my biggest client is a jerk, changing your resume after a layoff, and more

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

1. My biggest client is a jerk

I own a small advertising firm with one big client. The new exec we work with at that company is a bully, micromanaging our work and using abusive language dealing with us. We had a wonderful relationship with previous managers – this is the first time this has happened. I know they are short staffed and she is the only one they have to work with us, so more than likely, complaining to higher-ups will result in us being dropped for another company in this highly competitive industry. I can’t let that happen – too many people’s jobs depend on it. But my attempts to find common ground and communicate with her have only led to more belittling language. I’m at the end of my rope – and scared. Any suggestions?

You can try meeting with the new exec, saying that you’ve had the sense that she’s been frustrated with your staff, and asking how you can work more effectively with her. And if you were willing to risk her taking it poorly, you could try talking to her about how she can work with you more effectively. And you could ask her to come directly to you with concerns in the future rather than using abusive language with your staff.

However, since she’s your primary client and you’re not willing to risk losing the relationship, this might be a case of needing to suck it up and deal with it, if you know you’d prefer to deal with a jerk than to lose the client entirely. That said, I’d be working actively on ways to diversify your client list, so that you’re not held hostage to any single company. (Which would be a good idea even if this woman were lovely — because being dependent on a sole client is a precarious position to be in.)

2. Must I change my resume immediately after a layoff to indicate I’m no longer employed?

I just got laid off and was wondering how long I can wait to change the entry on my resume from [companyname] [title], [startdate] – current to [companyname] [title], [startdate] – [enddate]. Or maybe I shouldn’t wait?

It would be disingenuous to continue sending out a resume that says you’re currently employed somewhere where you no longer work. You can get away with not changing it for a week or so, but beyond that you risk looking deceptive. After all, if an employer calls you for a phone interview a few days after receiving your resume and it comes up that you were laid off, you’re likely to be asked when the layoff occurred — and if the answer is “one month ago,” it’s not going to look great that your resume you just sent them a few days ago said that you were still working there.

3. Are you obligated to respond to your former employee when you no longer work there?

One of our coworkers came in on the weekend and left his badge and resignation letter on his manager’s desk. He did not give two week notice, so he quit effective immediately.

Upon realizing he quit the next working day, our manager tried to contact him via phone/personal email to make sure everything was okay, but this person did not respond. The debate by the watercooler was “does the former employee have any legal obligation to respond to inquiries from a former employer?” I think that they do not have to answer calls or provide any futher explanation if they choose not to. Is that correct?

That is indeed correct; there’s no legal obligation whatsoever to communicate with your former employer once you resign. Hell, for that matter, there’s no legal obligation to communicate with your employer while you’re still employed (although obviously that would end your employment pretty quickly).

This is an issue not of law, but of convention, courtesy, and reputation — all of which do dictate that your former coworker should have responded to your manager to explain what happened. Not doing so is unprofessional and will presumably impact his reputation accordingly.

4. I don’t want to cover the help desk!

I have been working in a major department store for the last four years for the engineers who cover repairs and maintenance, as a contract support administrator. My role within that time has mainly been raising purchase orders, keeping spreadsheets updated, some accounts work, and dealing with internal and external queries.

The company that I used to work for lost the contract a year ago, and I transferred over to the new company. A year later, they have told me that I need to be trained to cover the help desk. I have no wish to work on the help desk and in fact turned down a job offer to do that job here four years ago, just before I secured my current position. I have told them that I don’t want to cover the help desk and gave my reasons, but was told, “Well, it’s part of your job.” It never has been and has never been mentioned until now. Basically, they are not replacing staff when they leave and are expecting everybody else to cover these positions. What is strange is there is already a guy who enjoys covering the help desk and often comes in on weekends for overtime, but instead of him covering, I now have to train him to cover my job while I cover the help desk!

My job spec makes no mention of working on the help desk but of course does mention “any other reasonable tasks.” Would you advise me where I stand on this? Would a help desk position come under administration?

It doesn’t really matter if it’s in your job description or falls under administration — they can change your job description at any time, and it sounds like they’ve decided to. You can argue with them all you want that you’ve never been expected to do this before, but they’re not under any obligation to go by what’s been done previously. If they want to change the job, they can change the job — at which point you’d need to decide if you’re still interested in remaining in that job.

However, it sounds like it would be worth saying to them, “You know, Bob loves covering the help desk and often works extra hours to do it, whereas I prefer to focus on XYZ. Would it be possible to assign this work to him instead, rather than him doing my work while I’m doing that?” They might not agree, but it’s certainly reasonable to ask.

5. Will my second part-time job interfere with promises I made to my first part-time job?

About a month ago, I interviewed and got a part-time job with an organization that I am very happy to work for. One of the questions they asked me during the interview was about potential changes to my availability, since they really wanted someone who was available to sub a lot, and who would continue to be available. I basically said my mostly-open availability wouldn’t change, and I assume that helped me get the job. I answered that way because I assumed that, after taking a year of looking for the first steady job, a second steady job wasn’t going to immediately appear.

Well… this week I have a second interview for another part-time job. They’ve called my references, and I’m feeling pretty good about my chances. The second job would greatly increase my financial independence, and I plan on taking it if offered (I can’t really afford not to). The hours it’s scheduled for fit nicely around my scheduled hours at my current job, which is part of the reason I applied for it. But I will no longer be available for sub hours two days a week (as well as potential sub hours at the second job, too). When and how do I go about telling my manager about the second job if I get it? Do I address the sort-of dishonesty of stating that my availability wouldn’t change and then continuing to apply for other part-time positions? I don’t think this will be a complete deal-breaker for my current job, since they hired someone else at the same time as me whose availability is open (and it’s only two days a week). Am I worrying about this too much?

I don’t think there was any dishonesty you. You answered what was true at the time, and you didn’t have reason to think that was going to change soon. And I assume you didn’t commit to never looking for another job, given that your work is part-time.

If you get the second job, you can simply go back to your first manager and say, “I’m taking on a second part-time job, which means my availability will now be ___. Does that cause any problems?” If it turns out that it does cause problems, then you can deal with that then — but I’d go into assuming that you weren’t hired solely for your ability to sub.

{ 107 comments… read them below }

  1. Jessa*

    Regarding number 4, I wonder if Bob while loving help desk, is not doing well at it. It makes zero sense for the company when they’re aware the OP is not loving the idea of help desk and Bob does, to insist OP teach Bob the current job while moving OP to help desk. UNLESS Bob is not doing what they want at help desk. Unless the bosses are completely crazy, there may be something else going on that has to do more with Bob than anything else.

    On the other hand it could be like a lot of companies they want redundancy all over the place. And want everyone trained in help desk. OP it might also be a good thing to ask “well once I learn help desk so I can sub when you need me, will I be going back to my other job on a regular basis?” They may want Bob to know your stuff and you to know his in case of holidays or illness. It may NOT be a permanent thing.

    1. Jake*

      Redundancy has been a hot topic for us lately. I went 2 years as being the only one who can do a certain technical report because it would “waste too much time to train somebody else.”

      Now there are 4 of us that can do it, and I’ll never have to do one again. +1 for redundancy.

    2. Anonymous*

      I think there’s another possibility – the company may be trying to cut down on overtime. The fact that Bob wants it does not mean it’s in the company’s best interest to give it. Having multiple people who can do the job would help them better manage their labor costs.

    3. Ellie H.*

      I think it’s possible that Bob is not good at covering the help desk (that was the first question that came to my mind) but ultimately I think it’s more likely that it’s just a poorly thought out use of employee resources and the company is being somewhat myopic. I can really see this kind of thing happening at the place I work (unfortunately!).

      What’s worse is that based on my experience with customer service, it can be better to have someone working a help desk who may not have as much intrinsic knowledge but has a more enthusiastic customer service manner and is better at quickly finding out answers to what he or she doesn’t know. Even if it were the case that the OP has more intrinsic knowledge about “help” topics than Bob does (and it’s by no means clear that this is the case, and perhaps even unlikely, if Bob already covers the help desk and the OP would need to be trained on it) she still might not be the best suited to it.

  2. Erin*

    AAM, regarding #1, in a similar light, how do you list on-and-off contract work for the same employer? For example, my contract with my most recent employer just ended, but it definitely will be starting up again in 2014. I contracted for them on and off (as my only source of income, no other jobs) since 2012. The contract ended due to budget cuts and hiring freezes for end of year stuff, but I’m going back there one way or another in 2014. Do I list it as 2012-present? or 2012-2013? I want to keep it as 2012-present, because technically i will be going back there. help!

      1. Jessa*

        Personally I’d put 2012-present and explain that it’s long term project based contracting. Given that it’s November and you’d be back with them in a couple of months, I’m not sure I’d worry about gaps. Some people take all their holiday at one time and at the end of the year to boot.

    1. Ruffingit*

      I had a similar situation where I was a contractor for a company. I was laid off from them in 2009, then brought back in early 2010 for 6 months, then again in 2011 for 5 months and then I worked for them full-time from 2012-2013. I don’t bother parsing the months there, I just say 2009 – 2013 because a few months off from the job don’t make that much difference and it would be unbelievably clunky to try and list the exact dates in a resume.

  3. Jake*


    Considering the way he quit, I’d say that he isn’t too concerned about being unprofessional or damaging his reputation. He has already done a fine job of both.

    1. Mike C.*

      There are lots and lots of reasons for someone to quit that like which shouldn’t affect their reputation.

      1. Laurel*

        Really? Can you give an example of why a employee should quit in that manner without it reflecting poorly on him? Honestly, I can’t think of any excuse to leave your job without having a face-to-face conversation with your boss, or a phone call at minimum. I’d love to know what legitimate circumstances would prompt an ethical and responsible employee to quit in that manner. I do understand circumstances causing one to quit without giving two weeks notice, certainly. But just leaving a resignation letter? Yep, that should tarnish a good reputation.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit*

          I agree. And I’m someone who is more often than not in agreement with Mike C. – I appreciate his semi-radical perspective on the ethical requirements of the working world and How The World Should Be.

          1. Mike C.*

            Though I’m more focusing on the “leaving without two week’s notice” rather than “leaving without saying anything to anybody”. That last part is a little odd, but I can see why someone might not want to talk about sexual advances or that the reason for them leaving is obvious to everyone anyway.

            1. Cat*

              Though if it’s a toxic environment or something to that effect, there’s not really any excuse for telling those co-workers who don’t know (and it sounds like the OP, at least, doesn’t in this case).

              1. Bea W*

                Actually, in the case of toxic environment, you might not even want to talk to your co-workers.

                I think the bizarre part of this story is co-workers speculating if it’s legal to resign and then not return your employers phone calls. Really? He resigned! It’s like wondering if your ex has a legal obligation to return your phone calls after a breakup.

                1. Cat*

                  Oh, I was thinking “toxic” as in “toxic substances are present.” If it’s just emotionally toxic, it has to be pretty extreme before you can’t explain your reasons for resigning, even in writing.

            2. some1*

              In my professional, personal, and social experience, most people who quit jobs or end long-term romantic relationships or close friendships with a cut-direct Dear John letter do it out of cowardice of having the awkward conversation. Certainly there are sometimes extenuating circumstances, as you noted, but those instances are rare.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Agree. I actually get a fair number of letters from people who want to do what the OP’s coworker did and when I ask why, it’s because they fear an awkward conversation or just “don’t feel up to” going back in to a job they didn’t really like. That’s not to say it’s never because of more serious circumstances, but usually when I hear about it, it’s just cowardice.

                1. Jake*


                  1. The only reason I would ever not hold against somebody for leaving would be a danger to their (physical) health if they stayed, or a family emergency.

                  2. A “toxic work environment” may be a valid reason to leave, but if it is not risking your health, how is it going to hurt you in any way to stay two weeks. Sure, it might feel good and do you good for your mental health to leave on the spot, but why shouldn’t I hold that against you? You knowingly and intentionally put a strain, which is outside of professional norms, on the folks you are leaving, yet expect them not to hold it against you? I’d never give a good reference to somebody that just up and walked out unless there was a health factor, sexual harassment, illegal harassment, etc.

                  3. To address the health issue, if it is unhealthy (either through exposure to health threatening chemicals or illegal harassment), then I’m probably going to be the first out the door anyway. Keep in mind, yelling bosses are not illegal. They suck, but if you can’t take 2 more weeks, how did you make it this far to begin with?

                  I find it very strange that people expect to be able to act outside of professional norms just because they have deemed they have a toxic workplace without it damaging their reputation. It might be worth damaging your reputation to leave, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be damaged.

                  Side Note: If by toxic work place you mean illegal behavior, then I agree with you. If by toxic work place you mean, my boss is a jerk and my coworkers gang up on me to make me feel bad, then I don’t.

            3. Elizabeth*

              Quitting effective immediately could be reasonable in those cases, or in some others I can imagine (some kind of family emergency prompting a move to another state, for example), but even then I think it’s unprofessional not to answer the phone and have a brief conversation stating the reasons for leaving. If the manager is the reason the employee left, then I could see not wanting to talk to the manager – but in that case I’d think it’d be appropriate to call the manager’s manager and explain.

              1. Judy*

                Do you owe an employer reasons for leaving? We have exit interviews here, and most people I have talked to say they were going to say “I found another job” not “I got tired of being yelled at every day and found a job with a grownup for a manager that pays better.” (It’s not the case around here right now, but there was a manager who managed to reduce the group size by 50% in 2 years.)

                1. some1*

                  To use the job searching is like dating analogy, yeah, I’ve sugar-coated my reason for leaving because I don’t want to burn a bridge (or look immature and petty) like I might break up with a guy who is basically a great guy but I am not attracted to with an “It’s not you, it’s me” because I don’t want to be cruel.

                2. Bea W*

                  To piggyback on what some1 said, I wonder how many people are honest in the exit interview because it is so important not to burn a bridge. Even with the bad place I left, people were rarely willing to say anything bad for fear of bridge burning and back biting in retaliation. In my old workplace, the disgruntled comments got around.

                3. Cat*

                  No, but if you’re going to leave with no notice and you don’t provide a really compelling explanation, you can’t expect it not to hurt your reputation.

                4. Jazzy Red*

                  No, employees do not owe their employers the reasoning behind their resignation. All they need to say is, as of this date, I will no longer be working here.

                  If the employers had actually cared about the office conditions, they would have already known. They would have been close enough to their employees to know what’s going on, and they would have tried to remedy problems before anyone decided to quit without notice.

        2. Anonymous*

          My spouse quit a job in that manner – or rather she blew up on the spot and walked out. The job was abusive to employees and known in the industry for that.

          Quitting HELPED my spouse’s reputation because in the industry only idiots/doormats or people with no other choice would stick with the original company for long. And some of the people who saw the sudden walkout (and later went elsewhere themselves) thought it was excellent.

          I guess my spouse’s reputation with abusive employers took a hit – now the reputation is that they can’t walk all over the spouse. But among contacts in the industry in general – including many who went on to work at better companies as my spouse did, no way.

        3. Annie The Mouse*

          Here’s a reason: the employee is in a deeply abusive marriage, and finally gets the chance to get away from the lowlife who has made their and their children’s life living hell. I lost the best employee I ever had that way; her only choice was to vanish overnight, and she took it. It left me in a huge mess, but I was so, so, glad that she was finally safe.

          I once worked for a boss with severe anger management issues, fist-through- the-wall level issues. In the end I was able to handle things the “right” way, but I could totally see things getting to the point that a note and my keys on his desk was my safest option.

          Nobody really knows what factors go into a decision like this. Is it the most accepted way of doing things? No. But sometimes there are no good choices, only necessary ones.

        4. Bea W*

          What is the difference if the employee springs the syrprise via phone or a letter? It all amounts to the same thing which is he left without notice. He was wise to cover his butt in writing. I’m not going to speculate on how much of a dick move it was, because for all anyone knows it was a toxic workplace and the best course of action was to separate himself with minimal drama. Some workplaces will escort you right out the door upon resignation. There’s just not enough information there. He did leave a resignation letter. It’s not like he just quit showing up without notifying anyone leaving his boss to wonder where he was and if he was coming back.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            One problem is that he quit without notice, yes, but it’s an additional problem that he did it via letter and then wouldn’t answer calls. Not only does it look cowardly, but it denies the workplace any ability to wrap up loose ends — ask questions about the status of projects, etc.

            1. Bea W*

              But by the same token someone who calls or delivers the same news face to face isn’t necesarily going to stick around to answer questions either. This guy isn’t answering them now. I wouldn’t expect any different behavior if he chose a “non-cowardly” (but less butt covering) method of delivery.

              I guess my point is it’s not the method so much as the no notice. The face to face method is no better if he’s not willing to discuss anything further. So the argument of one method being better than the other is irrelevant. I think just for CYA purposes, the manager is better off with a written document just so no one can come back and claim miscommunication when they terminate the guy’s employment. We have a saying in my field, “If it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen.”

      2. Anon for this*

        I quit a job like this once. The office was toxic, and one coworker in particular behaved extremely inappropriately towards me. I told my supervisor about the inappropriate behavior, but they refused to do anything about it. I thought I could just deal with it–I needed the job–but it continued. One day I’d had enough. I quit in the middle of a workday with no notice–just handed in my resignation and walked out.

        You can’t always know that someone was in the wrong just because they didn’t give notice. Employment laws are all well and good, but not everyone has the power to get them enforced. And as AAM readers know, there’s plenty of unethical or otherwise gross behavior that’s not even illegal. Sometimes walking out is the best option a person has.

        And as far as reputation–I’d only been there a couple months, and it was the summer I graduated from college. So I just left that job off my resume and no one raised an eyebrow at the gap.

        1. Anonymous*

          I walked out of my first post-college job, too. Like you, I pretend it didn’t happen and so far this is working out alright.

          1. Kelly L.*

            I basically walked out of my telemarketing job years ago. I hated it, and dreaded talking to any of my sleazy supervisors about it because I knew they’d have some condescending spiel for me (there’s your cowardice!), and I also wanted to CMA in case of any legal weirdness, so I wrote a letter giving my two weeks’ notice.

            A week later, the letter was visibly still in their inbox. Nobody had said anything to me and nobody had moved it from the inbox. I was sick of working there and figured I was probably a rarity in giving notice at all at that hellhole. So I just stopped coming in. And like you, I’ve pretended ever since to have never worked there. I don’t include it on my resume or anything, especially since I only worked there about a month and there’s no gap because I was technically employed elsewhere the whole time (just had very few hours, hence needing the extra money). It’s never bitten me yet.

            1. KJR*

              Hats off to you for lasting that long…I made it a day and a half in telemarketing. I think it was during the summer between college and high school.

              1. Windchime*

                I made it through about 8 hours of a telemarketing job when I was 19. It was a split-shift job; 4 hours in the morning, then off all day, then 4 hours in the evening. So we could bother people both before AND after work. On day 2, I quit with some stupid made-up reason but the real reason was that I hated being that person who was calling and interrupting peoples’ days.

        2. some1*

          In your case, though, your supervisor can assume why you quit. Even if she didn’t agree that you were being mistreated, you knew that you felt you were. It sounds like the LW’s co-worker quit out of the blue, hence why the boss contacted him to make sure he was ok.

          1. Ruffingit*

            Thing is though, we only know what the OP knows, which may not be all the information. It’s quite possible this manager told everyone that he just had no idea why the man quit when in fact, the manager knows full well that the man was being harassed by the manager or whatever. The manager is not going to tell his subordinates something that makes him look bad so it may be the manager is playing the “Gee, I have no idea why…” card when in fact, he knows full well.

            Whatever the case though, I’m willing to give this guy the benefit of the doubt. Should he have quit this way? Not as a general rule, no. But there are definitely scenarios where it is appropriate. Those are very rare, but they do exist.

              1. Mike C.*

                This is a really good point actually. Or maybe it was part of the general release in exchange for a severance of some kind.

        3. Chewbecca*

          I quit like this, as well. I was being asked to do some things that were at the very least unethical and possibly illegal and doing it made me feel pretty icky and uncomfortable.

          I had only been there a couple months so I don’t feel too bad about not putting it on my resume.

        4. Jazzy Red*

          I left a job without notice once. I had a better offer, and I’d been having dreams at night about dragging my co-worker out to the parking lot and beating the crap out of her. (I can’t believe I let it get to that point, but the boss LOVED her and essentially gave her carte blanche in her treatment of others.) Anyway, leaving that job that way did not harm me later at all.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            But we can’t conclude that just because it didn’t harm your reputation in that particular case, it’s not a reputation-harming action generally. For many people, it will have an impact on their reputation (and you can’t always predict when you’re likely to run into someone from that job later, potentially at an organization you’d like to work for), so if it’s at all possible to work out the notice period, people should.

      3. BCW*

        Yeah, I kind of agree that it becomes one of those things where you are expected to do all of these “ethical” or etiquitte things when leaving a job, but if they decide to fire you, you don’t get that same respect. He gave the manager his resignation in writing, and left his keys. Why should he talk to someone if he doesn’t want to.

        Also, I think calling it cowardly isn’t the right word. Just because I have no desire to speak to you, doesn’t mean I’m scared to do it. Maybe I have no desire to get into the argument I know is coming when the end result, me not working there, won’t change.

  4. Erin*

    …and i should also add that i am looking for new work because i do not want to contract anymore because it is not stable enough. I want a salary. and benefits. and 401k. **i can dream**

  5. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

    OP #1, first of all, my sympathies. Advertising is hard business, dependent on client management. My industry is related, so I feel your pain.

    To the survival of your business – make a commitment of resources, now, to getting more clients. It seems impossible while all of your resources are poured into trying to please the picky client, but do it anyway. Even the best clients don’t last as clients forever. This one surely has an expiration date.

    To client management – I use Sandler sales training techniques in client management. (not-a-paid-plug, no links included but you can google and come up with a forbes blog post that summarizes the principles well). I would approach this as selling the client all over again.

    She’s inherited you. Working with you is somebody else’s decision. If you can sell her all over again, and make her own the decision to use you, you might be able to flip her to use her aggressive personality to protect you rather than harass you.

    This is my number one Sanders principle that I use everywhere in life:

    Don’t assume the problem that the prospect communicates is the real problem.

    Your job is to bring value to her and to the client. In an ideal world, bringing value to the client firm should be the same as bringing value to the client contact but it *often* isn’t.

    I find”Make me look good” is a common pain point. Maybe she is micromanaging to spread her DNA over everything so she can take all of the credit and look good. Maybe she is trying to sabotage you so she can then bring in her own firm selection and make herself look good. Dunno, but I have done ridiculous no-value-add things that stroked the primary contact’s need to look good in addition to doing the actual work that really gave value for the dollars spent. I have agree to sure-to-fail processes that client contact insisted upon while running a secondary will-succeed plan that I could ease in when the first one failed, to no embarrassment to the client contact. (Hell, they probably convinced themselves that it was their idea after 30 seconds anyway.)

    Since your business depends on it, find out what she really wants and give it to her. (But get more clients and never let yourself get in this survival position again.)

    1. Another Day*

      Really good points! I had the same thoughts as to the client contact’s possible underlying motivations.

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      I couldn’t agree more with these points.

      Although the agency I work at is large enough that losing one client doesn’t mean the firm has to fold, our clients are mostly big enough that losing one does mean a serious reshuffling and maybe even letting go of people — so upper management is almost never willing to fire a client. For OP, if you can’t get rid of the client — and it certainly sounds like you can’t — then treat your employees extra nicely. Show that you acknowledge that this person is a pain in the ass and that you appreciate their efforts to deal with her. This can be in words and/or in extra perks for anyone who has to deal with her directly (doesn’t have to cost much — say, buy lunch or give an occasional comp day).

      And let ’em vent — I had one truly lunatic client a while back, and upper management would go back and forth between acknowledging, “Okay, that person is crazy” and then “I need everyone to say one positive thing about Crazypants Client today! We all need to be positive!” Let me tell ya, the latter made me want to kick walls.

      1. junipergreen*

        Seconding the call for extra employee support! If possible, try stepping in and acting as a buffer, relaying the requests or feedback (censored and vitriol-free) to the team. It provides a much needed break and is a great show of support.

      2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        I was cringing at the employee part of this set up. I am “Mama Bear” about my people. The hardest thing I’d have to deal with is Crazypants being all crazy pants over my staff.

        This is to save people’s jobs, though. Hopefully a “we’re all in this together” team effort and some “Can you believe Crazypants said this?” would diffuse team stress.

        Save the jobs. Get new clients.

  6. ExceptionToTheRule*

    #1 – you need to find a way to fix this or the next problem you’ll have is that your staff is going to start leaving for better work environment. Nobody wants to be bullied at work, whether it’s by a co-worker or a client.

    I’ve got no good suggestions, but I’m struggling with a workplace bully and can tell you it will consume your workforce if nothing changes.

    1. Anonymous*

      Really good point. You should keep in mind that part of your job is protecting your team as much as humanly possible from the worst of this. Your team should not be forced to suffer unnecessarily. That may mean that you insist on being the point person for dealing with the difficult client whenever you can.

      The difficult part is that you are also responsible for running the business – including finding other clients – so you can’t abandon those responsibilities to babysit Problem Client 24×7. However, you need to think very strategically about how to allocate your time, and use whatever portion is allocated to Problem Client in ways that will shield your team where you can.

    2. Bea W*

      +1 I had an abusive client. The guy was a jerk and cussed people out. I was lucky not to be the person he spoke to most. The entire team was constantly walking on eggshells. Management refused to address it, insisting we suck it up in order to win his next contract. We bent ourselves into preztles trying to please a man who could not be pleased, and was really small potatoes in terms of our portfolio. We did everything he demanded and he still took his business elsewhere. So there was no upside to enduring this man. We not only had to put up with his abusive treatment, when we lost the second project, upper management blamed the peon team. There was no support from management for us during the whole thing, and my Big Boss flipped a lid when someone actually stated outright the client was “abusive” on the internal feedback survey that the client would never see. How DARE we!

      I understood having to suck it up and deliver, but my manahgement not only refused to support their own employees either quietly behind the scenes or by addressing the issues with the client directly, the refused to hear there was a serious problem. We were the bad guys for calling it outloud!

      Even if this one experience was not a symptom of a bigger problem, people do not deserve to be treated so badly and will only tolerate it up to a point before they up and leave. Just because you have to do business with a jerk, doesn’t mean you have to allow him or condone his jerkitude. At the least management has to internally acknowledge the problem and attempt to show some empathy and support for employees. If it can’t be addressed directly with the client, maybe there are some changes that can be made internally to try to minimize the damage. Is it really so awful to say to someone, “Yelling and cussing in communication with our employees is unacceptable. If there is a problem with the team or the work, please contact Wakeen to discuss your complaints. He will address any problems you have with the work or our employees.” Not rocket surgery!

      I secretly did a happy dance when the guy took his future business elsewhere. Employee distress and attrition has it’s own cost that offsets the profit of working with some people.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        This is really wrong.

        Not having the job/business saving challenge of Op #1, I can say that anybody who is abusive to our team members can take a hike. We don’t fire customers often, but we’ve fired them before and we’ll do it again.

        I believe this is a moral imperative. Also there is this:
        “We did everything he demanded and he still took his business elsewhere. ”

        Doing business with jerks is never worth it.

        Op #1 can’t fire his client until he gets more work. I trust he will be transparent with his staff as to what they are doing, why, and what the goals are.

  7. Anon*

    #3-My boss recently had to fire a direct report via certified letter because the employee refused to come into work, didn’t answer any phones and didn’t respond to email. My boss hated that it came to that but when someone doesn’t respond, your options are limited.

    1. Anon Accountant*

      Um, I think we work at the same place! We had an employee that had to fire a direct report via certified letter for the same reasons. But the worker showed up 4 days later and hadn’t received the certified letter terminating his employment. Then he was fired in person.

      The terminated employee didn’t respond to calls or emails to his personal account.

      1. Bea W*

        All of these stories remind me of one co-worker who after being put on administrative leave, disappeared. He did not show up to a meeting later in the week. He did not answer the phone. He was, of course, let go the day he did not show up for his scheduled meeting with HR. We were all shocked, but figured he just decided the heck with it and moved on.

        It turned out the reason he went incommunicado after being put on leave was that he had gone home and committed suicide. I hope all these people who up and disappear are safe and alive and not incommunicado due to some freak accident or a decision to call it quits on life.

        1. Kerr*

          This is the only reason why, if I were the manager in this situation, I might be tempted to keep calling until I got *a* response. I’d hate to think that someone had harmed themselves, or was about to, or was in an accident, or even had been forced to quit by an abusive partner.

    2. Mike C.*

      You can fire someone for abandoning their job. They don’t contact you for X days, and they’re automatically fired. No need for a certified letter, this isn’t a court summons.

      1. Yup*

        A lot of internal policies require the certified letter as the final step in the documentation, just to close the loop.

        1. LisaLyn*

          Yeah and plus just for my own sense of … whatever, I would want to just make that final communication one way or the other.

        1. Mike C.*

          Really? So a retail/restaurant type place can’t fire people by reducing their hours to zero and then saying nothing? Interesting.

          1. fposte*

            Actually, it may be just California–I thought I’d heard about a few others but I’m not finding it at the moment. And yes, presumably that would be verboten there, though of course those are the businesses least likely to be in touch with labor laws.

          2. Kimberlee, Esq.*

            Techinically, if your hours are reduced to zero, that doesn’t mean you’ve been fired. You can still be employed in retail or a restaurant and have no hours scheduled. That would be a retail technique to get you to quit.

            (There may be rules about that specific situation in California, though I have a hard time figuring out how they would phrase that to make it work. You must give all hourly employees at least 1 hour of work per month? If a person is not scheduled to come in for three consecutive weeks, then it counts as an involuntary termination?)

      2. Anon*

        In this particular case, the firing wasn’t because of job abandonment. They’d probably gotten wind that something was up and didnt show up to work the day they were going to be fired in person.

  8. josh*

    “Hell, for that matter, there’s no legal obligation to communicate with your employer while you’re still employed (although obviously that would end your employment pretty quickly).”

    This might have been the funniest thing I have read today…..

    1. Anon Accountant*

      I’d like to tell my boss that. You know, there’s no legal obligation that I communicate with you…

      I can hear it now: “And there isn’t any legal obligation that I keep you employed here…”.

      This was a funny start to the morning though.

    2. Cat*

      Apparently we once had someone (before my time) who took two weeks off to volunteer at an Ashram and just kind of . . . stayed. I’ve always wondered how long you can keep that up for before they cut off your paychecks.

      1. Susan*

        I know at my company that there was one guy who stopped working for us without notice, took another job, and was still getting paid by us. He was working from home, so I have no idea how long it was before anyone realized it.

      2. Bea W*

        Heh – that jogged my memory of a friend of mine who came to visit and then didn’t leave. He freaked out or had some kind of nervous breakdown and just didn’t go back home. I was the one who called his work to let them know he wasn’t returning! I think his parents eventually flew out to NYC, collected his things, and shipped them to my house to deliver to him wherever he was at , which was not my house, because he disapeared from there as well after a couple days!

    3. Amy B.*

      I actually had an employee tell me that. He said he was only required to speak to me if it were work related. If I said, “Good morning” he would not speak. When I tried to talk to him about why he was having this sudden change in behavior, he just kept saying, “I don’t have to talk to you unless it is work related and this is not work related.” Well, yeah, it kinda is. At the same time his work quality went way down and he was let go. I never knew what caused his odd behavior (other than wanting to get fired). A simple conversation probably would have cleared up what ever he had heard or misconstrued.

  9. NylaW*

    Regarding #4, and this obviously doesn’t fit a a department store, but I see this a lot on this site in regards to companies changing the job requirements or duties. While it may not be illegal, and is definitely crappy, if you work in some industries where companies seek specific accreditation certification with a state agency (such as healthcare), this would be against regulations and could get your organization fined for each instance or loss of accreditation/certification.

    1. NylaW*

      Accreditation OR certification.

      And I’m not sure that first sentence was a proper sentence. Sorry… I have only had one cup of coffee so far.

    2. doreen*

      Would it be against regulation to change the duties at all , or only in certain ways? For example, I know that there are some tasks that only a pharmacist or RN can perform, and there are regulations that would prohibit assigning those tasks to someone without the appropriate license but I’m not sure if you mean that it would violate regulations to assign a RN to perform tasks that can legally be performed by a certified nursing assitant.

  10. Anonymous*

    #2 – AAM, was wondering if this would also apply to LinkedIn profiles? Would you considered it disingenuous not to update that after a week or so had gone by? I see people who have been laid off listing jobs as current on LinkedIn months after a layoff.

    1. Stanley*

      I think people join LinkedIn because they think it’s THE thing to do. Then they barely ever log in again and certainly don’t update their profiles. I see dozens of old listings among my connections. I pay them no attention unless they’re contacting me, asking for introductions, or seeking opportunities.

      But I think if you’re actively using LinkedIn it needs to be updated as quickly as a resume would. And if you’re providing a link to your profile to any prospective employers or applying through a LinkedIn posting, I’d better be able to tell you’re making an effort to keep it up to date and relevant.

        1. Anonymous*

          But if you’re only listing month/year doesn’t it make sense to update at the end of the month or start of the next?

          BTW, the love conversations here – really useful info and great to get the different points of view!

  11. Just a Reader*

    #1: You need to think about your staff. The best agency I ever worked for had 2 key policies: no anchor accounts and zero tolerance for bullying.

    You need to protect your people. And that means having a respectful but direct conversation about what is and is not acceptable with the client. You can couch it in terms of how this client can get the absolute best work from your agency: through a respectful, collaborative approach/relationship. Sell it however you need to, but you need to rein her in, or you won’t have to worry about clients because nobody will want to work for your firm.

    There’s nothing worse than the day-in-day-out grind of agency life coupled with management that lets clients beat the living crap out of you when you’re working hard for them.

    In the meantime, as someone else suggested, work on shoring up your account base so you don’t have to hang your hat on a client who demoralizes your team on a daily basis.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Should be policy for any client-based business, and freelancers can take a lesson from this too. One of my online friends had a client who was running him into the ground. I felt bad for him, but it was up to him to draw the line with those people, which he eventually did.

      1. Jazzy Red*

        “Should be policy for any client-based business…”

        I think this is one the first things students learn in business classes. Too bad my former employer never heard this advice – the company might not be on the rocks right now if they had developed relationships with other clients. The major client drastically reduced the amount of work for us, and now the company is half of what it was.

  12. Mena*

    #1: HUGE PROBLEM: I own a small advertising firm with one big client. If this relationship blows up, you are out of business. Suck it up and get along AND secure some new clients. Whatever were you thinking to become so dependent on one client?

    #3: These ‘legal’ questions make me laugh. What law obligates me to answer the phone? There are such expectations around legal obligations and worse so, legal entitlements.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      #1 — I think this is unnecessarily harsh. My guess is that OP has a relatively young agency, and you have to start somewhere, even if “somewhere” means “only one client” (or “one client that represents the majority of the business”). It’s not easy to pick up *big* new clients, especially at the beginning.

      That being said, OP, the more you can diversify, the better. At least that way, if you have to keep this client, you can cycle internal staff in and out of that account — the eager employees who are hungry for more responsibility and promotion might welcome the chance to work on a big account, even a crappy one, to prove themselves, whereas burned-out employees might be able to transition to another, less demanding account. But if it’s the only account you have, there’s no place for burned-out staff to go except to another company.

  13. Anonymous*

    #1. Who typically takes the brunt of the blame when an advertising strategy fails? The advertising agency or the exec overseeing the advertising agency?

  14. Ruffingit*

    #1: Because you are probably going to have to suck it up and deal with this biatch of a person, I’d strongly suggest you meet with your staff and let them know you’re aware of the problem, but that all of you are going to have to handle it together because this person represents a big client and you can’t afford to lose them. Then, do nice things for your staff as much as possible – a nice dinner out once a month on the company dime (if you can afford that) and if not, maybe extra vacation days or something that they can use that will make handling this client palatable. In other words, if you can’t get the client to be good to your staff, YOU be good to them and acknowledge in some way the effort they are making putting up with this crap.

  15. Anonymous*

    #1: You do really need to get more clients (hard, I know) because if the Bullypants client goes under, you’re in trouble anyway.

    If Bullypants treats her staff and other clients that way, her company may be doomed.

    1. some1*

      This is a good point, some managers are just jerks who are going to lie about you after you quit or let go, like some significant others are going to lie about you after after the break-up or divorce.

  16. Anonymous*

    Regarding #3, just remember that there are two sides to every story. You never actually know the full circumstances of someone leaving. I worked with someone briefly who I thought quit without notice. I found out recently that he actually gave notice but his manager (who was a jerk) just told him to leave immediately.

  17. PPK*

    On #4 — I’m wondering if management really knows the other guy likes to cover the help desk. Sure, one might assume they know this given that he does cover it and does it on overtime, but assuming is not the same as knowing.

    I think OP should be willing to train in, but check with coworker that he really does like doing help desk and, if so, make sure the OP tells management that coworker enjoys doing it . If they aren’t trying to boot coworker out of doing help desk, OP can still look like a willing backup for coworker.

    And yeah, at some jobs, being the admin/help desk gets passed around to people who may or may not want to do. I was hired as an IT summer intern for a job and covered the admin desk for some lunches and vacation.

  18. Ann Furthermore*

    #4: I would definitely ask if Bob could be considered for the help desk role instead, but if the answer is no, then I would suck it up and do it, for a couple of reasons.

    First, doing this helps you be seen as that all-important “team player” which will serve you well down the road.

    Second, working the help desk is a great way to learn and get exposure to all sorts of different things. There is no better way to become an expert in something than to either teach it to someone else, or try to help someone else having problems. It could be something that helps round out your skill set and ends up making you more marketable.

    Now, I say this as someone who probably does not have the right personality for a help-desk role. But if it was made clear to me that I didn’t have a choice in the matter, I would put my best foot forward and try to make the best of it.

    A few years ago my boss assigned me to something I really, really did not want to do, for a variety of reasons. I sucked it up and did it, and it turned out to be a really good career move for me. I now have some pretty specialized knowledge about one highly complex part of the ERP system I work with.

  19. mel*

    #1: Along with the suggestion to “sell” your company to the new exec, I wonder how much this fact that she is the only client is encouraging her attitude? Does she know she’s the only client? If so, she could be doing it if she feels like she has the power to wipe the whole company out…

  20. Ed*

    For #1, I’ve luckily never been in that position myself but I cringe when I witness someone who thinks being overly aggressive 24/7 is the best way to get good work out of someone. It’s one thing when you legitimately need to hold somebody’s feet to the fire for whatever reason but it’s not acceptable to have that as your everyday management style. A good manager should never have to rely on fear to get things done. I’ve once interviewed with a woman that made a point of repeatedly informing she was a total hardass and I didn’t even finish the interview. Life’s too short to deal with people like that every day.

    IMHO, these people are just sharing their unhappiness with the world. It’s always been my philosophy that a happy person would never have a goal of making other people miserable.

  21. Amy*

    #5, I’d talk to your current employer before taking the new job. It sounds as though your current employer was specifically looking for someone who could/wanted to cover shifts for other employees. If I were a manager, and I specifically needed someone to cover, and I hired someone to do it, and then that person stopped being able to do it, I’d be pretty annoyed. And if I really needed the coverage, I’d have no choice but to start looking to hire again and then when I found someone who could actually do the job I needed (including the subbing). And if I couldn’t afford to keep both you and the new sub on the payroll, I’d let you go. Because you’d no longer be able to do the job I needed. And no matter how much I liked you, I’d have to think about the business first.

    In other words, talk to your current boss now. Be prepared for him to say that your unavailability is a deal-breaker. And be prepared to have to choose between the two jobs. Because it might be the case that you actually can’t do both.

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