updates: the early morning meetings, the boss posting fake news, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are five updates from past letter-writers.

1. Can I push back on daily morning meetings before my usual start time? (#2 at the link)

I emailed the meeting organizer something like, “8am is a bit early for me on a daily basis. Could we do this asynchronously or at a later time on some days?” His reply indicated to me that I was not the first person on the team to ask ;) In the end the daily meeting idea was dropped (thank goodness).

Many of the commenters reminded me that 8am for me is a late evening for someone else. If the 8am meeting had been the last meeting before those co-workers could leave I would not have felt okay asking to change it. However, we regularly have meetings that go until 11am that those co-workers are expected to attend.

It’s hard to find the right balance for our team because we span 9 time zones The co-workers in the eastern time zones knew the expectations when they took their jobs and built their lives around working in the evenings. One spends the mornings as primary caregiver for his son. Another has a 2 hour “no meeting” block for their family dinner time.

The team has a hard “no meetings Fridays” rule to make sure everyone always get proper weekends and everyone on the team enforces this rule even if it doesn’t affect us.

Some parts of our set up suck (I do the occasional 7am meeting) and other things are awesome (someone from our team is available 17 hours a day). The only constant for our schedules is the flexibility, which I think is partially why the idea of a daily meeting died.

Thanks for giving me the confidence to say something and the reminder to ask gently.

2. My boss won’t stop posting fake news and false memes on our company Facebook

The short and sweet of it is that I got fired in September. My original question had been about my boss ruining our reputation through social media; he stopped posting fake news but is now posting wholly irrelevant content. The reason he concocted for my being fired was such that I can’t receive unemployment and can’t say what it is publicly for various reasons that scare me a lot – even though it’s a practice that he and several other members of the organization have done and continue to do. I discovered that I was lied to about the board voting to fire me – in fact, the board barely knew they had an employee. The only vote ever related to me was the vote to hire me. My boss told me several times in the past that the board had voted to get rid of me but that he fought for my job. None of that was true. There were a lot of lies, but I can’t bring them to light because he has this “reason” I was fired that he could pull the trigger on any time he thinks I step out of line.

I firmly believe that I was fired because I had the audacity to use my position for good rather than as a publicity stunt. It was a massively abusive environment, and I developed a crippling anxiety disorder. I thought I’d have to go on disability. It took me months to realize that I did some amazing things and am worth SO MUCH MORE than he made me believe.

The organization started falling apart the moment I was fired, and he’s now quietly asking around for someone to buy one of our properties. I’ve had a plan to take this part of his org away from him when it became too expensive to justify, but he’s apparently so hard-up for money that it could actually become a reality. Soon. I’m realistic – I have a business plan, a pro/con list, and a ton of skeptics to shut me down, so I’m fairly grounded in my expectations. It’s an exciting prospect, and I’m willing to work incredibly hard to realize it. I’m pretty sure my former boss would turn me down out of spite, though.

Thank you to all the readers who told me to run – you were right. I have this “thing” where the “universe” leads me, and the “universe” absolutely did lead me to that job. It’s just that somewhere along the line, I missed the, “GIRL, RUN!” message. I’ve been lost for a long time, and everything’s felt wrong. This venture I’m considering feels right again, and I have a lot of people in my life to make sure I don’t just “feel” my way into it.

Thank you all so much, Alison and readers! Looking back on that post really helped me through all this garbage.

3. How to deal with a client who’s always late or no-shows

Immediately after reading your response and the comments, I asked this client to switch our weekly call slot to make it A) earlier in the week and B) first thing in the morning that day, so there would be less of a chance of things “coming up” right before our meeting to distract him. He agreed and this improved the missed meeting problem almost right away. I have also started sending a call itinerary about 30 minutes before the meeting (why I wasn’t doing this sooner, I don’t know) and this has greatly helped us to stay on track/create a paper trail of the items I need his input on to move forward, so that if we do miss a meeting it’s not on me if things are late.

I have also become more confident in defending my time; between this and several of your other articles I have taken your advice to be less accommodating of last-minute requests for “urgent” meetings (when the client previously blew off a scheduled meeting that I already held time for), and to encourage email communication in lieu of a phone call when possible.

This client is still late pretty frequently, but I have come to terms with that as being “just part of the job” for this otherwise good client. I usually have 10-15 minutes of busy work ready for myself to be working on when I know I’m going to be waiting for him to join the meeting. Not ideal, but as your commenters pointed out, I am getting paid regardless of his tardiness so I feel that it’s not something I want to rock the boat/overstep my bounds as a consultant over.

Thanks for this and all your other great advice – I read your column daily and am constantly learning from it!

4. My boss won’t let me give my staff feedback in case it hurts their feelings

Predictably, things deteriorated pretty quickly. Even after I expressed my frustration with the way things were currently being handled, things never actually changed. Whenever I gave my team feedback (always professionally handled, I swear), the CEO almost never had my back and doubled down on the “you’re doing great!” talk, so I ended up looking like the Big Bad Wolf.

Things went really downhill with one young team member in particular. She screwed up a few times in a big way (which is normal and not the end of the world, if handled correctly). But thanks to the CEO, there was never any real accountability and my attempts to correct it were undermined completely. This team member was basically under the impression that her work was flawless, and I was just being unreasonable. So she kept screwing up in bigger and bigger ways, but I was the only one being held accountable.

This lead to an extremely stressful work environment for everyone. Unfortunately, the damage is done. I have turned in my two weeks, and thankfully have been offered a position with double the salary.

When I told the CEO I was leaving, she told me they’d go out of business without me (yikes). This all could have turned out very differently if she had just been willing to allow me to actually manage.

5. I’m about to go on medical leave, but I’m also hoping to take my long-delayed honeymoon (first update here)

I’ve finally settled in on this, thanks to a huge crazy set of circumstances in my life that started with a family emergency for my new husband and have culminated in us moving across town into a house from an apartment, a move we were not even close to expecting and accomplished in the span of one week. Through all of that, my boss has been remarkably supportive of the situation, even sharing a situation with her husband that was very similar to what had happened with mine.

I never did speak directly with her about why my leave was denied the way it was and all of the reasoning behind it, but I’ve managed to let it go. My work did suffer for a few weeks, but it was such a hectic time for the month after I would have returned, I don’t think anyone noticed. With everything that has happened since, it seems much less important.

Also, I now recognize how much the lack of sleep and the recovery from that was affecting my emotional stability, which I think a few comments pointed out. I’ve now been able to sleep properly for several months and I feel incredible because of it. I’m remembering things I would have almost immediately forgotten before, and I’m just overall back to my over-achiever self, which I definitely needed because our lives have been extra difficult the past month or so. I appreciate the advice from AAM and all of the commenters, even though I wasn’t necessarily the best sport about it, and I’m so pleased to report that it seems like I’ve truly solved the insomnia issue that’s plagued me for most of my life.

our holiday party excludes people with mobility issues, turning down training requests, and more

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

1. Our holiday party excludes people with mobility issues

Recently, our small company grew large enough to require an actual HR department and a person was hired. Said person has taken over leading/supervising work related social committees — holiday parties, summer potlucks, that sort of thing. Usually she gathers some staff to help out, but generally she and the EA do most of the organization.

In the past year, we have had two major off-site work events that I could not attend because they forgot to check if the venue and/or arranged transportation was accessible. I am not wheelchair-bound, but have mobility restrictions that require me to use two canes permanently. Both times, I chalked it up to both of them being new and being distracted by the food-restricted people. (We have multiple vegan, vegetarian, celiac, and life-threatening allergies so meal planning is a challenge.)

Well, the annual holiday party is upon us and we’re going bowling. Great! We all like bowling. We’ve gone before as a group and had a blast. Except that decided they didn’t want to book where we usually go, they wanted to go somewhere a little flashier. (Our usual place is, admittedly, a dive. The food is great, the place is clean, but a dive). The new place does not have a ramp or an elevator, nor does it offer any kind of adaptive bowling equipment. I am welcome to bring my own, if I have it. I do not. I bowl once a year with the work crew. It should be noted that I got this info directly from the bowling alley myself. I asked the EA when the holiday party email went out what the accessibility was like and she said she’d call, but didn’t.

How do I respectively decline to go to this event without sounding hurt (which I am)? “I’m not coming because you forgot to check if I could participate again” sounds petty. And how do I broach HR about this continued exclusion when it’s HR doing the excluding?

“We’ve had three major off-site events this year that I couldn’t attend because they’re weren’t accessible to me. Starting in the new year, could we make a point of ensuring that venues and transportation will be accessible?” And then if they say “oh yes, of course,” then you say, “Is there anything different that could be put in place to ensure that? I ask because for the holiday party, I inquired about accessibility and was told Jane would check into it, but then I never heard anything back, and when I called on my own, found out it wasn’t. I’m hoping there can be some official change made to whatever procedures are used for booking venues and transportation to ensure it doesn’t fall off the radar in the future.”

This is eminently reasonable to ask for. And I know you’re worried about taking HR to task, but really, this is a pretty serious oversight on their part, and any halfway decent HR team would want to know this was happening so they could fix it. Look at it this way: You’ll be doing them a favor by putting this squarely on their radar, because it’s something they should really, really want to fix.

If this doesn’t solve it, then pull in your manager. But hopefully this will do it.

2. Should I ask for a gift since I can’t attend the office holiday party?

We relocated to an area and I sought out an insurance office that was next to our temporary housing and started working there — mostly remote but I occasionally would go into the office. Last year we relocated again and now we are five hours away. I have worked for my boss now almost four years, but was only able to attend his dinner one time in the past. I spoke with him yesterday and he mentioned that they are planning the dinner in January and within the week I should let him know if we will be in the area.

My dilemma is that when I cannot attend, I don’t receive anything in lieu of not attending the dinner. I feel for my hard work and dedication, it would be nice if I get a little something — maybe a gift card for local restaurant? I mean, if we were to travel, we would spend, time, gas, hotel, etc. — obviously that just doesn’t make sense.

Your thoughts whether it is rude/wrong of me to simply tell him I cannot attend and then somehow suggest a restaurant gift card instead?! If okay, not sure how to word it either?!

It’s fine to tell him that you can’t attend; he probably assumes that’s likely going to be the case since you’re five hours away. But you should not suggest that he give you a gift instead. This isn’t a situation where everyone else is getting a gift and you’re not. This is a situation where others are attending a workplace event that you’re not attending because you’re remote. A gift isn’t an equivalent substitute. It’s true that it would be a nice gesture for him to send you a gift in lieu of being able to wish you happy holidays in person, but it’s not in any way obligatory or even something you should expect — and asking him to do that would come as weirdly transactional.

There are huge upsides to being able to keep your job when you move away, but there can be downsides too. This is one of them, but it’s a pretty minor one.

3. My old boss just got fired — should I contact her?

I resigned from a difficult job last year and landed at a new company where I’m much happier. A big part of the reason for my departure was my former boss — decent person, not-so-great manager who ran a chaotic and ultimately unprofitable department. She was let go a few weeks ago in a very public way (it’s a small industry), and I’m struggling about whether I should reach out to her.

A significant part of my reason for leaving was that I just didn’t have a great rapport or comfortable working relationship with her. She’s not a bad person (and she is super creative and charismatic, so she has a lot of fans in our industry), but I found her chaos really stressful, and I wanted a job that was a better fit for me and my working style. When I announced my resignation, she grew quite cool, and I had a somewhat uncomfortable last couple of weeks at that job. I haven’t been in touch with her in the year since I left.

I’m trying to put myself in her shoes and decide whether I’d like to get a note of support from a former colleague at this time … or if I’d rather just lick my wounds in peace. However, we have such a small professional circle that I wouldn’t be surprised if our paths cross again. I feel as though I should reach out, just to say … something? “I’m sorry this happened, and I wish you success” sounds trite. “Thinking of you” sounds like someone died. The last thing I want to do is be patronizing.

However, I want to be kind (because getting fired stinks), and I want to be professional (because who knows, she could end up working at my new company in six months or six years — a distinct possibility despite the firing because again, small industry). Would you suggest I write to her, and if so what should I say?

I’d leave it alone. You weren’t currently working with her, you didn’t especially like working with her, and she’s not someone you’re actively trying to maintain a relationship with. It’s not rude not to contact her. Plus, contacting her is essentially saying “people are talking about you being fired,” which is not a wonderful thing for her to hear, even if she figures some of that is probably happening. You’re fine just leaving it alone.

4. How can I turn down training requests from my clients?

I am an independent consultant that works on, let’s say, specialized teapot tracking systems. My clients send me issues and change requests; I handle them. I have a few people who, every time they request something, also add a request for “training” on how to solve the issue themselves. The requests range from the general, “train me how to troubleshoot delivery errors,” to the super specific, “train me on how you fixed the data in this particular one-time broken message.”

Alison, I hate training. I’m good at it, but find it exhausting, and it’s taking time away from work I do enjoy. I want to work on teapot systems, not train people how to do that. I already happily do some training, when appropriate (or unavoidable). If possible, I refer them to classes or documentation. Unfortunately, this is a niche product with hardly any resources available.

The reason they ask is because they hope to (or were hired to!) take over part of the work I do for them. And I honestly encourage them to pursue that! (Just don’t ask me to teach them how.)

Deflecting the requests is getting exhausting and, worse, coming across as unhelpful. Clearly, I need to reset expectations somehow. I’m hoping for a script that gently says, “I don’t do training on X,” but, you know, actually sounds supportive. I want to be a partner assisting them, but I have to cut back on this training. I can’t think of a reasonable position to take, and I don’t have any good alternatives to offer them if I don’t suck it up and train them. Do you have any advice for this situation?

It’s perfectly reasonable to decide that you’ll sell your expertise and labor doing X but not for Y — and in fact, one of the benefits of freelancing is that it’s easier to set those limits.

You could say, “I actually don’t do training, but I can get this fixed for you and then refer you to some documentation if you want to take a more detailed look at it.” Pairing “I can’t do X” with “but I can suggest Y” instead will soften the no.

And if you’re asked why you don’t do training, you could say “It’s never been what I’m best at” or “I’ve found it takes too much time from the work that I prefer to focus on.” And then you could add, “But I’m glad to fix anything like this that you want me to handle, and I can point you to some classes if you’d like to learn about it yourself.”

5. Can I ask for my coworker’s higher pay rate when I cover for her?

I work for a healthcare clinic as a front desk patient services representative. We have several clinics around the state. I work as the front desk for both medical and dental in my office. This already is more than most of the other front office staff responsibilities, but I have a coworker who constantly calls in to work for various reasons. When she does this, I am expected to fill in for her. The starting rate for her job is $3/hour more than mine, but I still get paid the same even if I do both our jobs.

Is it unreasonable to ask to be paid at least starting rate when I do her job? How and who do I ask about this? I am just shy of a year at this company, but the job was way more work than I imagined it could be and they add on new stuff regularly.

Yeah, you can’t really ask that — but you can ask for a raise on your own merits. The reasons you can’t really ask for her rate of pay when you fill in for her are (a) there might be all kinds of other reasons why she earns more than you do (like bringing more experience or skills to the job, even if some of your duties overlap at times) and (b) it’s pretty normal to be expected to fill in for coworkers when they’re out and it doesn’t normally warrant special pay for that period of time (with some exceptions, like a very long-term parental leave cover).

However, you’ve been there a year, the job has been expanding, and you’ve proved your reliability by filling in for other spots when needed. You’re well-positioned to ask for a raise on your own merits, totally separate from the issue of your coworker. Here’s how to do it.

me, talking about burn-out

I’m on the Stuff Mom Never Told You podcast this week, talking about burn-out — how to recognize burn-out, what to do if you’re burned out, my own experiences with burn-out, why it might be different for women, and more. The episode is 52 minutes long and you can listen here.

update: my coworker put push pins on my chair

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose increasingly aggressive coworker had started leaving push pins on her chair? Here’s the update.

I took your advice and was very firm with my manager and the VP about my intolerance for the situation and I also went to HR myself demanding meetings, as per your advice. I was definitely being firm from the beginning but I made it way more obnoxious for them to ignore my concerns, and after several meetings with HR and my manager and the VP of our department, HR and the VP worked out a corrective action plan for the offender. She was not to speak to me or the rest of the team about anything related to the issues she caused and was generally told to not make idle conversation with me at all (since I told HR myself I want as little contact with her as humanly possible). She was also moved to the other side of the floor to sit directly in front of the VP’s office so he could keep an eye on her. She has had many run-ins with HR for leaving an hour or two earlier than she’s supposed to, so they figured this would kill two birds with one stone.

Anyway, another manager in my department (whom is EXTREMELY friendly and kind), lets call her “Jane,” had to work with her on a large high-level project which required them to have lots of meetings and contact with each other every day. After the first few meetings, Jane noticed that the offender was often not at her desk even though her meeting calendar was wide open. Since she was having trouble contacting her, she asked her about how she can get into contact with her when she’s not at her workspace so that they can resolve issues quickly. After that moment, the offender began to show Jane her true colors, as well. Jane started to receive some violent and strange actions from the offender – for example, coming to her enclosed office in the morning to find her chair knife-sliced and things on her desk broken (only other person in the office at that time was the offender), having pictures of her and her family stolen from her desk, and catching the offender in her enclosed office on several occasions with no reason for being there. The offender also continuously broke into my own managers enclosed office to steal the calendar from her wall (which my manager uses to remind her of her employees scheduled PTO).

A few more things occurred with me where the offender would creep into my cubicle when I was not around – however, Jane and another employee would question her every time and she eventually stopped doing that altogether. Often I would come in and all of my electronics (monitor, computer, phone, cell charger, keyboard) would all be unplugged and jerked around to different areas. The timing was always conveniently early in the morning when very few of us are here, but guess who always was one of those few – YOU GUESSED IT – the offender! Eventually, we have all learned to always put everything away and lock them in our drawers, even when we go to the bathroom, and most of us have started to come in 30-60 minutes early just to ensure she doesn’t mess with our things and often we try to make sure at least one person is over in our section at a time so we can guard each other’s things.

We all continued discussing these issues with HR (including the managers and the VP himself several times), especially as the offender recently has been constantly leaving for hours throughout the day AND leaving hours early without receiving approval or even informing anyone (and she has no PTO left), but they refused to fire her. She often found ways to explain things away (covering herself by saying she took a training to help her be a better employee, etc.) She is also a (*suspected*) FMLA time off abuser, who has sued previous companies for FMLA discrimination. Purely speculation, but we imagine she was most likely fired from these companies after she kept using unfounded excuses for leaving without approval. (Examples: saying she can’t work certain days of the week because of her “flare-ups” which are always conveniently Wednesday and Friday afternoons, constantly taking time off without having any time in her bank left, etc. just like she does here.) So basically, we got the inkling from the HR reps and their carefully-worded explanations for their inaction that they were expecting the offender may attempt to sue the company and they were trying to avoid it.

Luckily, however, as of THREE days ago, the offender RESIGNED!!!! WOOOO!!!! We are all very happy on this team now that we know the she is almost gone forever!

In the end, we were all extremely disappointed by how unsupportive our HR department is and by how much power HR reps have. The VP should have been able to remove the offender as soon as he felt so inclined with all the evidence of her violent behavior, yet, HR was able to block him every time.

Ultimately though, for now, we can all breathe a little better because she will no longer be able to terrorize us! (Now, if only we could warn her new company….)

Thanks for all the help, Alison!

updates: husband’s boss is sleeping with married department head, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are five updates from past letter-writers.

1. My husband’s boss/our friend is sleeping with their married department head

Thanks for all the great advice and script for talking to my friend about the situation. Using that, I asked her tell my husband and offered to tell him myself. She apologized and felt terrible, and said that she never really meant for me to keep it from him or expected that I would. She didn’t feel like she had the rapport to do it herself (since we had a more intimate/personal friendship and they have a more comradely one) and asked me to, hoping he wouldn’t think too poorly of her.

The readers all insisted on full disclosure, and were pretty intensely set on me needing to tell him everything no matter what. However, I’m happy to say that I was right in thinking he honestly preferred not to know, and was 100% understanding of me keeping Jane’s trust on a sensitive issue. When we talked, I started with the broadest strokes (“Jane isn’t really leaving because of burn out, and I don’t want you thinking otherwise”) and got more specific. He stopped me when I told him she had fallen in love, and didn’t want anymore detail. He would be mandated to report the people involved if he knew, and preferred to stay out of it especially considering his friend’s genuine emotions were involved. My husband told her privately he didn’t hold it against her, she moved, hasn’t seen the Man in question, and is dealing with heartbreak in healthier ways.

Thanks so much again, and to the readers, as I’d struggled over this issue for a long time! I’m glad some of my instincts were right but I’m also glad that the secret is off my chest. It remains to be seen if they stay split, but I’ll still be seeing lots of the Man since apparently he’s related to a new coworker at MY job!

2. I accidentally embarrassed my friend’s boss — but I was right about what I said

I actually wound up not apologizing even after your thoughtful advice. As it happened, soon after the confrontation with Ariel I started hearing Sam complain more and more about Ariel acting punitive about small things. He wound up leaving the company, which reduced the time I spent talking to his boss to effectively zero. It didn’t seem necessary to bring up the incident to someone I talk to so rarely, and as more time passed I forgot about it pretty quickly, and I think Ariel did too. I think apologizing would have just made it into more of a “thing.” But I appreciate your advice and the kind words from sympathetic commenters. Thanks for helping!

3. I hate working from home — how can I make this better?

All the comments where incredibly helpful and I took a lot of the commenter’s advice including work from home meet-ups, getting “dressed” and trying to take a walk to help break up the day. Looking back at my letter now I am amazed because now I LOVE working from home. I am so much more productive than I have ever been and get more time with my family. I love that I can start dinner while on a conference call. Working from home has been great and I appreciate all the advice to help me get to this point. Thanks all!

4. I interviewed for a job that didn’t match the job posting — and other things seemed off (#3 at the link)

I have an update to my recent letter. I ended up turning the job down. As the interview process continued, it became clear that the role was not as advertised and—more concerning—that the different higher ups had different perspectives on what the priorities for the new employee would be. It was a difficult choice because my job search has been (and continues to be) so difficult. I’m just now getting over demoralization caused by some very dysfunctional workplaces and terrible managers, so I’m extremely wary of putting myself back in that kind of environment again.

5. How can I get out of dressing up for Halloween at work(#5 at the link)

I ended up dressing up, as things started rapidly improving by the end of the month. My spouse had been laid off early in the month – this was the enthusiasm-sapping event to which I referred – but they got a new one about a week and a half later (because they’re awesome), so things were looking a lot better.

The commenters made some wonderful suggestions, and I appreciate every one of them. I ultimately dressed up as a Disney character, as that was my team’s theme. However, if I ever find myself truly lacking the desire to dress up, I will most likely employ one of the strategies recommended by the amazing comments section.

the person who got a bedpan in the office gift exchange, and other tales of holiday gifting woes

Every December, I’m inundated with questions about gift giving at work: Are you supposed to buy a gift for your boss? What if you’d prefer not to but colleagues pressure you to chip in for a group gift? How much are you supposed to spend on coworkers, if anything? And are you supposed to be pretend to be grateful for a terribly gift from your employer?

At Slate today, I wrote about our angst over holiday gifts at work, including the problem with giving frozen turkeys to 200+ people the day before Thanksgiving, the manager who gave everyone bags of thumbtacks, the problem with Dirty Santa, and more. You can read it here.

updates: the affair causing work drama, I lied to my boss, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are five updates from past letter-writers.

1. An affair is causing work drama

Thank you for publishing my question. Your advice was spot on and I actually have an update since I wrote back in December.

Our company finally hired a part-time HR consultant after the first of the year, which has helped us deal with some of the issues stemming from John and Jane. After the holidays John started showing up to work clearly inebriated and missed several client meetings and nearly cost us our largest client partner. Subsequently, John was fired from the company in March and immediately went into a rehab facility out of state. He has been barred from ever dealing with our company again or our clients. Meanwhile, Jane got a new job at a competitor of ours and has been trying to poach employees to come work with her. This was in violation of her severance agreement and has had a cease and desist issued to her and her new company which apparently has caused a rift at her new job. We know this because she texted several co-workers asking for references(!)

2. I lied to my boss and said I’ve been doing a task I haven’t actually done

I really appreciated the sensitivity in your answer and the kindness shown by your commenters. I wound up talking to my boss right away. I explained that I hadn’t prioritized learning this task and ran out of time before I could get back to it. My boss was super understanding; he said he wants me to focus on the tasks that will do the most to drive the business forward, and this wasn’t one of them. It was more of an infrequent, “when you have time” kind of housekeeping task. That was a huge relief to hear! After we spoke, I did go back to the freelancers to learn how to do it properly and I definitely won’t forget again.

In the meantime, thank you for encouraging me to think hard about why my instinct was to not be upfront about the situation. Some of your commenters pointed out that this kind of instinctive lying is common among people who grew up with strict parents. I think that’s true in my case. Growing up, I got in the habit of using white lies to deflect abuse from my abusive mom. I’m still working this through in therapy, but before this incident I hadn’t thought about how my lingering anxiety about the consequences of small mistakes might be bleeding into my work life. It’s not an excuse for lying, but it’s helpful context that I hope will enable me to cut out this behavior in the future.

Thanks again for answering this question, and a really sincere thanks to the commenters who helped with it.

3. Coworker has a “food emergency” every other day

There was an unexpected resolution to the issue. My supervisor and I joined a social organization that this person is an active member of, and ended up on her “team” for a bunch of recreational activities. As soon as we started really becoming friends, she stopped showing up at our office the way that she used to. Now she just comes over to talk about this club. Everything went better than expected!

4. I’m sick of having to do my slacker coworker’s projects (#2 at the link)

I wish I had a better update to the coworker who cried openly about too much work while she painted and goofed off, but I don’t. After talking to the manager about not being able to do her work and my own, she did a little better. For about two weeks.

I stayed later than usual, and caught her whipping out a coloring book when she thought we all had left (we have flexible scheduling and most people leave before 4pm). After that she stopped trying to hide it and went right back to arts and crafts at her desk. She also spent a lot of company time creating and organizing an office based Clue game that she had the department play for prizes (including typing out several pages of typo-filled “clues” everyday, creating wax sealed envelopes and physical crime scenes through out the office).

At this point in time, the department is running out of work to do, so I’m forced to help her out to stay busy. Combine that with a boss who appears to hate confrontation, it isn’t looking hopeful that something will be done about this.

5. Should I tell my employer about my boundary-crossing coworker?

First, thank you to everyone for your kind, supportive comments and advice. Even though I didn’t do anything wrong there’s still a tendency to think “what did I do to cause this?” and y’all really helped put in perspective that this was NOT about anything I did.

Despite the general consensus that I should elevate it to my manager, I decided not to. After a couple of weeks I got over the feeling of anxiety every time he talked to me and things were pretty normal.

However, this week I got a call from HR asking me to come and do an interview with them. I guess some accusations had been made against my coworker and they asked me about our working relationship and any interactions I had with him. I said pretty much what was in my original post. I think this all came to a head because he’s gunning for a promotion that would give him significantly more power than he has now. Apparently it wasn’t just me that had an issue with his behavior. Anyway, it feels nice to finally have all of that off my chest and on the record, and the way it worked out feels really appropriate. HR said that I probably won’t know the outcome of the investigation, but that I was allowed to inquire about it (with the caveat that the most likely response will be that the company “took appropriate action”). Thanks again to everyone!

Update to the update: 

After interviewing quite a few more people, HR placed my coworker on administrative leave and then after a few weeks his name was deleted from our email/IM address book. His personal things were also being gathered from his office so there’s no other conclusion to make than that he was fired. There was a lot more going on than just the way he was treating me, which I gathered from the questions HR asked and the ensuing work gossip. He was incredibly rude, disrespectful, and downright mean and nasty to a lot of the shift workers (in contrast, he was generally pleasant to the salaried employees). The mood has shifted a lot here in the past few weeks – in a very positive way.

our son-in-law works for us and won’t show up on time, manager wants to talk about God’s plan, and more

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

1. Our son-in-law works for us and won’t show up on time

We have had a family-owned business for 18 years. My dilemma is I have a 30-year-old future son-in-law who has been in our family for 10 years and worked for us for seven. He is a great employee as far as handling things around our shop, working steadily doing day to day tasks. He takes his job seriously when he is there. The problem is he comes in late every day and does not clock in or out. Everyone else is expected to do this, but he does not. My husband sat him down and talked with him about it just yesterday, and today he showed up two hours late and still did not clock in or out.

I am confused by this behavior. Obviously he feels that he is superior to everyone in the shop and does not have to go by this rule. I do not want to start a big fight as we have had a huge problem in the past with a family member taking advantage and had to let him go. He has not done this for the whole time he has been employed with us, just for the last couple of years. I have tried to talk with him before but he has told me it is different for him because he is a member of our family. I do consider this my error in letting it go for so long, but have no clue as how to talk with him about it, and my husband will just blow up and possibly let him go, which will ruin our family relationship with our daughter. How do I speak with him about it and what are some good suggestions for making him come in on time?

Well, you can try telling him very directly that, contrary to what he’s said in the past, he’s not exempt from your business’s rules just because he’s family, and that you need him to be on time and clock in and out. And you can tell him the only way you can continue employing him is if he plays by the same rules as everyone else. But if you say those things and don’t really mean them — in other words, if you’re not willing to hold him accountable as you would other employees — then you’re effectively ceding all power over to him, and at that point you’re just relying on wheedling and cajoling him into changing his behavior. That puts you in a really bad situation. Do you want to employ a son-in-law who won’t respect you as his employer and refuses to abide by your workplace policies?

It sounds like you and your husband need to decide if you’re willing to hold him to the same expectations as everyone else or not. One way to go about it that might minimize tension with your daughter (or maybe not, depending on how fair and reasonable she is) is to frame it as, “Bob, it’s up to you if you want to keep working here. If you want to stay, you need to arrive on time and clock in and out like everyone else. We hope you’ll decide to stay, but this is non-negotiable — and if you don’t do those things, we’ll assume you’ve decided the job isn’t for you anymore, and we’ll need to mutually figure out an ending date.”

Alternately, if you want to preserve family harmony at all costs, you could think about whether there’s a way to restructure his job — or your expectations of him — so that he has more flexible hours and isn’t required to clock in. If you do that, though, realize that you’re valuing family harmony a lot more than he is, which sucks but might be the reality of it.

2. Manager wants to talk about God’s plan with employees who share his religion

I’m a team leader in a large call center. We are on-boarding a new leader (an internal promotion from our team) who is pretty religious. Through the time we were developing him for this role, we had to help him see why bringing up religion causally in conversations (i.e., talking about things being God’s plan) isn’t appropriate with a direct report because if they don’t share your belief it could make them very uncomfortable, or others could overhear and feel uncomfortable. He’s wondering if it’s okay for him to talk about his faith if he’s in a closed-door meeting with a report he knows to share his beliefs. He would never ask them about it, but if they bring up on their own that they are Christian, is it okay for him to then engage in conversations about God’s plan as pertains to work? I typically put politics and religion into the same bucket of “things I don’t discuss with my direct reports” regardless of whether we’re on the same page. What do you think?

No, he absolutely should not do that. He can’t know for sure that the person welcomes religious conversation with their boss — or that particular type of religious conversation — or that they won’t feel pressured to allow him to continue once it starts. Or they may welcome it at first but then stop welcoming it. And pushing unwelcome religious talk on an employee is veering into lawsuit territory. Moreover, if other employees hear about these conversations, they may assume he favors the person who shares his religious beliefs — which again can be lawsuit territory. He’s at high risk of making people he manages feel uncomfortable and of opening your company up to legal liability.

It’s particularly alarming that he’s still looking for ways to talk to religion with people he manages after you’ve already told him to stop. I’d be very concerned that he doesn’t understand his responsibilities and obligations as a manager or what they’re rooted in and why, and that’s seriously bad news because it means you can’t trust him in the way you need to.

3. Laying someone off right before Christmas

I have a very part-time admin worker who has been with us for about 6 months. We are a very small company with a tight budget. Unfortunately, the last few months have been rough and I need to make some cuts. I have also been struggling with getting this employee up-to-speed and it seems like she is just not a good fit for the role. I have made the decision to let her go. However, Christmas is in a few weeks and I am not sure if I should wait to let her go in January or let her go now.

Financially, keeping her through December will be doable, but I am wondering if it might be better for her to know that she is going to be let go and give her a chance to look for a new job now? Her background is in retail, and it would probably be pretty easy for her to pick up a seasonal part-time job in retail now. Plus, she might need to cut back on holiday spending if she knew she was going to be losing the income from this job.

So, should I let her go now and be the jerk that fires someone right before Christmas in the hopes that she will be able to jump into another job for the seasonal rush? Or, wait until January and don’t ruin the holidays? I would also be able to pay her a severance of two weeks pay if I let her go now. But might not if I wait to let her go.

She does have another job, so this is not her only source of income. What are your thoughts?

If it weren’t going to cause hardship to your business and you had the option of keeping her on a bit longer, I’d suggest doing that, because a lot of people find it heartless to let someone go just before Christmas (and you have to factor in what other employees might think as well). But in this case it doesn’t sound like you really have the option — and I bet she’d prefer to do it now if that’s the only way she’ll get severance. And you’re right to think she might prefer the notice before she finishes her holiday spending.

Explain that you feel terrible about the timing, wouldn’t be doing it now if you had other options, and that doing it now means you can offer her severance that you might not be able to offer later.

Also, make sure you’re using the right language: You’re laying her off (eliminating her position), not firing her (which would imply it was because of her performance or behavior).

4. Giving Christmas cards to my employees

Should I give Christmas cards to my direct reports? I’m a mid level manager with 28 reports. I plan to give cards to my peers, and it’s likely that my direct reports will see them on other leaders’ desks and could feel put off by not having gotten one, especially since one of my reports gave me a card. My main thought about why I don’t want to is that I don’t want them to feel obligated to put it up at their desk when what they really want to do is shred it. Would scanning one and sending it digitally be a good middle ground.

Yeah, if you’re giving them to other coworkers, it would be weird not to give them to your employees. (And similarly, don’t do scanned cards for them if you’re doing paper cards for everyone else; it risks coming across as if you didn’t think they were worth the same amount of effort.) I don’t think you need to worry too much about people feel obligated to display them at their desks; some people display cards and some people don’t, and those who don’t can tell themselves you’ll assume they took it home.

One note though — please don’t give Christmas cards to everyone unless you know for a fact (and aren’t just guessing) that they celebrate Christmas. Many people don’t, and it can be alienating to have your boss assume that you do. You’re better off defaulting to a more generic holiday card, or something with a winter or new year’s theme.

5. Manager left a write-up for me with no discussion

My employer left a write-up for me in my desk without discussing it in person and asked for me to review and sign it. Is my employer not obligated to meet with me in person to review a write-up?

Do you mean legally? If so, no — although it’s certainly bad management to just leave that for someone without talking to them about it. But there’s no reason you can’t say to your boss, “Do you have a few minutes to talk with me about this? I want to make sure I’m clear about your concerns and what you’d like me to be doing differently.” Or if you’re already clear about the concerns and simply disagree with your manager’s take, then something like: “Do you have time later today so we can talk about your concern?”

update: I don’t think I want to come back from maternity leave

Remember the letter-writer who wasn’t sure if she wanted to come back from maternity leave   (#3 at the link; first update here)? Here’s the update.

I am excited to say that after being a stay at home parent for 15 months, I started a new part time position about two months ago! Being home full time could be lonely and stressful, but I still feel really lucky that I got to just focus on my kids after a rough few years for our family. But after about 10 months, I started to feel aimless and antsy, and I knew it was time to rejoin the workforce.

At the last job I held before I left the workforce, I was managing a team of teapot builders. I realize now that I was getting really burned out managing people, and I was expending a lot of mental energy dealing with staff and client issues and crises with very little work that I was able to “own.” While I think I was pretty decent at managing (thanks, Allison!), it was very taxing for me, especially because of an office culture where the relationship between management and staff could be quite adversarial at times.

I have now transitioned my career to doing marketing for a different teapot organization. My new position is a great fit because I get to use all of the knowledge I gained through years in the teapot industry while doing something new and contributing in a different way. Plus, the work is a lot more independent so I am able to work part time without it affecting other employees. I never thought this was the direction my career would take but I am so happy it has worked out this way!

I am especially grateful for all of AAM’s advice for applying and interviewing for jobs. At the beginning of my job search I set aside some time to come up with an updated resume and cover letter outline that I could easily adjust based on the jobs I was applying for. In fact, when I had my second interview with the CEO of the organization that eventually hired me, she told me that mine was literally the best cover letter she’d ever read.

A few commenters seemed disappointed in my decision to leave the workforce to care for a child. However, there were a couple of things that I didn’t mention in my first update. First, this was not my first baby. I already had a preschooler at home, and shortly after I found out I was pregnant the older child was diagnosed with a medical condition that is not serious, but requires frequent doctor’s appointments. Second, shortly before our baby was born, my husband transitioned to a new field and got a job with an hour commute each way. Before starting his new job, he had worked in a place with a lot of flexibility that was about a 10-minute walk from our house. Third, we only have one car because my husband takes public transit to work. After seeing how our lives functioned with all those constraints and just one child, I started having anxiety attacks at the thought of holding everything together while also being a good employee, and it was just too much to consider after the baby was born.

I think I did the best that I could by my family and my career considering the circumstances. I landed in a good place and I am truly grateful for AAM’s advice and community.

update: my bombastic coworker is pushing me over the edge

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. I’ve just gone through all the updates that came in, and we have a TON. So starting today, prepare yourself for a flood of updates — multiple updates every weekday for the rest of the month, and at least one each weekend day.

Remember the letter-writer who was in a training class with an incredibly irritating coworker? Here’s the update.

Thank you very much to everyone for your advice as it really helped, and I managed not to murder Cersei.

I emailed Alison on the way home from the second day of training, and the letter wasn’t posted until the fifth day, so a few things happened before the letter was published. Training was broken into modules, and at the end of each you had to fill out an evaluation of that module, including the instructor’s handling of things. They were anonymous so in mine I put that the instructor needed to get a better handle of students going on tangents and even jokingly outright said that they needed to take control before I strangled Cersei.

The next day I came in to see the instructor for the next module, Ned, had mixed around everyone’s nameplates so we were working with new people. Low and behold, my nameplate of Sansa was right next to Cersei. I literally muttered under my breath “oh hell no,” immediately turned around, and went up to Ned. I asked him if I could not sit next to Cersei, and he agreed, switching around a few spots to make it less obvious that I requested it.

Clearly the training team had read my feedback because instantly Ned and Catelyn in their various modules were quicker to cut off and shut down Cersei. Catelyn started telling her “we’re moving on” and, “I’m going to stop you there, Cersei.” With less of a platform to speak, Cersei started to get less and less disruptive. However, just whenever I started to think “maybe Cersei isn’t so bad after all” she would almost immediately say something to me that usually involved shutting my ideas down rather rudely because clearly despite my personal experience in things, I knew nothing.

But as we progressed from product and industry knowledge into the areas of customer service and technology, she got to be less and less of an expert, and I started to be more. For customer service, Cersei deals with clients who book appointments, while I get the retail off the street aspect. She may have more years on me, but due to the higher volume of customers I work with, she and I ended up being rather neck in neck with experience and knowledge.

Then came the tech system training, and boy did the tables turn. I had been training on the system in my location for two weeks already, so I was comparatively an expert on it. I had to recuse myself from answering some of the questions Catelyn asked the class because I not only knew it, but had a notebook filled with detailed notes of every system process broken down step by step. Meanwhile, Cersei was hopeless with technology. She was always lagging behind, couldn’t figure out simple things like how to delete an item, and didn’t understand the explanations no matter how many times and ways they were explained to her.

Unfortunately, I decided to be a kind person and help Cersei a few times. This, coupled with my notebook of awesome, meant that whenever Cersei couldn’t figure something out and Catelyn stepped out of the computer lab for a second, guess what would happen? I would hear the shout of “Sansa! Sansa! Can you help me with this?”

Overall it was a trying few weeks, and a good lesson in not only dealing with difficult people but standing up for myself and giving feedback to higher level people. After seeing the Cersei criticism got results from Ned and Catelyn, I was more confident to take action again. We had a woman, Melisandre, come from HR to show us the time clock system. At the beginning of the lesson she put a chair in the middle of the computer lab and told us all to put our cell phones on it, and then checked each computer that Skype Messenger and Outlook were closed. After the lesson, and a few grumbles from my class, I went up to Catelyn and told her plainly that I didn’t like how Melisandre treated us (there were a few other issues too.) I told her that we were adults, which meant we can be trusted to put our cell phones away and that not even in my junior high drama class were they forced to be put in the middle of the room on a chair where the teacher could see them.

So thank you again to everyone for helping me get through the training sessions. I might have to see Cersei again from time to time, but thank god I’m going to be safe in Winterfell when the wildfire burns the Citadel.

Oh, and to everyone who suggested I look around at my classmates for their reactions of Cersei, you were totally right. I literally caught one person rolling their eyes.