5 reader updates

Five reader updates for you —

1. The coworker who hoarded all the work

Things have actually gotten much better since I wrote to you. It turns out my boss had already sensed an imbalance and knew it was an issue, but since there had been so much going on, wasn’t able to fully address it until recently. I confirmed that there definitely was a major imbalance in the work and that I was frustrated with it, because I wanted to do more and it didn’t seem right that some people were far busier than others.

So, with that, we had a meeting a few weeks ago where we looked at everyone’s responsibilities and shifted a few things around so that the workloads were more even – now my colleague is no longer staying here all hours while the rest of us leave at the normal time. Now, our team shares a much more even load. It seems like everyone is much happier, including the hoarding colleague!

Thanks so much for taking my question and all of the advice you and the commenters gave. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but I think most problems and misunderstandings in life could be addressed by simply speaking up and being direct. :) I need to remember this! It’s not always easy, but it often results in positive change.

2. The client who wouldn’t stop asking about our reader’s dating life

Thankfully, things have been pretty quiet with Mr. Inappropriate! He made one last jab via email, which I completely ignored and only discussed business. We’ve only had one other communication since (also email) which was 100% professional. Like I said before, he is a seasonal customer, and the season is just about over, so hopefully when we resume business next year it won’t be an issue. Thank you (and the other readers) for all the great advice!

3. The intrusive coworker who commented rudely on our reader’s body

There have not been any recent digs at my body/personality. There have just been the small, undermining comments that I just chalk up to her
personality and insecurities. I also believe that one of the managers had a chat with her a few weeks/month or so ago because the personal digs
slowed down around that time. I also decided that I can’t be the “victim” and may as well just enjoy all the other positives. This older lady (60+) enjoys her sweets, so I bring in chocolates/donuts every few weeks and share with her (as well as everyone else in our department) and that seems to make her more bearable (it’s like bribing a child to do something, but hey, she’s more pleasant!) I also started to strategically place my holiday time for a week after or before her vacations, so I can enjoy working in the office without her.

Essentially, I’ve just sucked it up and realized that it’s not that bad and if this is my biggest workplace problem. I also learned from a few of
the male colleagues in our department to just not let it bug me, since they’ve worked with her for 1-15 years… they said she’s always been a
negative nelly. Also, she keeps saying she’s going to retire in 18 months, so there’s always that to look forward to ;)

Thanks again for your advice, I still have the response saved on my computer and I have actually drilled into my head some of the responses so
I’m on-the-ready if I ever need them with her (or other people in my life).

4. The reader wondering if a lateral move would hurt her (#7 at the link)

Although I appreciated your advice, I decided to apply for internal positions unrelated to HR. I simply couldn’t take my toxic work environment and knew that the stress I was under was affecting my pregnancy. To me, my health and my son’s health were more important than whether I looked flighty or not.

To fast forward, I received an offer from an internal position I applied for. I accepted the offer and now work in a completely different line of business. Overnight I went from a toxic environment to a positive and friendly environment. My new manager is wonderful. My new team is great. I have no complaints.

While I don’t really keep up with my old line of business, I do know that they’ve laid off more people. The layoffs actually increased a few days after I started my new role. While that line of business is still going through a realignment, there’s talk of transitioning everyone to another role or laying off everyone.

Knowing this, I’m happy with the decision I made. I’m currently on maternity leave (not scheduled to return until the end of November) and when I return I plan on sticking with my current role while continuing school to gain HR experience. Down the road I may get a job in HR; however, with the arrival of my son and the trajectory my husband’s career is moving in, my priorities have shifted. I’m no longer as aggressive as I was about moving into HR. I know that whatever happens in the future will be for the best. Again, thanks for your advice.

5. The manager considering hiring someone who would make more than she did (#2 at the link)

We hired the candidate. He was almost immediately resistant to being managed by me and was much less productive or effective than more junior staff. He often thanked me for my “advice” after I gave him direction, and then did the opposite of what I asked. I was upset, but I channeled my inner AAM and addressed it matter-of-factly, asking him during a weekly check-in if the way I was communicating direction was unclear, and that on those occasions I gave explicit instructions I needed him to follow them, but if he didn’t understand or agree with them we could certainly talk them through. He responded by saying he was shocked, and thought I was difficult to work for. He then added that he wasn’t a misogynist and did respect me despite my having less experience than him (he brought those up unprompted!). In the end, he blamed all of it on his being “a clueless male who doesn’t pick up on cues.” He then likened it to the time he was in college and when girls he wanted to date liked him he didn’t realize it until it was too late.

Oy. Happily, I moved on shortly after. And he is now working for an older man, and also frustrating the heck out of him. I think the takeaway there is that it was less about seniority or money he was making and more about a better interviewing process to try to avoid hiring people like that in the first place.

{ 33 comments… read them below }

  1. Kat M

    I can’t imagine deciding the best response to feedback from my supervisor on my job performance is “I’m not a misogynist …” What the heck?

    1. Not So NewReader

      Perhaps it was his word for the day and he had to work it into a sentence here and there through out the day? He did admit he was clueless… so I am seeing some consistency going on there.

    2. Ruffingit

      I think that falls under the category of “If it’s true, you don’t have to state it.”

          1. Flynn

            Well, what if it’s “I’m not a racist, but I pretended to be one so as to infiltrate a ring of international politicians” or “I’m not a racist, but the cop misheard me and now it’s on my permanent record, just a heads up for the background check”. Or “I’m not a racist, but I keep having these strange dreams about being prejudiced and refusing to accept that other people are just people too. Could I have been a racist in a past life?”

            See, there’s LOTS of ways to use that phrase and not have it mean you are automatically racist. Those are all totally valid scenarios!

  2. Not So NewReader

    It sounds like all posters landed in the best place possible- congrats to all.

    #5 Not much you can do with a know-it-all who does not respect the chain of command. It is fine to know more than the boss- matter of fact, when I supervised I counted on my crew to have inputs. I don’t have all the answers and I am painfully aware of my limits. The deal breaker here is the way this guy handles his knowledge. He rubs people’s noses in it.
    I think the whole analogy to dating women in college is rather lame. Just because he has “always been clueless” does not give him a pass for life. At some point he will need to develop a clue or two. It’s part of being in the work world.
    Eh, it’s all water over the dam, because you have moved on OP5. Good for you and I am glad you can see that his behavior toward you was not personal- it’s his way of life, sadly.

    1. Jessa

      Also the fact that after the boss takes in the advice, the decision where to go with it belongs to the boss. Being told to do x and doing y anyway is not how the job works.

    2. Tanja

      I don’t think the dating women in college comment was about him being clueless- he implied that the reader may fancy him and that is why she acted the way she did.

      1. OP#5

        OP here: he indeed used the women in college comment an example of him being clueless in general – not able to pick up cues or understand when people are sending him signals. Of course, the signal I was sending him was “please do x; don’t do y,” so it’s not as if it should have been too difficult to decipher…!

    3. OP#5

      Thanks NotSoNew. I saw it as he was was the content expert, and as his manager I was the expert in what our organization needed and wanted, and advised him based on those needs and wants. In the end, though, it worked out for me, and I hope something works out for him.

    4. Rana

      At some point he will need to develop a clue or two. It’s part of being in the work world.

      Heck, it’s part of being a human being in society!

  3. Kit M.

    I’m really impressed with how the LW in #5 handled things! It’s sort of a shame the effort was wasted on the employee, who clearly has profound issues with human interaction, but the LW can at least rest confident knowing that she did what she could.

  4. Victoria Nonprofit

    I’m noticing a trend in these reader followups that not many people actually followed Alison’s advice. (For example, in this post, three people didn’t take action but the situation resolved itself; one decided against following Alison’s suggestion; and one did take her advice).

    I don’t mean to criticize anyone’s decisions about how to handle their work situation. But I’m curious – why do you think some (or many) people write in but don’t take the advice they are given? It seems like there are a lot of possible reasons:

    1) Folks like to chew over and think about problems but it’s hard to actually put solutions into place. I’m super guilty of this; I ruminate to a fault.

    2) Alison’s advice is hard to implement. A lot of her suggestions are, roughly, “Yeah, that sucks, but here’s this hard thing you need to do.” Hard things are hard.

    3) People might write in hoping to get a different response (or just to get sympathy for a tough situation) and never intend to take the action Alison suggests.

    What am I not thinking of?

    1. Ruffingit

      I think sometimes it can also be that things shift from the time someone writes in to the time they deal with the problem and those shifts can mean an entirely different course of action needs to be taken. Could also be that Alison’s advice doesn’t work for that person or there particularly working environment. Doesn’t mean her advice is bad, simply that doing the hard things isn’t always effective depending on the personalities (both human and corporate) involved.

    2. Not So NewReader

      4) Mental clarity. Sometimes when we vent we arrive at an answer that is totally unexpected. A good sounding board does this- a well thought out answer provokes new insight inside ourselves. “Here are your choices A, B or C.” The mental clarity hits like a bolt of lightening “Hey, none of this is worth it to me. I want to go do X instead.”

      People don’t have to take the advice given but they do have to find some resolution for the issue. If that ah-ha moment strikes the advice giver has done her job.

      5) Karma. Sometimes once people develop an action plan they also acquire a sure-footedness that they did not have prior to the action plan. Perhaps they walk a little taller or the quiver goes from their voice. The next thing that happens is the “opponent” in the story senses a change. The OP now comes across as “Don’t mess with me, what you are doing is not right and I have a plan to deal with this!” The “opponent” backs down and starts being reasonable.
      OR it could be some other unknown reason. I just chalk up these types of things to karma. Sometimes we get back what we send out. (NOT always though! Sometimes crap occurs and it has nothing to do anything we are doing.)

      1. Victoria Nonprofit

        Oooh, I’m really intrigued by your sure-footedness suggestion. I think that could work in a lot of interesting ways.

      2. Melissa

        I also think one of the benefits from reading Alison’s blog – holistically, not just as the sum of all of her answers – is learning to *think* like a manager/a sane person in the work world. I’ve never actually written in to get an answer, but just reading the whole of all of her answers has helped shape my thinking about the work world – like “Yes, it’s probably legal, except in California” and “You need to be straightforward if you are having problems; most people are sane and won’t hold it against you.” So perhaps the direct advice she gave they chose not to do because of #2 or #3, but the process of being given advice – and reading this column – still helped them make decisions. (It honestly seems like most of them *felt* helped, even if they didn’t take the advice.)

    3. Bea W

      I think any of those 3 things are good possibilities. #1 drives me nutty because I just need to fix things, but I know plenty of people who find it easier to ruminate than take action. It’s the law of inertia. An object at rest tends to stay at rest.

      I can only speak for myself. When I ask for advice what I am doing is gathering information and learning about different options, because I am not sure what to do. I may not even be sure what my options are. I then consider it all in my head and make a decision based on what seems most appropriate for my circumstances.

      Picking on #4 as an example, Alison may be totally right about a lateral move hurting your career, but the OP had additional factors to consider, and it sounded like the bigger issue for her was getting out of a toxic work environment, and she ultimately decided that getting out of a toxic environment was worth the risk of hurting her career progression. It’s not so easy as getting advice and then saying “Yes! That’s great. I’ll do it!”

      Even if I choose another path I am still grateful for the advice someone gave, because it was information that I was able to use and consider when making my decision. Sometimes I may even think “That’s great advice!”, but then determine it’s best to try something else due to some other confounding factor. Just because someone gives advice, even if you have asked for it, doesn’t mean that you are obligated to follow.

    4. Elizabeth

      I don’t know that I totally agree with you that 4 of the 5 people above didn’t follow Alison’s advice. It’s not clear if #1 talked directly to the coworker, but it definitely sounds like she talked to her boss as Alison suggested. #2’s situation kind of resolved itself without the OP really having a chance to take the advice. If the interaction with the nosy client has been as minimal as it sounds then it actually would have been kind of odd for her to be more upfront in saying “Stop talking about my personal life.” For #5, it sounds like the OP did take Alison’s advice about managing but that the subordinate had unanticipated issues.

      It does sound like #3 avoided confrontation, so that one I think counts as not following Alison’s advice. #4 also didn’t take Alison’s advice – it sounds like, after writing, she re-evaluated her priorities. I think sometimes writing down your problems can make you put them in perspective, and that may have happened here. Also, Alison (and the commenters) are always working from very limited information in a short letter.

    5. EngineerGirl

      Sometimes you don’t always know what your options are. Alison’s advice presents other options that each letter writer can use as inputs for evaluation. It isn’t about taking advice as much as considering it. There’s no requirement to implement it, especially since Alison can’t know all of the relevant details.

    6. Anonymous

      Many people place blind faith in others they perceive to be more knowledgeable and then feel conflicted when the advice they get goes against their gut. I think sometimes we assume there’s only one answer and someone with more experience must know it…but there’s never only one answer. It could have gone the other way and the advice could have been perfect for their place and time, but it’s obvious that these LWs were right to say, “Wait, I didn’t give enough detail about this place; that would never fly in this situation.”

      There’s a reason it’s called “advice” and not “the only possible right course of action.” Even if it’s phrased like the latter.

      1. Elsajeni

        And, related to that, sometimes you don’t realize what you do want to do, or what your gut instinct is, until you hear advice that goes against it and realize, hey, I don’t want to do that. (I set this type of situation up on purpose sometimes when I’m having a hard time making a simple choice — “Okay, heads we get pizza, tails we get burgers. … Tails? Oh no! Uh, apparently I want pizza, let’s do that.”)

        1. Anonymous

          I thought I was the only one who did this! I’ve always found it very useful in both individual and group situations, although I’ve had to do it without the coin sometimes in the latter cases.

          It’s amazing how five other people in a car will have no preferences about dinner – repeatedly – for several minutes – until someone (usually me) gets quietly fed up and says, “Okay, then why don’t we have X?”

          This will cause at least three of the five to instantly form an opinion previously unknown to them.

    7. Rana

      I think, too, that sometimes when people write in for advice, they’re not always looking for solutions so much as confirmation that there is in fact a problem, one that can be seen by people outside the situation. Once you’ve had the existence of the problem confirmed, it becomes easier to enact your own solutions.

  5. Bea W

    #4 Made me happy. Sometimes you think you have your career path all figured out, but life has other plans. I took a chance on a lateral move a very long time ago. Some people thought I was nuts, but I didn’t really want to keep doing what I was doing, and wasn’t happy. Taking an internal lateral move was probably the best career decision of my life. It ended up that the new role was a terrific fit for my personality and natural abilities, and I quickly make up any lost ground. That was more than a decade ago. No regrets! I have since moved on from that company, but I remained working the in the same role, advancing my career, and I still love what I do. I had only 2 classes left, but by then I had no intention or much desire to pursue a career directly related to my degree.

    I think every job interview I’ve had I’ve been asked how I chose or ended up doing what I do, and my answer always starts out, “It was really an accident…” I love telling the story of how I ended up in a career I was originally not interested in and assumed was not best suited to me and found out just the opposite. It was an important life lesson for me. I finished my undergrad degree because

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