five updates from letter-writers

Here are five updates from people who had their questions answered here recently.

1. Company wants to have tea with my family as part of an international interview

We did end up having coffee in Tivoli a couple hours after we landed. My kids were enthusiastic and a little overly-rambunctious despite my warnings, but they really enjoyed themselves and I think the “interviewer” enjoyed showing off his favorite things about the park. It was definitely more of a social occasion to sell me on the wonders of living in the city, and it did a lot to sell my kids on moving.

The entire trip was actually focused on making sure my family wanted to move, which— in large part due to the company’s generosity— they’re excited to do now! I accepted the position and will be moving in a couple of months. I know there was some interest from commenters in hearing about how that goes, so I’d be happy to update again once we’ve been settled for a bit.

I do want to thank all of the commenters for their input on expatriating for work – the deal I’ve negotiated with my company is a bit weird (more salary in exchange for me paying most of relocation), so knowing about surprising moving costs was incredibly useful. For example, I didn’t know that where I’m moving, rental costs can be up to 7 months’ rent in advance! I talked about that with my HR representative, and we negotiated their help with that kind of expense should I need it, which was a relief to talk about in advance.

Moving across the world is terrifying in even the best circumstances, but thank you so much for helping me do it with substantially more confidence!

2. A member of our professional group is making people feel excluded

There hasn’t been a ton of opportunity for me to effect much change, since this group only meets four times a year (and the member in question doesn’t always attend), but I do have a small update.

Many commenters suggested organizing a cheaper alternative to the expensive dinners that the group member organizes, but I felt like that would be making the problem my responsibility to fix in a way I wasn’t satisfied with (ie. a bigger time commitment for myself). Instead, I’ve taken the step of e-mailing that group member the day before the meeting to let him know who else has RSVPed (“so you can see if they also want to have dinner afterwards”). Of course, I don’t know whether he does actually make contact with all those people, probably not, since it would be burdensome to organize such a large dinner. But I hope that this at least signals to him that he should really consider everyone attending the meeting to be a potential dinner invitee, rather than just leaving it up to him to check in with his buddies to see if they’re going. I’ve also modified the meeting format to extend the pre-meeting networking period by a bit, to give people more of a chance to connect with everyone, and to perhaps de-emphasize the dinners that don’t include everyone.

I don’t yet have enough data to know whether either of these tactics have mitigated the issue; however, I did notice after our last meeting that a few of the non-dinner invitees set out on their own to get a quick bite together, which I was pleased about! (One of them was actually the newer member whom I had seen excluded from the guy’s invite list before.) Some other commenters were of the opinion that everyone’s an adult, and it’s up to them to work this out amongst themselves rather than intervening, and there is certainly some truth to that. For now, I’m going to see how it goes for the next few meetings.

3. How can I get out of my office’s basketball game?

As much as I would love to give you an interesting story about how things played out, I admit that I just claimed to have family in town and could not make the basketball event. That seemed to work just fine. Since then I’ve been a little more upfront with my coworkers about how while I enjoy watching sports, I’m not the biggest fan of playing them. They’ve been extremely supportive of that.

4. My employee wants to be micromanaged

A month after I originally wrote, I was laid off. The team who reported under me all quit within a month after my departure. I think my situation was more indicative of larger problems with the organization. My manager (the head of the entire organization) wasn’t supportive of me, to the point of bullying — to be frank, my manager pretty much bullied everyone (entry level to senior management) to get their way. I was under pressure to get things done so I needed my team and this employee to make decisions so my boss could be happy. I want to say this constant pressure to produce from the top down contributed to burn out and second-guessing. I truly believe it was just the environment that contributed to paranoia and paralysis. I’m still very close with my former employees and I’m glad to hear they’re in better places (my employee who I originally wrote about is more confident in a new role with a different company).

I did take some of the advice from the readers and you, particularly the not inadvertently sending signals. I think that really helped with communication in general. I loved the idea of a performance timeline; however, because the company lacked organization, structure and management, I was never able to implement something like that.

5. We’re becoming weak from lack of food at work (#2 at the link)

I would be glad to tell you what happened!

1. I was promoted to Shift Lead. That means I am in charge for 10 out of the 14 hours that the restaurant is open. Once I was promoted, I began telling people to eat, drink and go to the restroom.

2. We acquired a kinder, gentler store manager who had only had a small amount of experience as an assistant manager. Because I have quite a bit of restaurant management experience under my belt, he sometimes learns from me and follows my lead. So, he began to give breaks, too.

3. New partners came in. People with actual restaurant experience. They have provided a buffer between the employees and the unreasonable owner. They have been accepting feedback; and while they do not always agree with my ideas, they do agree about the breaks. They also have implemented a policy of free meals for the employees. So, the problem of being under-fed has been addressed, as well as the issue of outside food.

4. I had a confrontation with the owner. Not caring whether I was fired or not, I told him my feelings in a reasonable and constructive way. He pretty much stays out of my way now.

5. Those close to the partners say I may be up for another promotion soon.

And they all lived happily ever after. *evil grin* *rubs hands together* *evil laugh*

Thanks again, and thanks to your readers for their advice.

{ 60 comments… read them below }

  1. Joseph

    #3: “Since then I’ve been a little more upfront with my coworkers about how while I enjoy watching sports, I’m not the biggest fan of playing them. They’ve been extremely supportive of that.”
    Most sports fans usually are pretty supporting of people watching not playing. Particularly with team sports like basketball – if one player is far worse than everybody else, it actually makes the game less fun for everyone. So they prefer for people to admit they’re not into it than make everybody else miserable. Also, FYI, once you get older than about 30, preferring to watch sports rather than playing them basically becomes the default due to time, health, etc.
    (Old man will get off your porch now)

  2. UsuallyALurker

    I just want to say that I love seeing updates. I haven’t seen that with many advice columns (maybe I’m just reading the wrong ones?) but it’s really interesting, both on a “hearing people’s stories” level and as more data as to how the strategies suggested work out.

    1. justsomeone

      The updates are definitely one of the special things I appreciate about AAM! I love hearing how strategies play out for people.

      1. Jaguar

        Do you ever follow-up to solicit updates? I’m really curious about the “someone placed a bullet casing on my desk” letter. It was a really scary letter to read and there were so many possible reasons for why that happened.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Yes! Some people send them in on their own, but I also follow up with people from the letters that I think there was the greatest interest in. I used to send out a huge batch of update requests late in the year and would run tons of them in December, but there are always so many that I’ve been spreading them out throughout the year this year. Still planning to do a bunch in December though!

          1. Augusta Sugarbean

            Speaking of updates, would you consider some sort of system for making updates from the letter writers within the comments more visible? Or some sort of standardized name for them to use? Some use their normal handle and some use OP and some use LW so it’s hard to spot their comments. When you post a regular question/answer and the person writes updates or further information in the comments, the threads can get convoluted. Commenters speculate about some part of the letter and the LW clarifies once but not everyone sees that and so the speculation goes on for some time and often there are multiple subthreads by people who didn’t see the update. And I’d like to be able to scan quickly to see if the LW has clarified before posting a comment myself. Thanks!

            1. 2 Cents

              I’d love this too. I sometimes do a search on the comments page for “LW” or “original” to catch letter writer updates (OP is too broad a letter combo, unfortunately).

            2. Ask a Manager Post author

              So, I’d love it if there were a way to automatically make them more visible (like a color, the way mine are blue), but there’s no easy way to do that. I’ve resisted asking them to use LW because it feels micromanagey to me, but I probably need to rethink that (and will give it more thought).

              1. Kyrielle

                Perhaps you could add something advising but not asking them specifically? Along the lines of, “Many readers and commenters like to see updates and follow-up comments from the letter-writers; it can be hard to find those if just a name or just LW (letter writer) or just OP (original poster) are used. If you comment to the post and want to make the comments easier to find, adding ‘(LW)’ or ‘(LW #4’) after whatever name you use, or as a name, will make your comments easier to find. The parentheses are important, since they make it more easily searchable.”

                Which, as usual for me is way too wordy. But the letter-writers who comment usually *also* want other commenters to see their comment (if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be writing it!), so just telling them what will make it easier to find (and why) might do the job.

                (Just using OP or LW by itself, as noted, isn’t – I am more dismayed when they do that, than when they use a normal handle and just comment they wrote the letter, because those two are really likely to be used *in* a lot of comments also, talking to or about the letter-writers.)

                1. Jaguar

                  I still like my suggestion of having another field along with Name, Email, and Website called something like Author Code and then attaching some language to the effect of the following to e-mail:

                  “Ask A Manager features a very active community in the comments section. If you intend on posting in the comments for your letter, you can be verified as the letter writer to other commentors by entering [n324lvs9ewl] in the Author Code section.”

                  But I don’t really know how doable that is in WordPress and even if it’s a totally optional step, it makes extra demands on the letter writer.

                2. Ask a Manager Post author

                  @Kyrielle – my qualm about using something like parentheses is that OPs won’t use it consistently so you’d have to search without the parentheses anyway to catch all of them.

                  @Jaguar – no way to do it in a way that’s different for each post, unfortunately.

                  Ultimately I think it’s a problem that isn’t solvable without a serious investment of resources into the back-end of the site, but I think it’s partially solvable by asking people to use some kind of naming convention, if I can get over my reluctance to do that.

                3. Lore

                  Would it be possible to do a simplified version where there was a checkbox in the reply user info that said “check here if you are the letter writer” and that would then add LW to their posting name? (Or even where it says “name” add in parentheses “include LW here if your question is answered” and then that goes on their name?)

                  It would still leave some vagueness for short answer folks but would be a clue.

                4. Ellie H.

                  I don’t like this so much. I think it’s OK the way it is – I agree it seems a little micro-manage-y to direct people how to choose their commenting names or to impose conventions of speech.

              2. LeRainDrop

                Yeah, some sort of naming convention might help. Or, if the OP comments and you notice that, perhaps you could update the article part with the commenting name that the OP chose? I don’t know :-/ I love when the OP participates in the comments section and especially when they later submit an update!

                1. Keener

                  I second all the comments about making it easier to find responses by the Letter Writers. My second favorite blog (after this one) has just updated the comment organization to allow comments to be organized on tabs based on tick boxes on the comment form. I don’t think I am expressing myself particularly well so just go check it out on http://www.smittenkitchen.com. The updates have transformed my content reading experience. Some further thought on how adapt that approach or something similar to this application is needed but I am sure there is a good, practical, viable solution out there.

      2. Greg

        also thank you so much for linking the old stories. such a small thing that really makes it that much better but so many sites don’t do that.

    2. Myrin

      I agree! I really like that Alison creates posts specifically for updates – I know that with some other columns, people do later update in the comments, but not everyone sees that, especially not if an update isn’t immediate but the advice actually took some time to implement. I’m so often left wondering about where Person Who Sent In About This Horrible Situation They Were Going Through Three Years Ago is now in their life and it’s just really nice to sometimes actually find out!

    1. sstabeler

      even if, frankly, confronting the owner would *usually* be a career-limiting move with your current employer. I’m guessing that it was the fact the LW told the owner his feelings “in a reasonable and constructive way” that meant it didn’t actually cause a problem.(there’s a difference between ” can we either offer employees a free meal during their shift, or allow employees to eat food thye bring in at some point during their shift? Some employees on long shifts are becoming weak with hunger towards the ends of their shifts, and it affects their ability to do their jobs” and “NO FREE FOOD! HOIW DARE YOU!!!” yelled at the top of your voice. ( I’m guessing the no free food was due to fear employees would abuse the benefit- hence why the suggestion would be to limit the amount of free meals to one ( or, for particularly long shifts, two) free meal/s per shift- and perhaps a limit on how expensive a meal ( as in, an employee can’t regularly order the most expensive item on the menu for their free meal)

      1. Elizabeth West

        Yes, this was solved at my cafe job by charging employees 50% of the cost of their food. It could get expensive if you weren’t careful, but you didn’t have to worry about starving. (And we had breaks.) At the cafeteria, we just ate the leftovers.

        1. Kyrielle

          Yeah, I don’t know how big the employee discount was before at #5’s place, but in the original letter it said, “Even with the employee discount, we are paid slightly over minimum wage and cannot afford the food. Just the cost of one beverage can keep us in bologna sandwiches for a week (lunch and dinner!).”

          …that’s not enough of a discount, clearly. (And they could always offer free food but only items A, B, and C…as long as there’s sufficient variety there to allow for most dietary restrictions and enough calories to function well, it’s probably enough. No one says it has to include the lobster or whatever….)

        2. Fire

          My employers have a “one shift meal per shift” with defined values for what passes – at Chain Restaurant Job you always get a sandwich and if you work more than 8 hours you also get free chips/drink, at Independent Restaurant Job you get either three tacos, a burrito, or nachos per shift and are allowed to grab a little bowl of rice and beans and chips too. And if you aren’t working you get half off your food.

          1. Drew

            At my overnight shift at a cheap hotel, I occasionally (often) (all the time) abused the fact that I was the one ordering the donuts for the continental breakfast. As long as I wasn’t getting a dozen for myself and a dozen for my other job, they were fine with it. Although the super-stingy GM did once or twice suggest that I could just have a bowl of stale cereal and maybe some toast instead.

            (One lesson I learned: don’t try to heat up little pats of frozen butter in a cheap microwave unless you are SURE you have removed all the foil from the package. We didn’t have a microwave for a week or so after that one.)

      2. KTB

        I don’t know how widespread this practice is, but my understanding is that many high end restaurants do “family-style” meals with the staff prior to service and that meal is not part of the menu. That way, the cooks aren’t making one offs for each staff member, but rather making one large meal for the entire staff. It seems to be a good (and staff-friendly) situation that doesn’t overwhelm the BOH staff.

        1. chickabiddy

          When I hostessed in a high-end restaurant, this is what they did. The cooks made a relatively inexpensive but decent and filling meal and it was free for staff. I was a fairly sheltered teenager and didn’t work there for long, and it was many many years ago, so I don’t really remember how/if they handled allergies or dietary restrictions.

          1. sstabeler

            I would presume either pick the meal carefully, or allow staff with allergies or dietary restrictions to brown bag it.

            but yeah, it sounds like a good way to handle it, provided the meal provided was filling, and not too cheap ( that is, don’t make the staff meals too bland)

          2. Katie F

            I’d imagine there probably weren’t many employees, if any, with allergies who would choose to work at a place that routinely cooked things they were allergic to (where they might have to handle food with those items included, for instance).

            If there were, the number was probably small enough they could just brown-bag it.

          3. I Want to Tell You

            My roommate is a hostess/reservationist at a high-end restaurant, and she says they do the family-style meals for staff before the evening shift. However, her restaurant’s head chef gets annoyed when people ask what’s in the food, and my roommate’s egg allergy isn’t always accommodated. She said on those days she either eats before work, waits until after work, or cajoles the sous chef into making her a sandwich.

        2. Callie

          I worked at a restaurant like this when I was in college and I loved it. We didn’t really get a break during our shift, but being able to eat a filling meal (and they were not at all stingy with the food) really helped.

      3. #5

        Actually, I said “We are losing our best people due to a morale problem.” To which he responded “Then fix it.” I told him “I can’t, because you won’t let me.” Then I outlined the problems. He was stunned that I stood up to him. What it came down to is, I had nothing left to lose. I could have just as easily found the same type of job, except it would provide breaks and food. So, I didn’t give a flying figure if I’d been terminated. *evil laugh*

  3. Kyrielle

    OP #5, I especially want to cheer for you, not just because things got better – but because at least part of it is you got an opportunity (the promotion) that wasn’t foreseen, and you used it to make things better for everyone. So awesome! And so awesome the new partners are more reasonable and things are so much better!

    1. LeRainDrop

      Agree, #5 is an all-around awesome update! Thanks for putting yourself out there in favor of helping your fellow workers!

    2. #5

      Thanks so much! The only reason I did not simply leave was because of my co-workers. They are wonderful people, and I think the world of them.

  4. Phoebe

    #5 – Unreasonable owners who treat their employees like chattel are far too common in the restaurant business. I’m glad to hear that you were make changes and hope that you get that promotion. Strangely, it’s been my experience that owners like that sometimes (not always!) respect the rare employee who actually stands up to them.

    1. neverjaunty

      Indeed! Well done, OP, and brava to you for standing up to the stupid owner.

      (Also, you’d think that the owner would have realized that free food is a selling point. When a waiter can say “yes, I’ve tried the osso bucco and it’s wonderful”, that really encourages people to order it.)

      1. Not really a newish lurker anymore...

        Yes. I sometimes ask the waitstaff for suggestions when I’m torn between a couple of items. It can be a tipping point for me to order the boring burger or the expensive steak sometimes. And I appreciate being told “well, I have tried x yet as I have food issues with celery but I’m told it’s excellent.” Or that “the lobster pancakes are a today item only whereas the shrimp pancakes are in weekly rotation.” And I’ve recently decided I love the waitstaff asking if we want guac with the free chips. I mean, I don’t want guac ever but my kids and dh will eat it and it’s a way of adding something healthy-ish to those chips!

        Sorry, I got off track a bit there. Yes, feed your waitstaff, preferably the specials so they can encourage the customers to order it.

    2. #5

      I’m pretty certain that the owner heard through the grapevine (read: the partners) that I thought him an “… entitled, narcissistic poseur. ” My exact words. He’s very image-conscious.

  5. bopper

    #1 Expat person: You will make friends at work. Your kids will make friends at school. You need to make sure your spouse has a way to make friends as well. Our family moved to Germany for my husband’s work and I made friends through a local english-speaking Expat women’s group. See if you can help your spouse find a similar group. If you use a relocation company ask them as well.

    1. ArtsNerd

      Yeah, things can be hardest on the trailing spouse.

      We moved from the US to another English speaking country, where cultural differences were not terribly extreme. For years, I’ve been snarky that the other American kids all seemed to know each other at the PSAT (pre-college test). But now it’s clicking that their parents became friends through being trailing spouses, not that the kids needed any expat support. My mother clicked very well with neighbors and adults she met through our schools and activities, as well as making some very good friends in their religious community, so did not form those same bonds with other expats.

  6. Greg

    for number 4 I wonder if on some level the employee was picking up on how bad the workplace was and was afraid to act on their own.

    1. #4 OP

      I can confidently say the employee was. After s/he left, we had drinks and I confirmed that she was so unhappy and scared; hence, didn’t know what to do. Glad to report my former employee loves her new role.

  7. LeRainDrop

    LW#1 — I’m so happy to hear this wonderful update! Congratulations to you and your family! Yes, please do check back in with the AAM community after you’ve all had some time to settle into your new home and job.

  8. Scandinavian Summer Visitor

    LW#1
    Our family of4–2 parents + 2 teens visited Copenhagen in July for 6 days and loved it! The transit system is seamless, and so easy to use. Also, the Danish people really love their Queen, that was very cool for Americans to see! We also enjoyed Tivoli, and visited 3 times! A book recommendation: The Almost Nearly Perfect People, written by a British expat living in Denmark.

    1. Drew

      I’m visiting Copenhagen in October and I’m so glad to hear it’s just as wonderful as I’ve been told. I have an expat friend who’s living there and has promised to play tour guide at least one day of my trip.

      Did you go over to Malmo? My friend suggested that I ought to do that at least one day.

  9. Lydia

    Haha, I’m pretty sure I know your partner, LW1. Small world. What an exciting opportunity! I’ve been to Denmark a few times and it’s a lovely country. I’m sure you guys will make some great memories.

  10. Artemesia

    Regards dinner at conf. It is common for old hands to use professional events to reconnect. It is on junior members to build their own. They should be reserving a table and pulling peers together. Nice to be invited but also nice to show leadership. Who wants an informal dinner for 30? This is just part of professional behavior.

  11. Jack the Treacle Eater

    I missed the starving workers post originally. From a European perspective I find it unbelievable that it would be legal to allow or force workers to go an entire shift, let alone one apparently well over 8 hours, without a break.

  12. Leslie

    I am a trailing spouse living in Europe who has dealt with the ins and outs of the expat experience. Please, Alison, forward my information to the OP who will be moving here so I can help them out and answer questions. I have learned so much about personality types and how our personality strengths can make us react to living a foreign country. I am something of an unofficial “culture shock coach” for expat families in our area and love helping out others who are on this journey.

  13. Kelly

    I liked how #4 phrased it about their manager’s bullying. I’m in a similar situation with a manager who also is a bully. She’s more aggressive to those like me that she manages and those in a position below hers, but she can also be a bully to her peers and the higher ups. That bullying comes in the form of constant requests for special funding in the midst of historic campus wide budget cuts.

    We had one person retire and I wasn’t so sure they needed to be replaced because although I liked the person, the main reason for her job was decreasing. I would have been more on board if it had included mandatory circulation time and less focus on the side projects. Her position was approved to be replaced because my boss nagged and harassed the higher ups enough. Apparently, the general thought was that it would not be approved at this time because of budget cuts. An acquaintance in another unit who also can’t stand my boss asked me whom she had blackmail material on to get it approved. Same person also told me that she’s had duties added on to her job from multiple people who have retired and has had to deal with people complaining that some tasks aren’t being done in the timely manner they are accustomed to, including my boss. She said that one area is down multiple FT people despite multiple requests for hires, but they have been denied due to budget cuts and a pending reorganization.

    The area that’s down too many FT people handles one part of job that caused my boss to lose her shit this week. Apparently, there has been a breakdown in communication between us and them over one core area and they haven’t been informing us when a journal title gets cancelled, has payment/delivery issues, or goes electronic only. The second I can make an informed guess about, but the other two are completely beyond my job description and pay grade. I very politely thanked them for their information and let them know I appreciated getting informed. My boss lost it. Instead of blaming the HR and the higher ups who refuse to hire people to help with their workload, she blamed me for not being sufficiently on top of things. Her solution was for me to email our contact person once a week to make sure she was on top of our titles, in effect her nagging via proxy (me). I suggested we let them know of our concerns and follow up end of October to allow them to have time to catch up. I tried to be as polite and diplomatic with her, but it didn’t go over too well. I’m hoping she has calmed down over the weekend and comes around to my more patient, less nagging approach.

    I’m her preferred target in our unit. My male colleague really should be on the receiving end of her tantrums, but she has an irrational fondness for his incompetence and constant excuses for why he does a subpar job. She gave him a flex schedule to deal with child care without either consulting me or asking if I had any concerns about it. It was renewed when I don’t feel it should have been due to his job performance and our staffing shortage. He’s in charge of hiring students and if he does get a good hire, it’s more due to sheer luck than anything. Amazingly, when a student calls out or can’t get another to cover their shift, it doesn’t fall on him as their supervisor to be the automatic backup. It’s usually me because I don’t have a partner or kids. She doesn’t understand that I do have a family, including a mother with terminal cancer. I can’t work weekends because I go see her every other weekend. I haven’t told anyone at work yet that it’s terminal because it’s too personal and I don’t want be the one abusing the sick family member card. My coworker on the other hand has no shame in pulling that card, even when it’s a minor issue. My boss’s husband is disabled and she has no shame in pulling the disabled caregiver card.

  14. Agness

    Expat letter writer, no wonder they wanted you to bring the kids, if the tea was at Tivoli!

    This was ages ago, but we lived in Copenhagen as expats while I was in kindergarten. We lived in 7 countries and visited well over 30 before I went off to college, but Copenhagen was head and shoulders above anywhere else in terms of offering us a kind and inclusive atmosphere. As children of color, that was a pretty rare thing for us to find.

    If Rygaards International School is still around, that’s where I went :-)

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