she doesn't resolve it, he can certainly escalate his concern however might be appropriate in your office, but unless/until it's at that point, he shouldn't be wasting the time of people who aren't charged with handling it.

She might also mention, "For what it's worth, we find typos in about a quarter of what you send to us. We simply fix them."

Then, she should talk to his manager about the situation and relay what she asked him to do, stressing that it's causing tension between him and your team.

She also should take a hard look at whether there really is a problem on your team's end. Are these truly just occasional typos that are within the expected rate of error, or is there a problematic pattern? If the latter, she should figure out what needs to change to address that.

And, last, she should talk to her own manager, who's receiving all these reports. She needs to let her manager know that either (a) yes, there is a typo problem, and she's doing ___ to resolve it, or (b) this guy is making a big stink about minor, par-for-the-course typos that aren't showing up in things are going to the public or otherwise need to be error-free.

But make sure that in your annoyance over this guy's behavior, your team doesn't lose sight of the possibility that there truly is a real problem that needs to be addressed more broadly than just fixing individual occurrences as they're pointed out.

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Published on: Jan 7, 2019