updates: the trash-talking boss, the excessive thanker, 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 three updates from past letter-writers.

1. My boss trash-talks all my coworkers

At first, this didn’t get any better. And I realized the issue was systemic—at one point, I was sitting in her office for a one-on-one when HER boss just walked in and started talking shit about another manager…right in front of me. They laughed and made fun of her and all I could think was, “How on EARTH do they find this appropriate?” (I’ve since found out that this has happened to other people who also didn’t appreciate it.)

But then, the company had some restructuring happen. She stopped being my boss because, frankly, it made no sense for her to be in the first place (she has no experience in my area). When my boss changed, basically everything got better, including with her behavior. Her boss changed AND she got a larger team who aren’t just friends she’s hired. Many of them are in different offices across the country, so she has no personal face-to-face time with them. Which means she has to be careful of what she says so she doesn’t get HR complaints (though she got one very soon after the restructuring). And since she was the ring-leader, the behavior from her friends has also stopped.

And my new boss doesn’t behave that way at all. We get along—sincerely, this time. I don’t feel like I have to tip-toe around her feelings. It’s awesome.

I was a little taken aback by the number of commenters who thought I was enjoying her including me in these things. Maybe I didn’t phrase my letter in a way that made my feelings clear, but I wouldn’t have written in for advice if I didn’t want it to stop. So I didn’t really understand.

But the problem is gone and my work atmosphere is MUCH less toxic.

2. My manager thanks me publicly for the smallest things, and it’s humiliating (#3 at the link)

When I first wrote to you, I’d only been on our team for a few weeks, and I misdiagnosed my own problem! Something felt “off” about my manager, and I knew we weren’t quite clicking. Because his excessive praise was the most noticeable characteristic, that’s what I attributed my problem to. But that wasn’t quite right.

It wasn’t that my manager was too nice – it was that his praise was concealing a tendency to micromanage. “Oh, you’re so good at PowerPoint!” can obscure refusal to let a person make a single edit to said PowerPoint without approval.

Over the course of several months, my working life descended into being unable to take a single action – scheduling a meeting, crafting an agenda, you name it – without my manager’s approval. (My favorite incident: I was on speakerphone scheduling a meeting my manager wouldn’t be attending, and he stepped in and changed the time and length of the meeting. Again – a meeting he wouldn’t be at.) If I contributed an idea, it was heavily praised – then ignored. Yet if I didn’t offer ideas (being micromanaged is extremely time intensive, I was finding myself at work until 7 or 8 p.m., and it was sometimes faster not to have an opinion), I was berated for not being a team player.

Being new, I didn’t have historical context. I later found out from other team members that the last, not one, not two, but three people who held my position had all left for other projects because of this manager’s micromanaging.

However: I have truly amazing grandbosses who noticed this trend in people fleeing this team and who sat me (and a few others) down to get our honest opinion about what was going on. They subsequently had a come-to-Jesus talk with my manager, and, to his credit, he made a significant effort to change. He’s still not someone I ever want to work with again, but he really did try to improve. And, on my end, I didn’t handle the situation particularly well: I could have spoken up about feeling this way, I could have been more proactive at finding better ways to work together. I was saved not through my actions but through the dumb luck of having brilliant grandbosses.

I’m on a much better team now where I have a manager who has already helped me grow immensely – including figuring out when I need to push back.

3. Should I relocate with my company? (#5 at the link)

In the end, I decided not to relocate.

I was in a position where I was able to wait to see what decisions others made about relocating before I made my own, and ultimately, almost no one did. Whether it was because of changes in the way the roles would be structured, family reasons, or obtaining other offers, they said no. I would have been moving to work with an almost entirely different team, and for me, the team had been a major plus.

I would still have been considering it at least a bit, but a former boss in my current city heard about the impending office closure and thought of me for a vacant role. It’s an exciting step forward in my career!

update: interviewing while missing several front teeth

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 in 2018 who had to interview while missing several front teeth because he was in the middle of extensive dental work? (#2 at the link) Here’s the update.

In January 2018, you replied to my question about interviewing while in the middle of major dental work. You advised me to address the issue casually and move on with the interview. At the time I was working part time at a retail store, but when I got promoted to full time, the way they determined eligibility for benefits was so screwy that I was full time for over a year before leaving without earning any benefits.

When the store blindsided me with cutting my hours a few months ago, I started looking more earnestly for another, more stable job. I was back where I started: interviewing with missing teeth. After a frustrating search (including a staffing agency that interviewed me by phone twice, said they would put my resume in for a job, and never called me again, and another application process where a chat bot asked for your information and resume details piece by piece… what?? This is a thing??), I then revamped my resume by your advice.

The very next place I applied, with my new resume, was an office at which I had unsuccessfully interviewed two years before, and they called me for an interview. I have to say I did not follow your advice about my teeth. I was too embarassed still to actively bring attention to it. I made sure the rest of my grooming was on point: neat hair, polished dress boots, and a tie that one of my interviewers complimented me on! I just crossed my fingers that everything else would outweigh my dental state. I also pored over your advice on interviewing in general.

During the interview process, I emailed you again, this time about thank you notes, as I would be interviewing with four people in three separate interviews. In a private response, you advised me to write individual notes and don’t go over the top in an attempt to be memorable. But I was offered the position only an hour and a half after leaving my interview with the C-level!

The best news, to follow up on my original letter, is that uncommonly good benefits, including dental, start after 30 days of employment. And the culture here is also so positive that no one has said a word about my teeth.

Thank you again for all your advice that has helped me land a job in a positive place I am already thriving in!

weekend free-for-all – December 14-15, 2019

a sleeping catThis comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand. (This one is truly no work and no school.)

Book recommendation of the week: Us, by David Nicholls. Hoping to save his marriage, the somewhat uptight and rigid Douglas Petersen embarks on a month-long tour of Europe with his much more laid-back wife and skeptical teenage son.

* I make a commission if you use that Amazon link.

update: my dad is dating my boss, and they want me to go to couples therapy with them

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 boss was dating her dad, and she was being ordered to attend couples counseling with them? The first update is here, and here’s the latest.

Things are going okay– very busy. I’m still working at the same company where I was placed by a temp agency. I like my job all right, but the whole office culture has been wearing on me a bit (it’s a bit conservative). What gets me through is knowing that this job gives me and my husband stability, especially since we have two incomes now. It’s also nice to have a very low-stress job where I don’t need to take any of my work home with me, but I’m definitely not fulfilled.

I had a sort of epiphany in March that what I actually want to do is deliver babies (sounds out of the blue, but I actually wrote my master’s thesis on the importance of maternal health care as a measure of progress in developing countries), so now I’m applying to nurse/midwifery courses and waiting to hear back. I won’t know for sure whether I’ve been accepted anywhere until February, and right now I’m taking all my prerequisite courses online, which works out to be a full-time course load on top of my full-time job. It’s a lot! I’ve just done doula training, so I might try to work as a doula for awhile if I don’t get into school on this try. We’ll see!

As for family stuff… nothing has changed. My dad is still with Jill, and we haven’t spoken in person since my first letter (May 2018). We occasionally email and text. I ran into him and Jill on the street a few weeks ago (we were on a very narrow sidewalk and it was only the three of us; yes, he saw me), but he didn’t say hello or smile, and Jill just smirked at me. It was really horrible. My mom is great and doesn’t pressure me to speak to him, but the rest of the family isn’t as nice about it. Everyone obviously found out about my letter, and some relatives haven’t read it, but still think it was wrong of me to air family grievances online (even though it’s anonymous and I never expected my family to see it). My grandparents have asked if I’m “ever going to speak to [my] father again”, which is just so far off base… This isn’t about me being mad and pouting– it’s a matter of self-protection. Now, since I haven’t celebrated Christmas with my extended family on my dad’s side for a few years, I’m getting pressure to come for Christmas because my grandparents “won’t be alive forever.” It’s been really re-traumatizing to have to explain that the situation I was in with Dad and Jill was abusive, and I’m so tired of having to defend myself.

I’m seeing a therapist for support, which has been wonderful! About a year ago, my husband and I got a Cornish Rex kitten, and we’re currently planning a trip to Egypt to see the pyramids and cruise down the Nile. We’re really happy most of the time, and I feel very hopeful about the future.

Thank you and the whole Ask A Manager community!

Late-breaking update to the update:

I actually got into a great program and am moving to a new city in the spring!

updates: the bad coworker, the food police, 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 coworker is bad at her job, and I’m unofficially in charge of her

I got a lot of advice for how to work with Penny, and lots of people rightly suggested that the bigger issue was our chronically absent manager. This is true. However, I knew that there was nothing I could do to fix this problem. (I can’t go into detail but the way our structure is set up, he’s pretty independent–think academia, although this isn’t–so although he has someone officially over him, that person is pretty hands-off and also quite inaccessible to me.) What I did do was to approach another manager (Billy) on the same level and get him unofficially involved with our team, as kind of an advisor. Penny looks up to Billy and respects him, so when he asks her to do something or gives her an assignment she takes it much more seriously than when I was doing it. Billy has also been wanting to get involved with our work, so it’s a win-win. Now we meet together on a regular basis and divide tasks and prioritize. Penny asks Billy at every meeting what she should work on for next week, and sometimes I answer and Billy confirms it, but that’s enough for her to take better ownership of it than when I was just giving her assignments myself. This has worked out amazingly. Recently I had a “higher-up” come to my office–who had previously come to complain about Penny and give me advice for how to “fix” her issues–to tell me how pleased everyone is with her work, and that it’s been a complete 180 in the past 6 months. “Whatever you did, it worked!” I was told.

But, the even bigger news is that my entire department is having a reorg next year, and my team is being eliminated. That means chronically absent manager will be gone. Penny, for better or worse, will also be gone. But I am being transferred to another team and given a VERY substantial raise (the manager of the other team asked what it would take to get me to stay, I threw out what I thought was a ridiculously high number, and he came back with an even higher number). They worked very hard to keep me. Additionally, since I have been lowkey job hunting since my first letter, I actually have 2 other companies courting me right now. One of them made an offer last night of $10K more than what I will be making when I transfer, and they want to put me in management. The other one said I should hear from them soon. I haven’t decided what to do but it’s great to have so many options, and to have a vote of confidence from my own company!

2. How do I tell friends and family I can’t keep helping with their writing?

Surprisingly, the person whom I thought would take my declining to help the worst, surprised me by asking for my help in finding a beginners writing program. It’s been 6 months, and she loves it.

Some other friends (including fellow teachers) have been harder to handle, “But it won’t take that long!” “You’ve always done it before!” Using your suggested scripts, I felt so confident saying, “I’m completely swamped – I know you understand!” Sticking to a few practiced lines helped me feel strong about saying no. I referred a few people to a former colleague who freelances and she is thankful for the work. My husband also sends his thanks. Everyone wins! 

3. My coworker acts like the food police

You published my letter about my coworker who acted like the food police nearly three years ago. About eight months later, I was laid off and went through a period of unemployment. I found a job that’s more challenging and pays better and have been there two years now. The best thing is that my coworkers don’t obsess over food and diet. Yeah, the occasional comment is made about their own eating habits — I don’t think it’s possible to escape that in our society — but it’s not constant and it’s NEVER about anyone else.

As far as my eating disorder recovery goes, I’m doing fantastic. I still have the occasional disordered thought, but they’re the exception rather than the rule at this point. I think back to three years ago and barely recognize myself. Things are so much better and I’m in a better place than I could have even imagined back then.

I wanted to thank you and your readers again for such kind and thoughtful responses to my letter. I wrote in during one of the worst periods of my life and everyone was tremendously encouraging. I still go back and read the comments every once in awhile because they really were helpful.

4. My company moved me to 5 countries in 12 months, got me deported, and is angry I want to quit

Things worked out fine after I got kicked out of the country I was working in in January. The company wasn’t particularly helpful, but at that point I didn’t expect much of anything from them. They got me a ticket back to a city where I worked years before, so I had friends and old colleagues who made sure I had an easy adjustment.

The company is known – really, has only increased its reputation in the last year – for being super vindictive if you leave before two years, and the team I was working with was very clear that they at least needed me to stick around for a few months. So I did, working from the other side of the world. It was not great; my hours were weird in order to take calls and my work suffered for being isolated. But after finishing that project in the spring they let me spend a few months drawing a regular paycheck (they only missed payroll for me once, but I’m told it’s a more widespread problem), doing short tasks for them, and putting most of my energy toward job hunting.

I ended up getting a job (in a new city I like a lot, doing similar, interesting work) right after the 2-year contract ended, so I left on good terms. About six months after I got deported, after I got a new job, they shipped my stuff back to me (well, most of it. Some of it my roommates lost or kept). Whatever. I’ve refrained from writing a glassdoor review yet, but I did have a cathartic exit interview. I got to say my piece, but the interviewer did part of it for me, opening by saying the org had put me through a nightmare, which I appreciated; everyone senior at the org just kind of brushed the deportation off, so I was glad someone at least got that it mattered.

5. How do I get my coworkers to shut up about Game of Thrones?

You were right, I only had to power through a few more weeks and all Game of Thrones conversation totally stopped. In fact, a lot of them were upset about the way the last season went and didn’t want to talk about it at all anymore, so the day I sent the email ended up actually being the day of highest conversation intensity anyway. I do still hear rumors about a reboot but I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

I never did watch the show and continue to live with my choices, but I did really enjoy the spirited conversation in the comments :D

managing an employee who’s often out sick

A reader writes:

I have an employee who for the last six months has been out sick about 1-2 days a week on average, due to chronic illness. This is affecting performance, and others have had to shoulder a lot of the burden: missed deadlines, poor quality work, and an overall significant decrease in productivity.

I want to be compassionate but am not sure what the best solution moving forward is. All our employees are at-will and he’s exhausted all his paid time off. I’ve considered making him part-time to give him the time he needs while freeing up resources to get the work done (he’s communicated in the past that he needs the full-time position because of financial reasons, though obviously cannot do the job). I’m not sure if there are other transition/temporary solutions to a situation like this.

I run a small company of only 12 employees so we are not required to offer FMLA. I’ve considered doing an FMLA-likestructure but worry that because of his financial concerns it’ll be more of a burden to administer than a help (especially given that my company is incredibly flexible; he can come in for five hours one day, be available a full day another, or only be able to do one hour of work another). I will consider termination but given that much of this in intertwined with health issues I want to make sure I do the right thing.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Employees violated the spirit of our office gift exchange
  • Slow employee is listening to podcasts while she works
  • Job offers made by email or FedEx
  • I received the resume of a current employee who appears to be job-searching

open thread – December 13-14, 2019

It’s the Friday open thread! The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on anything work-related that you want to talk about. If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet*, but this is a chance to talk to other readers.

* If you submitted a question to me recently, please do not repost it here, as it may be in my queue to answer.

updates: coworker criticizes how I talk to men, the cold feet, 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 four updates from past letter-writers.

1. My coworker keeps criticizing the way I talk to male colleagues

I wrote to you last year about my weirdly-sexist manager trying to police my actions with other people in the office.

I wanted to let you know that I appreciate your advice! It was reassuring to hear everyone in the comments who also felt that Brenda was over-stepping in a really weird and gross way. Women supporting women, 2019 and forever!

As far as updates, I have a few. Firstly, me. I hate to admit that I mostly tried to avoid further conflict with the whole thing. Brenda was the one who hired me, and was the senior person in the office, so I couldn’t bring myself to call her out. I talked to Chris about it, and we ended up changing our behavior – instead of walking over to his cubicle a few times a day, we chatted via IM and text almost exclusively. We figured if she couldn’t see it, she couldn’t object to it. I didn’t stop being friendly to students who came into the office, be they male, female, married, single, or otherwise affiliated, because that was also part of the job.

At the start of the semester that I wrote you, Brenda had talked to me about increasing my pay rate. Given the nature of work-study, this meant that I would hit my earnings cap more quickly, and therefore would be working less hours. I was naive enough to be excited at the prospect of a raise, and did not consider that this was a way to have me spend less time in the office. When we were getting everything prepared for the summer semesters, I mentioned to Brenda that I would be taking summer classes, hoping to get a work schedule set up. She took that opportunity to fire me. I decided against further work-study, as this was my second position within the university that ended rather badly.

Secondly, Chris. He and I stayed in touch! We would occasionally grab lunch or dinner together, never meeting up at the office unless Brenda was decidedly not there. For what it’s worth, he told me that the girl they hired to replace me was terrible at the job, and that he had resorted to wearing headphones constantly to get some relief from Brenda’s ongoing strangeness. He finished up his degree and as quickly as he could, moved on to a really great job in his chosen field, so I’m happy for him!

Thirdly, Brenda. As I alluded to in my original letter, she had a reputation for being very difficult to work with. She’s “retiring” this year, though with scuttlebutt being what it is in academic circles, she’s definitely being pushed out, and the ongoing behavior that led to that is it’s own fascinating saga.

And just for posterity, it turned out that the banished grad student WAS flirting with me, as he hit on me rather plainly when we ran into each other outside of the office. Still none of Brenda’s business, though.

2. I manage someone who’s upset that his employees don’t give him praise and validation

The advice from the community was really helpful. If nothing else, the whole situation made me realise that MY personal passion is for managing people, unlike his. I’ll take wins where I can find them :)

As many people suggested, I sat him down and had a frank discussion about the reality of middle management and flagged that his expectations are unrealistic. This revealed a few things:
-he was burnt out and was experiencing some mental health issues. He disclosed this without me directly asking (a commenter flagged this possibility so was on my radar, thanks!).
-he was missing being an individual contributor. So he was expressing a level of jealousy that the team get to be hands on.

He’s still in the role, he’s made similar comments once more since, and it ended up being an early warning sign that he needed a break (we work in a particularly high risk area for burnout).
Things are ok, I keep closer eye on his team, but by all accounts they appear to be happy and productive. I suspect his next career move will not be in management.

3. I just started my new job and I miss my old one — did I make a mistake?

While new job jitters are a very real thing and often subside on their own, in this situation my gut instinct was spot on. The role I wrote in about was indeed not right for me – very quickly (within the first two weeks) I realized I needed somewhere with a different office environment, a mission with which I could personally connect, and a culture of camaraderie among coworkers. I started (another) job hunt and within a few months, landed at a nonprofit that’s been a great fit for me. I’ve been here almost six months now! Through this experience, I learned a lot about trusting my gut, accepting that not everything works out the way we think it will, and planning an exit strategy when the time comes. Thank you, Ask A Manager, for your thoughtful response; and readers, to all of you for helping me realize I wasn’t alone in this period of discernment!

4. Will this job be impossible to succeed at? (#5 at the link)

Thank you again for posting my letter and for the lovely advice, and as I am starting a new, unrelated to the post, job next week, I wanted to give you an update. They never contacted me back for a follow-up interview. I reached out 10 business days later to follow up in a brief email and still nothing. This wouldn’t be that odd considering yes this is my first job out of college, well known nonprofit, competitive, yadayadayada, BUT it should be noted that they reached out to me two days after I submitted my resume for supplementary materials such as writing samples, transcripts, and referrals and then booked my interview 24 hours after receiving them. While I may be new to the job market, revising web entries from college-level reading to 5th-grade level is something I did for a full year and had a degree from a competitive program in. So it was a bit odd (rude) to completely ghost with not even a “we found someone else to fill the position” email. Oh well, I found a job with a brand new, tiny foundation and they’re paying me two thirds more than the contract would have in one year vs 18 months so alls well that ends well!

my mom says I’m not getting hired because of my weight, does messy handwriting matter, and more

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

1. My mom says I’m not getting hired because of my weight

Frankly put: my mom thinks I’m too fat, and she says that’s why I’m not getting offered jobs even after advancing through a few rounds of interviews.

I’ve been job searching for a couple months, and I’m still working at a place I like just fine but has virtually no upward mobility, so it’s not like she’s supporting me or I’m struggling to get hired absolutely anywhere. I’m confident in my skills, resume, and interviews, and I’ve been told I’m among the top two or three candidates more than once, only to come up second of those two. It’s been disappointing, but not shattering, and I’ve gotten good feedback from some interviewers and others have told me (sincerely, I’m pretty sure) they’ll reach out to me first if other positions come up.

But the last couple times I’ve called my mom to say “almost, but not quite,” instead of offering sympathy or anything constructive, she’s told me it’s probably because of my weight. I’m a 28-year-old woman, and I am overweight. I’m also gay and mixed race (my dad is Black and my mom is white), so trust me when I say I’ve experienced a whole lot of prejudice and I know how crappy people can be. I’m sure there are hiring managers out there who would choose a skinny person with a comparable resume to mine, or even a worse one, but I also think that the quality of my work and my professional credentials would matter much more to any employer I’d care to work for.

That doesn’t seem to hold much water with my mom though. Her biggest piece of job-seeking advice seems to be “lose 30 pounds,” and it’s just not helpful. Do you or your readers have any perspective or advice?

I’m sorry your mom is being awful here, and I’m glad she hasn’t shaken your confidence. Interviewers can be biased against people for all sorts of reasons, and there is research showing weight discrimination is a real thing, but it’s also highly unlikely that your weight is the dominant factor in your job search (and your mom would have no way of concluding it is). Interviewing for a couple of months without an offer isn’t unusual or worrisome, and it’s obnoxious that she’s implying there’s something wrong with you that’s keep you from getting hired.

The best thing you can do is to stop talking to her about your job search. She’s not contributing anything supportive or useful, and she’s actively tearing you down. She’s forfeited her right to hear about how it’s going. Let her know when you have a new job, but until then there’s no point in discussing your progress with her. If she directly asks, say, “I’ll let you know when there’s something interesting to share” … or better yet, “I don’t want to hear speculation about my weight, so let’s talk about something else.”

2. Is my messy handwriting a problem?

As I’m sitting here addressing holiday cards to a few clients, I’m cringing a little at my messy handwriting. It’s not chicken scratch, but it’s not very neat and professional looking either. I’m also left-handed, so as much as I may try to blot the page or avoid it, there can sometimes be smudges and things where my hand smears the ink. In addition to holiday cards, clients sometimes see my handwriting when I fill in contracts or jot notes, so this comes up from time to time.

Does this matter? Is there a way to develop handwriting that looks more professional? Is it worth worrying about it? I don’t think about it much from day to day, but sometimes I see another person’s perfectly crisp handwriting and think about what a strong impression it makes.

For the record, I spent more than a decade as a newspaper journalist, so there was a lot of fast-paced note scribbling involved. While I’ve never had great handwriting, I think this experience degraded it quite a bit.

When I was in ninth grade and spent many hours a week writing absurdly long notes to friends (for some reason we passed multi-page notes to each other between classes; I have no idea why), my handwriting was truly beautiful — even, perfectly rounded, entirely consistent, almost like a font. And sometimes I find samples of it now and marvel that I produced it, because my current handwriting is horrendous. I think that when we switched to keyboards and stopped writing by hand so often, a lot of us lost our penmanship skills.

All of which is to say that (a) loads of people have messy handwriting these days and (b) I think people care a lot less than they used to. As long as it’s reasonably legible and you’re not, like, a calligrapher, I wouldn’t worry about it.

3. Client’s employee talks all day long outside my office

I work at a relatively small company. We have about 60 employees, mostly warehouse employees. We have about 15 employees inside the office. I’m the inside sales manager and manage a small staff of four. We’re a small, quiet group.

About a year ago, one of our customers decided they’d like to have five of their employees work in our facility. Not the first time we’ve had this, and it’s quite common in our industry. They happened to choose the open cubicles right next to my office. I never thought it would have been a big deal. If anything, it would be great — if they had any problems, they could come and see me quickly to discuss.

Boy, was I wrong! One of their employees talks NON-STOP. I mean, non-stop. From the time I clock in until the time I leave, she’s talking. Whether it’s on the phone or to her coworkers, it never stops. She’s loud and obnoxious, and it’s ruining my productivity. At this point, I’ve gotten so frustrated that I just shut my door to drown out her noise … which I hate because I like having an open door policy.

How should I proceed? After all, she is my customer. However, it’s having negative effects on my work. Should I contact her boss? If so, I feel like I’m being cowardly, and being a “rat.” Should I just move offices? Should I continue to just keep the door shut? I’m desperate.

The obvious option isn’t on your list: talking to her directly! It’s not in any way rude to let her know that her voice carries and ask her to keep it down.

That said, since she’s talking non-stop all day long, her version of “keeping it down” might mean that talking 80% of the day instead of 100% of the day, which is still going to be disruptive. Given that, it might make sense to skip that conversation and just relocate her. It sounds like you gave this group their choice of where to sit, but there’s no reason you can’t decide it’s not working and you need to relocate them. You’re entitled to say, “This set-up isn’t working as well as I’d hoped because the sound really carries, so we’re going to move you into a space down the hall.” (Just make sure you don’t move her right next to someone else, of course — she/they need their own area where they won’t disturb anyone.)

If there’s nowhere they can move that won’t disrupt someone, you might need to decide how much of a stand you’re willing to take on it. It’s reasonable to speak with her about the noise, and then to her boss if that doesn’t solve it — but whether or not to do that will involve political calculations about how gingerly you need to treat this customer and this person’s particular role on their team.

4. Can I ask my manager to stop texting after hours?

My manager has taken to group texting outside of office hours. Initially it was a non-emergency matter after work hours that should have been an email that everyone could have read the next day. Then it was something as simple as “drive carefully” during bad weather. My manager is a wonderful person and manager, but I find this all unnecessary. When texted, I assume it’s important and I have to stop what I’m doing, find my phone, and find my glasses, only to see it’s nothing. Then I have to be bothered with others from the group responding. Am I overreacting or would it be okay to say something and what would I say?

You’re not overreacting. Texting is an immediate medium; it interrupts what you’re doing to push messages at you, whereas email waits for you to check it. There’s no reason your manager should be interrupting your evening with non-urgent messages that could wait until the next time you’re in your work email.

You could say it this way: “I try to disconnect from work after hours, and the group texts make it harder to do that. Would it be possible to switch back to email for things that aren’t an emergency and don’t need to be seen and responded to right away?”

5. What to say when a coworker’s family member is having surgery

What’s the best way to express sympathy (solidarity?I don’ have a good word for it) when a coworker or direct report tells you that they will be taking time off because a close family member is having surgery or the like? “Good luck!” seems like it could be taken the wrong way. “My thoughts are with you and your family” seems a bit serious for more minor things, and maybe a bit too personal? This is an area where I am not well calibrated, and I’d love to have a better mental script for it.

Some options, depending on the circumstances:

* “I hope everything goes smoothly!”
* “Please let me know if you need anything!”
* “Of course, just let me know if you need more time.” (for direct reports)

updates: the boss who dumps pee in the kitchen sink, 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 boss pees in a cup and dumps it in the kitchen sink

No one has spoken up because they all say it’s their word against his. I only work one day a week as independent contractor so I can’t say anything. I guess it’s just something they are going to live with. But, when I am there we do eat in the conference room instead of the kitchen.

All the advice given was great and of course, it was right. Something should be done. It’s just so damn embarrassing.

2. My new company is all about the Law of Attraction and other pseudoscience

I am still at the same company, for now. Luckily, there’s not been too much activity on the Law of Attraction front. I never directly talked to my boss about how I felt about the woo. Something about it really seemed like a “this is what we’re doing, period.” I know others had originally expressed religious concerns, but “they eventually came around.” I mostly used the “wait and see” approach. We did have a day long seminar hosted by Jane with the whole office but it wasn’t absolute torture. I think those in charge have met with her personally multiple times over the last year, but it’s surprisingly started to fizzle out. It appears that a lot of these company initiatives are mostly talk.

However, all of this Law of Attraction stuff has seeped into management style – for example, my first real review. I was told I am super talented, do great work and my coworkers seem to enjoy working with me, but I wasn’t positive enough. If I didn’t shape up and become more positive, they would have to reconsider my position. So, uh… that was fun. My “positivity” hasn’t been brought up in any official capacity since other than an odd comment here or there, so I’m trying not to worry too much about it. It still hangs above my head like a Sword of Damocles. I do have clinical depression but don’t think I’m overly Eeyore…

Because of this and a variety of other reasons, I am making plans to leave but I don’t feel the urgent need to do so. Thank you again for all your advice. You’ve been a huge help over the years.

3. How to tell coworkers “you need to do that yourself”

Your scripts and the advice here worked beautifully. Mostly I got a lot of embarrassed and apologetic reactions from people who had been genuinely confused about the change. I also have had several very visible projects in my new role, which I think has helped with clarification. I also spoke with Robin and we agreed on an explanation of new job duties that we both would give when asked. A few of the worst offenders either moved on to new roles or have had other unrelated performance issues. If anyone complained to Lily, I never heard about it.

In not-so-great news, we are going through a reorganization and I was reassigned from Lily to one of her direct reports, Victoria. I like Victoria a lot and don’t foresee problems with her as a manager, but there is sort of a learning curve in figuring out what a new manager wants (I’ve reported to Lily for four years). There is also a push at higher levels of our agency to centralize my currently decentralized unit and in so doing, to put me back into a support role. It has been widely acknowledged that this is not because of my performance, which has been well above par according to them, but because my role doesn’t “fit in.” Lily created it for me and no one else here has one quite like it. Victoria and Lily both have promised to do everything they can to protect me, but I’m quite disheartened by these conversations and am experiencing a high level of anxiety when going to work.

Update to the update:

I’ve been assured that my going back to a support role is not on the table, regardless of what happens with the restructuring. I’m still feeling anxious and would like some answers about what I will be doing day to day in the new year (this has been an ongoing conversation for six months with no answers), but for now I’m trying to focus on things outside work until then. 

4. My coworker is badmouthing my work – and some of her complaints are true

My letter left a lot out for brevity’s sake. A lot of commenters criticized me for getting my lesson plans in Sunday night, but I do want to be clear that the latest I ever had them uploaded was on Sunday morning, and I included plans, Google slides, and all the copies/materials she would need. This particular coworker was responsible for a different subject, and while her plans were always early, they were so vague as to be virtually unusable. It wasn’t a great situation, in that no one had enough time to do everything we needed to. I sacrificed getting them in by the weekend; she sacrificed detail.

This past year was so much better. I moved to a different grade level, and while my team wasn’t perfect, we were a much better fit. They were very…flexible about lesson plans, shall we say. In fact, most weeks, I ended up writing lesson plans for all the subjects, and mine were of better quality than theirs (when they wrote them at all). It was a lot of work, but I really preferred it to getting badmouthed for my lesson plans while also having to use terrible plans from someone else, and no one cared that they sometimes got done on Sunday. We are technically required to write our own plans anyway, although pretty much every grade level team splits up their lesson planning by subject. I got a glowing evaluation from my coach, and my students made incredible growth, which put to rest my fears that I’m just a bad teacher and not cut out for the job.

I did talk to my former coworker about her concerns. A couple of weeks after my letter was published, I apologized for the way I handled lesson plans, using your script. She waved it off and said it was not a problem, we were all muddling through. I haven’t heard of any more complaints from her since then, and we’re still cordial when we see each other.

5. Company-wide thank-you writing (#4 at the link)

We had our third annual thank you card making session today. The CEO’s advisor left this year and I wasn’t sure about running the session by myself, so I posted on Slack asking if it was a thing people still wanted to do and got a really positive response and lots of offers to help. I’ve just gone down to the canteen to pick up the bag of thank you cards at the end of the day and it is STUFFED. I had 20 minutes budgeted for two colleagues and me to sort the cards tomorrow ready for delivery, but I think I may have underestimated!