I’m annoyed that my boss asks me to give her reminders, should we tell our boss to shut our company down, and more

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

1. I’m annoyed that my boss asks me to give her reminders

I have an office problem I’m trying to deal with; it’s a small issue, but it’s representative. I’m an attorney in contract administration working for a mid-size defense firm, in a satellite office several states away from our HQ. I’ve been going back and forth with my new, recently-promoted manager, an ambitious lady who was a senior contract administrator and in that position for several years. I just passed my one-year anniversary.

Whenever efforts requiring her input or approval are slow in coming back, I receive a chiding for not setting up an Outlook reminder in the original email, essentially passing on the blame to me for not being proactive enough. I suppose I can take some blame for not attaching reminders to every email I send, but Outlook reminders are not our company’s SOP and to be honest, I just forget sometimes. Further, being forced to remind my manager to do her job feels demeaning, as if I’m receiving a favor by her timely response, or that her time is more important than mine. It’s not like *I* get a similar stream of reminders – if I’m late on a deadline or task, I get chewed out.

While this manager is new to her position, generally swamped (like everyone else), and located in another state, I’d like to create a better expectation of my duties, preferably one that doesn’t include micromanaging my own boss. Is there something I can do, or should I just be prepared to suck it up and elevate my Outlook game?

Outlook reminders may not be your company’s SOP, but your manager has told you pretty clearly that they’re hers, which means that you need to do them. It’s not demeaning to be asked to nudge your manager about things you need from her; it’s actually not uncommon, since you’re the person who owns those projects and is in charge of keeping them moving. Your manager presumably has a bunch of priorities that she’s fielding, and it’s not unreasonable for her to ask you to remind her at particular intervals if that’s what works best for her. It’s her prerogative to ask you to do that and to hold you to that expectation.

As for it making you feel like her time is more important than yours — the reality is that her time actually is more important to your company than yours is; that’s just the nature of her being in a more senior-level position. You’re making this much more personal than it really is!

2. Answering a painful question from new coworkers

My husband and I recently experienced (seven months ago) losing our infant daughter to a still unknown illness.

I will soon be starting a new job and this is something I, obviously, did not mention during the interview process. I’m dreading making small talk with new coworkers because I know the question of how many children I have and if am I planning to have more will come up. I want to have a comfortable answer prepared but I don’t like any of the options I can think of.
So far I’ve come up with:
a) Just one, which makes me feel like my heart is being ripped out all over again
b) Two, which then leads how old and uncomfortable silence or uncomfortable questions when I say one is three years and the other nine days
c) replying that I don’t know them well enough to answer that, which is what I really want to answer but I know is not how I want to come across to new coworkers.

I’ve considered asking my new manager to alert coworkers not to ask me about children because it’s a painful subject but I don’t really like that option either. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

I’m so sorry. What a terrible thing.

I think you should go with whatever you’re most comfortable with. The one thing I’d steer you away from is option C, which I think will come across as overly chilly to people who don’t understand your reason for it, and could potentially have a long-lasting impact on your relationships with your new coworkers. However, I think you could instead say, “It’s a painful topic for me right now. Thank you for understanding.”

This isn’t on your list of options so it might not be one you’re comfortable with, but an additional choice would be to go with B and just be very plainspoken in response to any questions about ages: “My oldest is three, and we lost our youngest as a baby earlier this year.” (You may not want to talk about it at all, though, in which case I think “it’s a painful topic” is the better way to go.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. Should we tell our boss to shut our company down?

I work for a small education-based company. It’s a small business, and the owner runs three other businesses and the job is full-on chaotic. We have no actual manager; it’s me and two other people who over see different aspects of the company, and our boss is often unavailable and yet doesn’t actually give us the resources we need to handle things ourselves. Supplies won’t be bought because our boss will have the credit card, won’t answer our texts or calls to see if he can drop them off, and then berate us for not having any supplies on hand.

The two other supervisors and I are burned out. We work six days a week and requests to our boss to bring on more people are turned into “you don’t work a full 40 hours! It shouldn’t matter you’re working six days a week!”

Our boss took us aside this week and proceeded to say that we are all failing at our jobs because the company is losing money. But none of our jobs are related to the sales or marketing of his company. He then told us that he has no interest in being our manager and it was on us to run and grow the business or he would shut us down.

Now, clearly these are all signs that my coworkers and I need to jump ship (easier said than done since my job is a very niche position) but I’m almost wondering if the best solution would be to actually close down. My boss has no interest in actively marketing the company or hiring someone who can, we are losing money, and we are all pretty much done with his bad behavior. How out of line would it be for the three of us to come to him and say, “You’re right. You’re losing money and we don’t have a way to make you money, so either fire all three of us, or we can stay on and help you close this place up”?

Because regardless, all three of us plan to move on.

I wouldn’t say it quite like that, but it would be perfectly reasonable to go to him and say, “We’ve thought over what you said, and we don’t see a viable way for the three of us to make money for the company since none of us do sales or marketing. If that means that you decide to shut the company down, we understand. Please just let us know how you want to proceed.”

4. People who slack off during their notice periods

I work for a large not-for-profit agency, and over the past year we’ve experienced a great deal of turn over in our department. There are many reasons for this: worker burnout, as it’s a child welfare agency with a high-needs population, and our agency’s salaries are no longer competitive (our department has done tons of advocacy around salary but the top level of our agency won’t budge).

When someone resigns, we ask that they give a month’s notice, which is pretty standard for the social work field. If they give a month, the agency pays out their vacation time. At minimum, this gives our department time to find coverage for their cases and gives them time to wrap up their work (paperwork, assessments). The expectation is that during that month they are actually working–seeing clients, doing paperwork, etc. However, from time to time we have workers who pretty much stop working during this period and supervisors are chasing them down to do paperwork and even some times to see clients. The difficulty is that there are no consequences on the workers when this happens, but consequences to the our department from city auditors. Recently this came up and there was a discussion with HR about it, who said that sometimes this is just what happens.

My question: are there other typical ways HRs/companies handle this issue, and handle employee resignations?

What you described is a pretty common way to handle it, until you got to the part about people getting away with not doing much work during that period. A better way to handle it that when someone resigns, they and their manager should talk about expectations for what will be accomplished during their remaining time. And as soon as the manager sees that the person appears to be slacking off, they should talk to them and say something like, “For the rest of the time you’re here, we really do need you to continue to finish out these projects. If you’re not feeling like you can do that, we can move up your last day — which option makes sense?” (And then of course, you follow through and hold them to it if they choose to continue onward.)

5. How do I overcome my bad attitude and get approved for a transfer?

After being laid off, I took the first job that I was offered. Three months into my new job at a new company, my entire department got let go during massive layoffs. I did not get laid off but was offered a different position, which I accepted. This new position has stressed me to the point of getting medicated for anxiety and depression, which is not a problem I have had before.

When asked, I have told my boss several times that this position does not utilize my strengths and that I am very unhappy. I have told him on multiple occasions that I would like to transfer. He tells me that if I apply for another position within the company, he will be honest with any manager and tell them that I have a poor attitude, which I fully admit has been a problem. I have been working very hard to manage my outward expressions (and he has told me he’s seen a positive difference), but how do I go about making a positive enough impression on my manager and/or others to be transferred?

Ooof, you may not be able to, at least not for a while (like minimum of six months, and possibly longer). I don’t know what the details of the bad attitude have been, but that’s the kind of thing that can take a while to overcome, at least as far as recommendations go. I’d focus on doing as good of a job as you can in your current position — and as cheerfully as you can — while you look for work outside your company. If you find it, great … but if you don’t, you’ll have been building up a better track record with your current job, which will eventually make a transfer easier. But it doesn’t sound like you’re well-positioned to try for one right now.

{ 275 comments… read them below }

  1. MillersSpring*

    Re: #4 I wish the obvious answer–to let people give two weeks notice–was reasonable for your situation, even if it isn’t typical in social work. These people have checked out mentally already.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      Yup. I mean, I get preferring a month from the company’s perspective; however, keeping someone around who clearly doesn’t want to be there isn’t helping the company, the clients, or the person leaving.

      1. Erin*

        I agree. Either you keep them for the month and deal with them mentally checking out, or as Alison suggested you might need to have them leave early anyway, if them being there is accomplishing nothing. Might as well make it two weeks.

        Obviously you’re in a job with very little wiggle room and I imagine making the change from a month to two weeks is much easier said than done. But it sounds like this is a big enough problem that hopefully a major change might be considered.

        But honestly this might be indicative of a bigger problem – the fact that you have high turnover and they feel burned out. My prior job required two weeks notice and when I left I did so during a busy time, so I offered three weeks notice even though I wasn’t obligated to – this is what good employees should do when leaving and trying to maintain good relations.

        But these employees are so burned out they not only don’t care about leaving on bad terms, which is pretty serious, but they don’t even care about potentially leaving some clients in the lurch! I mean, wow.

    2. NJ Anon*

      I have worked in social services. In my experience, one month was not the norm. Sometimes we were lucky we got 2 weeks. I think its normal for someone to “check out” to a certain extent. Frankly, “forcing” employees to give one month notice by holding their vacation pay out ransom is pretty crappy. I’d use it up and then give my 2 weeks notice. What are they going to do, fire me?

      1. Coffee Ninja*

        OP says they’re “seeing clients” though, and if that means they’re providing counseling/therapy, then one month notice is generally the norm. If the employees are agreeing to a month and then crapping out on that it stinks. Although if HR isn’t backing her up I don’t know what other options she has.

    3. Pwyll*

      One really important thing about notice period is not to expect them to be performing exactly the same way as they were before notice. Their duties during that time should shift to wrapping up what can be, preparing documentation on status for their replacement or team, and organizing things. While this also includes doing the actual work, you’re not likely to find people who will be at peak performance AND doing the planning/organizing at the same time. So, if your expectations of them as an employee don’t change, you’ll likely find this frustrating.

      That said, if they’re just goofing off that’s not acceptable and should be addressed similarly to what Alison said.

      1. my two cents*

        Would it be reasonable to somehow politely remind them that the 4-week notice is in exchange of the vacation time payout, but that moving the last day up isn’t a problem for the company but then they forfeit the payout?

        I feel like the vacation time payout is like a tiny temporary-retention bonus for sticking it out after you’ve finally decided to leave.

        1. Newby*

          Why can’t the vacation time payout be contingent on a clearly defined list of tasks that must be done in that month? Tell them they need to do X number of client visits and complete a specified list of paperwork. If they do not meet that minimum requirement, the forfeit their vacation time payout because they did not actually work the full month.

        2. Mike C.*

          I feel like the vacation time payout is something they deserve without question for having earned it in the first place. It’s no different from a paycheck or any other form of compensation. If employers want employees to stick around, there are things called contracts.

          To answer the larger question, it’s not unreasonable to expect people to be working. I just imagine that if folks are so burned out that they needed to start looking for other work that once they find it their reserves or going to be non-existent. The focus should be on closing things out and handing them off to the next person rather than continuing at a breakneck speed.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Totally agreed—the vacation time is theirs, and it should be paid out regardless of the length of the notice period. But I also think it’s important and helpful to set expectations for transitioning out, and part of that should include meeting with employees once they give notice to create a wind-up plan with concrete deliverables. Part of that should also probably include winding down or eliminating seeing clients and instead helping match clients up with a new caseworker (at most, this would include 1 client visit during the notice period).

            I know this might sound silly, but I wonder if it would help your employer to create an outgoing employee checklist that captures all the standard things that employees should complete prior to leaving. It would probably be a little easier to implement than going through a huge process with every exiting employee, and it would also create a “roadmap” document that the employee can rely on if they get stressed out or forget later on. But if the issue is bigger than that—i.e., people aren’t working during the notice period but getting paid, then managers really need to step up on their communication and expectation-setting.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Sorry, I should add a caveat that my feelings re: vacation time are both based on personal feelings of what’s right/fair, but also because I’m in California, where we make up all sorts of rules that make no sense to folks out of state. :)

    4. Jaydee*

      Unless you live in a state that requires payout of accrued vacation leave regardless, one thing you can do is make payout of accrued vacation leave contingent on leaving “in good standing.” This shouldn’t be used as a way to avoid paying out the leave, but as a way to ensure that the work that needs to be done during the notice period gets done. After the employee gives notice, set up a meeting with them within the first week. Ask for a list of their active cases and a brief summary of the status of each. Make a tentative plan at that meeting for what things will need to be wrapped up, which cases need to be transferred to someone else, etc. Then prepare a formal list of what needs to be done to leave in good standing for the purpose of vacation payout. Again, it shouldn’t be onerous, but should focus on an orderly transition. Then have weekly meetings to assess the progress and make plans for any work that can’t be completed according to the plan. Ideally, have cases being transferred ready to transfer as early as possible so there is still time for discussion between leaving employee and employee taking over the case.

    5. Rebecca in Dallas*

      I was notified that my position was being eliminated a month in advance and I had to stay on for that month in order to get my severance and vacation pay. It suuuucked, first I was stressed about finding a new job (luckily my manager was very understanding and flexible with me so I could go to some interviews). Then once I did have another job offer, I was completely mentally checked out! I kept showing up so I could get my payout but yeah, I was not a very productive employee during that time! I can’t imagine if I’d had to spend those entire 4 weeks just wanting to go ahead and move on to the next thing and/or train my replacement.

      1. SusanIvanova*

        When my team got laid off 5 of us were kept for 2 extra months for a “transition” which everyone who was honest knew was a joke, with our severance package dependent on staying for the full 2 months. If I’d found a job in that time I was fully prepared to walk out on the money; it was just that demoralizing.

  2. Al Lo*

    #2, I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m not a grieving parent, and I can’t pretend to know how you feel, but a blog I follow regularly has a few poignant and potentially helpful posts on how to handle questions like this as they continue to be a part of your reality. This one in particular, as well as the comments. may be helpful in some way.

    1. Working Mom*

      Also to OP #2, so sorry for your loss. I have a friend who experience infant loss and would answer that question like this, “I have two kids, one is 4 and the other is in heaven.” That’s the response that she is most comfortable with, wanted to share in case it speaks to you.

  3. AJ*

    #2 – I’m sorry you are experiencing this. Maybe you could have what you would like to tell coworkers written down on a little card to show them if need be. You could try to say what Allison suggested -short and simple- but if it is too hard/depending on the circumstances take out the card and let them read it. It could also include what you would like them to do next “I’m not ready to discuss it further right now, thank you for understanding” etc. Maybe you won’t need to use it, but it might help just knowing you have an “escape route” ready to use.

    1. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks*

      +1. OP#2 I’m sorry for your loss. I agree, you can say what Allison suggests followed by “it’s still very painful to discuss”. I think after you say that, your co-workers will understand and be sensitive to your feelings.

  4. Cat steals keyboard*

    #1 You have to solve the problem you have, not the ones you’d like to have.

    #2 I’m so sorry for your loss. I know someone who had a stillborn child and questions like this upset her too. I’m really sorry. It’s okay to not give a number if that helps? Could you say: “My son/daughter is [age]” and not say one or two? And then change the subject if that’s what’s best for you?

    1. Turanga Leela*

      I came here to say the same thing to OP #2. Saying, “I have a three-year-old” and talking about him/her might be a way to represent your family accurately without having to talk about losing your daughter.

      OP, I’m so sorry for your loss.

      1. Ann*

        Joining in to say how sorry I am for your loss. I hope you can feel peace with whatever responses you are able to muster as you transition into a new job, and I hope that you find whatever support and space you need in your professional and personal lives – there are no words for such a loss. In case this may add another possible response to your arsenal, I have a friend who names her surviving daughters as a way of keeping the new person focussed on who she is comfortable talking about at that moment while allowing herself (and those of us who know) to remember and silently acknowledge their youngest who passed away. Usually as “Emma is three and is excited for thanksgiving…” and then steering the topic away. I know there is no right answer for you here, and that you may find more than one way of talking about your children as you get to know your new colleagues and your own comfort level with them. Wishing you all the best.

      2. Sadsack*

        Exactly what I came to say. I am sorry for your loss, OP. I hope and believe that if you can just focus on responding with, “Yes, a three year old,” you’ll be able to handle it from there. Hopefully, no one asks if you are planning for more because that’s no one’s business, regardless of your situation. But if asked, a simple, brief response yes/no/not sure should be all you need to say.

        Also, good luck in your new job!

        1. Liz2*

          That’s the problem with opening that sort of door though. With infertility, adoption, abortion, miscarriages, stillborns, and infant deaths- it’s likely any office will have people who have had painful difficult personal stories around babies. But we all have to make nice and act like anything with babies is open and easy and wonderful. It sucks and is more reason why co-workers should never ask questions like that, simply “So any plans on the horizon?” and let THEM decide what to share.

          If someone does ask though, you can either give them the glossy work approved version or say it’s not something you talk about, whatever you need in the moment. It’s an awful situation all around.

        2. Laura*

          As an only child, I can’t tell you how many times my parents or I have heard that without a sibling someone is a greedy maladjusted individual. So just mentioning the one may open “well you have to have another” comments, which will be exceptionally painful to the OP.
          OP, I’m sorry for your loss. I would go with Allison’s comment, then quickly add that it is too painful to discuss still.

    2. TL -*

      Yes, I was going to suggest this. “I have a 3 yr old boy who’s really into dinosaurs right now,” would be an excellent sidestep – not dishonest but focusing on the part you can talk about right now and leaving the subject open to expansion on your part, if ever you’d like, while not inviting painful questions.

      And I am so, so sorry for your loss.

      1. Lance*

        Agreed; just leave it at the 3-year-old boy. Much as it might be tempting to say it’s a painful subject, that can open the doors for more gossipy people to try and pry.

        1. not really a lurker anymore*

          I haven’t lost a child but online I know someone who has. She’s mentioned that it’s painful to have people NOT acknowledge the child who passed. So it’s going to be painful either way. Only the OP can figure out which pain she’d prefer to have, if that makes sense.

          I am so very sorry for your loss.

    3. CeeCee*

      #2. I’m sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine what you’re going through right now.

      Hopefully you can find some solace in knowing that when people ask questions like “How many children do you have?” They are making small talk. Just the same as commenting about the weather. Generally they aren’t going to pry or ask followups — It’s not a test where they want to make sure you give them every detail or are 100% accurate. Answer in the way you feel most comfortable and move forward with the conversation. I think ultimately, if you don’t make it awkward or uncomfortable, they won’t think anything of it. I, personally, think focusing on “My 3 year old is really into trucks right now.” (or something to that affect) would be the easiest way to answer the questions and move onto the next subject. Also, ask them about themselves. People love to talk about themselves.

      1. Artemesia*

        Good advice. All the suggestions about ‘It is painful to discuss’ make it doubly awkward when the person asking is not prying but just making small talk. The ‘yes we have a 3 year old, Billy, who is obsessed with dinosaurs right now’ is both honest and sidesteps the counting up. What a deeply painful thing to experience — you should make it as easy on yourself as possible and not invite casual acquaintances in by explaining the painful loss to them.

      2. Wendy Darling*

        I always land in awkwardland when people ask if I have any siblings, because my only sibling died under ambiguous but traumatic circumstances. I dislike saying I’m an only child because it’s not really true — I did grow up with a brother — and I don’t really like talking about his death… less because it’s traumatic at this point (it’s been a lot of years) and more because it was complicated and very dramatic and I can’t explain what happened in less than a paragraph. And my interlocutor is always horrified for the whole paragraph.

        So when people ask, I say “I had a younger brother, he passed away 9 years ago. What about you?”

        And I basically don’t take a breath when I deliver that statement, so there is no opening for them to ask how he died. (If they do ask anyway I just say I prefer not to discuss it, unless it’s someone I’m okay discussing it with.) I just launch straight into asking them about themselves to get them off the topic of me.

        That said it took me a few YEARS after his death to arrive at this strategy, and a bit after that to get good at it.

        1. chocolate tort*

          Wendy Darling: I am in a pretty similar situation, in that my only sibling passed away some years ago, as did my step-brother, six months apart. The circumstances of their separate passings aren’t so complicated and dramatic as for your brother, but I agree, talking about how they passed isn’t really something I’m keen to do (I’d rather talk about them as *people*, if that makes sense).

          I like your strategy of asking a follow-up question in the same breath. Another thing I’ve done is list them along with my two step-sisters–and then I can go off on the subject of their kids, which is always more fun. And sometimes I don’t think of either of these things, and the conversation just grinds to an awkward halt. I’m used to that too.

        2. V*

          First, I’m sorry for your losses Wendy Darling and LW #2.

          I use this exact strategy, and it has been very effective. I lost my brother, my mother-in-law, and my daughter (stillborn) in a single year. Small talk is… complicated. Whenever someone asks me the standard get to know you questions, it ends up getting awkward fast.

          The single best approach has been to say things like “I had a younger brother, but he passed away *subject change*”. “My son just turned 1. His sister was still born *subject change*”. “My mother-in-law wanted us to move closer, but she’s gone now *subject change*”.

          The key is to be super straightforward, not take a breath before changing the subject, and to make the subject change question about them or a topic you know they’re in to (and preferably that you can talk about easily too). If they have a lot to say about the subject you bring up, it’s easier for them to do the work of moving the conversation past the awkward point, which most people will happily do if you give them an easy way to do it.

    4. AnotherAlison*

      People are rude and nosy, though. Hopefully changing the subject works, but if you don’t shut the line of small talk down, you might get, “Oh, just one? Are you having more? Going to try for a girl?”

      My kids are 19 and 12 and people will say things like, “Gee, they’re really far apart.” Yes, yes, they are. I would have had one in the middle, but I had a miscarriage. I wasn’t far along, so it wasn’t something that is extremely painful for me, but I still wonder what people expect you to say. I usually just say, “Yep.”

    5. TootsNYC*

      I think that just saying “It’s too painful to discuss” with no other info is only going to amp up the drama. If you don’t want to just say “My son is three” and just leave the baby to come up at some other time, then I vote for this combo:

      “My oldest is three, and we lost our youngest as a baby earlier this year.”
      And then immediately say something about your oldest, and what he’s up to lately: “His big thing now is Thomas the Tank Engine!”

      And then anything about the baby, you say, “It’s a painful topic.”

    6. irritable vowel*

      If it were me, I think I’d follow the advice to just mention your son. Not only because I think I might have a hard time keeping it together if I had to talk about the baby I had lost, even briefly, but also I would dread the follow-up. With strangers it’s so hard to know what their response will be, and thinking about the people I work with, I know they would have quite a range of responses if a new coworker were to tell them she had lost her baby–from inappropriate questions about when she was going to try for another to giving her prayer cards, etc. (in addition to the more appropriate expressions of sympathy). Please don’t think of not mentioning your baby as somehow not acknowledging her – she is not diminished in any way by your choice to protect yourself and make things easier for yourself in a new job.

  5. NicoleK*

    #4. Back in the day, when I managed people. This is how I handled the notice period.
    1. the day after the employee gives notice, I email a list of things I want the employee to work on or discuss the list in person. The list is prioritized, detailed, and thorough. I lay out my expectations clearly.
    2. schedule a check in a week out. during check in meeting, I ask for a status updates on every task
    3. schedule a final check in. during final check in, I again ask for a status update on every task and collect company property

    This process has worked well for me . If the employee gave a longer notice, I’d just keep having weekly check ins. This only works if the manager is very hands on and will hold people accountable.

  6. Elder Dog*

    #2. I had the same dilemma. I told a couple of people who asked I had a three year old boy, and had lost my 8 week old a few months ago, and I wasn’t able to talk about her. I was clearly upset by saying that much and the people I told passed that along so other people didn’t need to ask.

    I don’t know what your new office will be like, but acknowledging both my children openly and setting a boundary about talking about it worked well for me. It didn’t come off as cold or standoffish, just sad, and people do understand.

    You’re not alone. It’s happened to more people than you likely will ever know.

    1. Daphne*

      I am so sorry for your loss. I like your idea of expliciting telling them to pass the word around. When I had something that I didn’t want discuss because the emotions were still raw, this strategy worked. Most people will understand.

    2. orchidsandtea*

      I’m sorry for your loss, Elder Dog. And for OP2’s loss.

      That sort of honesty is a gift, to be able to acknowledge your little one and create space for them in the world. It takes energy, so in my experience it isn’t always possible. But it’s a very gracious way to handle a tough situation.

      We had a miscarriage, not the same experience as yours, but still a loss. I’m pregnant again, and every time someone asks “Is this your first?” it hurts. There’s no correct answer. I’ve taken to giving an answer to a different question than the one they asked: “We’re very excited to have little feet pattering about!” Or “We’re due in March. How old are your kids now?” Some people repeat their question, but often I can distract them into a new path of conversation.

      Same with other questions. Early on, when people asked “How are you?” and the true response was inappropriately raw for our relationship, I’d respond with something like “I’m very glad to see you!” or “It’s good to be here.”

      1. OP #2*

        This is the other side, I suffered two miscarriages prior to my older daughter’s arrival. Our parents are the only ones who know about those but when someone asks….well you know how hard it can be.
        Many people ask why my husband and I waited 6 years to have children, I usually respond that my parents waited 9 or that I was in grad school or something along those lines when the real reason is that when I did get pregnant I couldn’t stay pregnant.
        I like the idea of answering a question that is comfortable rather than the uncomfortable one. I will have to practice this.

    3. kad9k*

      I’m a young widow so I have grappled with this, too, and I totally agree. If you can manage it once—and it is completely understandable if you can’t—getting this piece of information about your life out in the open very early on may make things much easier on you in the long run. I recently hired a new assistant and I volunteered the information right away because my late husband does come up in conversation from time to time (I work with a lot of people who knew him). In general, I have found that people will follow your lead if you quickly end the conversation or steer it another way.

      I’m so so sorry for your loss. If it helps, I’m 4.5 years out and not every part of grief has gotten easier but this kind of thing definitely has.

    4. Formica Dinette*

      This sounds like one of those rare situations where gossip was a good thing.

      Elder Dog and OP#2, I am so very sorry that you lost your babies.

  7. VioletEMT*

    OP2, I am so sorry about your daughter. How horrifying. I can’t even imagine what you’re going through.

    It is entirely up to you who you handle this, but as a coworker, my primary fear would be saying something inadvertently hurtful. A coworker with whom I eventually became friendly and I were having the initial getting-to-know-you “do you have kids?” conversation and she simply said, “I had a baby girl three years ago, but she died right after she was born.” I said I was sorry and asked if she was okay talking about it. She said she would prefer not to, and we changed the subject. But then I knew to be more careful around the topic of babies/children.

    If you can manage it, I agree with the simple “My son is X years old. My Y-month-old daughter died 7 months ago.” And then when they ask questions, tell them that it’s too fresh and you really can’t talk about it. They will understand. If they don’t, well, they are giving you valuable info about themselves, that they don’t respect boundaries.

    1. SophieChotek*

      OP2 I am sorry for the loss of your daughter also. I hope the comments and suggestions here will help you find a response that is natural and works for you and your co-workers.

    2. neverjaunty*

      Yes, this. Most people will understand and will stop at offering their condolences.

      I’m so sorry for your loss, OP.

  8. Laura*

    I’m italian, maybe I do not deeply understand US work culture.
    While I usually appreciate every single advice I read in this website and I must say I’ve learn a lot with it, I am pretty surprised by the tone of the first answer.
    I understand the content, I understand what You mean, I do not agree with what You say and how You say it.
    I’m a Sales Assistant. Outlook reminders and my Boss’ work organization is up to me, not to an ” Attorney in contract administration “. No matter how big or small is the Company. is there anything I misunderstood ?
    Moreover the way the answer is exposed looks to me a little bit harsh and rough. Please tell me where I’m wrong…

    1. Bluesboy*

      I’m not Italian, but I live in Italy, maybe the issue is the different way lawyers work in Italy? In Italy they are always freelance ‘libero professionista’, while in many other countries they can be employees – so there is more of a hierarchy, and they might be asked/instructed to do things that you wouldn’t typically do as a freelancer.

      OP#1 says that she just passed her first anniversary in the company, maybe it’s her first job in this field? If so, try thinking of her as a ‘praticante’ or trainee lawyer. It isn’t the same thing, but I can tell you that a praticante is absolutely expected to do things like this (of course if it’s just that the OP has been in this company for one year but has 20 years experience in law this is not the case).

      1. Cat*

        I’m a lawyer in the US and I don’t think this type of request is particularly uncommon. But I do think it’s pretty ridiculous barring some pretty specific circumstances. A lot of lawyers are bad managers, full stop. One of the ways they’re bad managers is expecting junior lawyers to do admin tasks when they have admin people who could be doing them.

        OP, if your boss has an assistant, work with the assistant to get the reminders set up. Delegating to staff is a legitimate way to address senior attorney requests.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Yup. Welcome to the wonderful world of crappy managers in law firms, OP #1!

          Just do the reminder. Annoying as it is, it’s a fairly minor thing.

      2. Jennifer M.*

        It sounds like the OP is a lawyer working in the compliance department of a defense contractor. I spent 8 years in the compliance department of a government contractor working with a different agency. We didn’t have any lawyers in our group as it isn’t required for gov’t contracts – we just worked in conjunction with the in-house counsel who was completely separate from the compliance department. But there was absolutely a hierachy – Head of Dept, Directors, Senior Administrator/Manager, Mid Administrator, Jr. Administrator. And each level had different levels of signatory authority. When I was at a manager level, I was authorized to execute contracting actions with the US gov’t or our subcontractors/vendors up to $10MM. I definitely had instructions for the administrators who reported to me on how to prepare packages for my review, approval, and/or signature. Especially for the person who worked part time and did a lot of telework. Now since our service level agreements with the technical teams included 48 hour turnaround for this type of thing (once it got to me), reminders weren’t necessary.

    2. Colette*

      I think it’s about the outcome, too. If I need X from my boss and she tells me the best way to get X is to set a reminder in her calendar, I should set a reminder because that is the best way to get what I need. It doesn’t matter whether I should have to do that – if I don’t do it, I am making my own life more difficult.

      1. Christine*

        If you give your boss the reminder and they drop the ball on their end; it’s their problem. The buck stops there. If you continue failing to remind her, it becomes your problem. I used to put items on my Dean’s calendar regarding deadlines for grant proposals, dates evals are due etc. We worked out a system that all reminders were entered in his calendar on the 7:30 – 8:00 a.m. time slot because he found the reminders popping up distracting. Give it time, you’ll get used to it. It takes about six months to get used to a new boss’s wants & desires.

        1. Christine*

          You could set up a daily, or tri-weekly meeting. We met daily from 2 – 3 p.m. and I would all of the documents requiring his signature in a folder, correspondence, etc. We would go through it together and I would put sticky notes on things that required a response, I needed to ask for something, etc. He would sign most stuff in my presence, but the more detailed items like grant proposals he would look at my post its to see what I was stating was missing or wasn’t clear etc. Than would read through it, and bring it back to me. If we didn’t have anything that day, we would skip the meeting. The faculty new we met during that time frame, and if it was urgent they would ask if I had anything for him, etc. It was flexible. We got our business done, but if we didn’t haven’t anything (which was about 20% of the time) he had time to catch up or meet with someone if a new issues or problem had arisen.

    3. Judy*

      It sounds like this is an attorney in a corporate setting, doing contract management. I’m an engineer, and how I work with my bosses means that there are things my bosses must do so that I can complete my projects. I’ve only rarely had a manager that was always giving me the approvals when I needed them, they’ve always had 5-15 other engineers with their projects that also need approvals. In fact, most of my managers ask a final question in all of our meetings “Is there anything you will need from me this week?” Managing your manager to get what you need out of them is something most of us do daily.

      I’d also say that the day of assistants for first level managers ended 20 years ago in my world. And now even directors share assistants. (And I’ve been in a world where directors have 100-300 people working for them. )

      1. Rat Racer*

        One thing I couldn’t figure out is whether “defense” in this letter meant “a lawfirm who primarily handles defendants” vs. a defense contracting firm. I think that it’s the latter – right? And that’s why the OP’s boss is not an attorney?

    4. edj3*

      I’m not an attorney but I do manage two very large teams scattered around the world.

      I am in no way dismissive of what my teams do on a daily basis but I’m way outnumbered and I do ask that they remind me of critical deadlines that involve me. Usually I don’t need those reminders, but there are times (like the last two weeks) when the deluge of emails and other meetings means stuff gets lost in the noise.

      It’s not about my time being more valuable than theirs. It’s that I have a lot of competing priorities and they can help ensure what’s top of mind for them remains top of mind for me.

    5. Pwyll*

      This really sounds like new lawyer growing pains to me. My first year out of lawschool I was required to type out my Partner’s dictation on contracts. It was shocking to have gone through all of law school and the bar exam to basically do secretarial work. Except that a big part of being a new lawyer is “managing up”, and that often involves ensuring your partners or managers or executives are accomplishing what they need to be doing, which includes reminding them of those deadlines.

      More than 50% of lawyering isn’t law, it’s people. Managing deadlines is what we do in private practice too, except clients are a million times worse than an internal manager. I agree with Alison, I think OP is taking this too personally.

      1. Elysian*

        I agree to an extent, but I wonder if OP’s frustration is that this task might be better handled by someone else, like an admin. I do work wit h a partner who needs a lot of managing up, and it is incredibly frustrating sometimes. I’ll send them a letter they wanted to review, and then the client will be bugging me for it and I’ll be bugging them for it without them doing it – they’re the bottleneck and I’m the low man on the totem pole but it always comes back to me if things are late. That’s frustrating. A lot of it is also not billable, so if the OP has any billable hours requirements, she’s losing that time. You can’t bill “.2 hours – time spent texting partner for the fourth time that the client needs her to review the contract.”

        The easiest way to deal though is either to (1) just use the reminders and make sure you don’t forget, or (2) enlist the help of an admin if you are able to and try to delegate that. It’s frustrating because you’d probably rather be spending your time doing other things (or, if billable is in play, any time you spend doing this is ‘wasted’ and you have to make up for it at some other time), but its part of the job.

        1. Pwyll*

          I hear you, it’s been my life for the past few years. And I think it’s a good point to make: if there’s an admin who supports the manager, coordinating with him/her could be a helpful way to do this. But it’s quite likely that the Contracts Manager doesn’t have an assistant in-house (many don’t), in which case, as you noted, it’s just part of the job. A part you’ll be happy to have behind you in a few years when you, also, move up.

        2. Elysian*

          I’ll add that at least this manager HAS a system that works. I’m left emailing, texting, calling, dropping by, sending a reminder, bugging my manager’s admin, emailing again, texting again, asking other people in the office if the partner is still alive and/or will be coming in today… I’d love to have one reliable way to make sure my projects get on their to-do list!

          1. Pwyll*

            True story: I once needed to get my partner to sign off on something while she was “working from her home office”, which is neither her home nor her office but instead a vacation property in Canada 9 hours away. I called, I e-mailed, I texted, I faxed, you name it, but absolutely no response. Even though she was definitely, absolutely not on vacation (according to her).

            So I sent her a telegram. And I had my contract at 8 the next morning.

            1. Elysian*

              Haha, I’ve never considered a telegram! I have considered a process server. Those folks can be very persistent…

            2. Pwyll*

              I’ll point out she was in good humor about it. My other partner would have raked me over the coals for “pulling stunts”. YMMV.

      2. bkh*

        Frustrating as it is, as a tax accountant, I spend a fair chunk of time managing my boss to get documents reviewed and signed, or just get input on a tax situation that I a) haven’t seen or b) is aggressive and subject to review and challenge.

        I do this because I recognize that since it’s his name on the sign, it’s his ass on the line.

      3. Janie*

        I agree with this. It took some growing pains but I am now at the point where my Outlook calendar is full of both real deadlines like “brief due to be filed,” but also full of my own deadlines like “follow up with Partner about brief.” In every firm I’ve worked at, all partners have asked the associates to be proactive in reminding them or following up with them. In turn, the assistants ALSO are supposed to be proactive in reminding all of the attorneys about deadlines. When there are a lot of moving parts and a lot at stake for missing a deadline, you want as many people as possible to feel responsible and reminding each other, even if it’s redundant.

    6. designbot*

      I think the tone may have also been in direct response to the OP’s tone. When OP says, this makes me feel like boss’s time is worth more than mine, and that’s supposed to be a complaint, they need a bit of a reality check. That’s the nature of having a boss, their time is in fact more valuable than yours. That line made the whole thing read as less reasonable and I think deserved a straightforward response.

  9. Lily*

    #2 My go-to answer to “How many siblings have you?” is “I had two.”
    Most of the time, people get the hint and don’t ask any more questions.

    1. Jean*

      Yeah, I usually just say there are nine kids in the family. I don’t get into the fact that four are dead (and one is very close to it) unless we have an in-depth conversation.

      I’m pretty sure my friend answers the question of how many kids by saying three, and only talking about her daughter who died at 14 if they ask ages or other information. She has told me, though, that she does not want people to stop talking about her daughter. We try to remember her daughter with love and joy, not think about the fact that she’s gone.

      1. chocolate tort*

        Jean: Yes, that’s how I feel about my sibling and step-sibling who passed. When it comes up naturally, I am happy to talk about both of them and their interests. (I’m not so interested in in-depth questions regarding the way they passed.)

  10. Henrietta Gondorf*

    Re: #1: wow, that answer came off as harsh on the OP. I can’t speak to the OP’s firm, but that kind of request would be so outside the norm in my practice that the manager’s attitude would be seen as the issue.

    1. nofelix*

      Yeah it surprised me too. It seems to easily absolve this manager for ignoring clear requests for input. I guess I understand though; if there are a lot of requests then a system may be necessary, and requests that aren’t entered in the system will be ignored. If the manager wants to instigate such a system though, surely it’d behoove them to remind colleagues at the time “please can you also send this as an Outlook reminder” rather than just letting it fall through the cracks.

      1. hbc*

        It sounds like she’s reminded the OP several times, and it kind of defeats the purpose if she’s got to email a reminder to set up a reminder. They have a system, OP just doesn’t like it and hasn’t been following it.

        To be fair, I wouldn’t like it either, but it’s not too onerous.

        1. nofelix*

          It sounds like the boss has ‘reminded’ OP after its too late, rather than when the original request was made. I agree that it’s not too onerous to start doing it now, but depending on how the idea was introduced I can understand OP being annoyed.

        2. Rat Racer*

          I don’t disagree with Alison’s response, but I would like to extend some empathy to the OP because reminding people to do their jobs is my LEAST favorite part of project management. I hold myself accountable for my commitments, and expect others to do the same. That said – and especially if it’s your boss! – sometimes you have to babysit. It’s totally annoying, but it’s worth it to put matters of principles aside and change yourself since your boss won’t change, and she’s always going to win the argument.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        “Swamped” is not the same as “ignoring”. I have NEVER ignored a request from a boss, but I have accidentally lost track of one or two during busy times.

        Some people need this. I had a boss, years a go, who hated email and submitted all requests verbally. Except her two underlings needed things in writing, both because boss wasn’t always on hand to remind us and because we were both people who rememebered things better if we read them. We never intentionally ignored anything she asked of us, but a few requests got overlooked because there weren’t any up-to-date reminders. When we finally convinced her to do it our way, the problem disappeared. Furthermore, I think it’s even more important if you’re not in the same office and don’t see or talk to each other in person regularly.

    2. Thomas E*

      Er… Why? Your boss asks you to include outlook reminders for tasks you need from her in your emails to her. This takes only a few seconds to do and ensures you get what you need from her.

      Is this a hill you want to die on?

      1. Liane*

        Several times Alison has advised asking a boss or peer the best way to contact them and using it even if it isn’t your favorite way. Here the boss has told you without being asked. Be glad, adjust your attitude about it, do it–and you may find your job slightly less annoying.

        And I agree, “ambitious lady” was not the most professional way to describe your boss, even if the information was relevant. Best if you don’t even think it again–before you say it within hearing of woman who is a partner or very valuable client and assumes you meant her.

      2. the gold digger*

        Is this a hill you want to die on?

        Nope. I am the marketing person for R&D. The only way for me to get what I need from the product managers is to schedule a meeting with them and sit with them while they do the work I need. I want to be able to send them a document and have them fill it out, but it does not work that way. It frustrates me because it is such an inefficient process, but it is what works. So I do it.

      3. Henrietta Gondorf*

        Not saying it’s the hill you want to die on. At the end of the day, the manager can be as idiosyncratic as she likes. But for where I work, this would be considered irregular enough that the OP’s question would not be a surprise.

    3. CJ*

      I don’t think it’s too harsh at all. It’s very normal in many industries. My team manages lots of projects which I oversee. I agree their plans and timelines, and am ultimately responsible but these are their projects and they are responsible for keeping them on track – which includes making sure that they get the appropriate senior input at the appropriate stages. Best way to do that, particularly for longer term projects is to remind people when their input is needed. I might know that Ethel will need input on the teapot marketing plan at a certain stage but will need her to remind me when the project gets to that stage (because I’m also doing lots of other things that are nothing to do with Ethel’s project). Of course it’s also my job to check in with her regularly to make sure everything is on track generally, but a reminder that I need to provide x by next Tuesday is perfectly normal practice. I do the same for my boss.

      I’m also uncomfortable with the OP’s mention that his new boss is an ‘ambitious lady’. I don’t see what her ambition has to do with anything (she’s presumably not bucking for promotion if she’s new to the job) has to do with anything, or what her gender has to do with it. Maybe the OP didn’t mean it that way but there’s a whiff of sexism there – ‘ambitious lady’ is a often used as a coded way to disparage a successful woman.

      1. Mookie*

        That “ambitious lady” non-sequitur was jarring and, like Alison, I don’t really see how it’s demeaning to be offered a quick, reasonable, and actually quite flexible solution — use your Outlook — to a problem the OP is actively complaining about (slow response time from their manager regarding crucial data and possibly missing deadlines because of it). Sounds like the manager is noticing one of their newer attorneys has difficulty managing deadlines, and is giving them both the benefit of the doubt and an opportunity to sharpen up their performance. No one’s being micromanaged, yet.

        1. nofelix*

          If I’m reading between the lines correctly, the main problem is the boss jumping straight to chiding OP, not that the idea itself is onerous. Blaming people for not reading your mind about unorthodox methods you’d like them to use (contra to this company’s SOP anyway) is a quick way to get their backs up, as seen here. Unfortunately for the OP, she is the subordinate and just has to deal with it now the instruction is clear.

          1. Thomas E*

            The boss didn’t jump to chiding the op. She asked the op to use the reminders first, and when the op forgot THEN she was irritated by the op’s failure to meet deadlines as a result.

          2. Mookie*

            Blaming people for not reading your mind about unorthodox methods you’d like them to use (contra to this company’s SOP anyway) is a quick way to get their backs up, as seen here.

            Wait, that’s not what the OP wrote. The OP wrote that they failed to use Outlook for each e-mail request because they’re not accustomed to doing so, not that they didn’t know the manager wanted them to in the first place.

            Unfortunately for the OP, she is the subordinate and just has to deal with it now the instruction is clear.

            The instructions were never clouded, according to the OP, and I don’t see how it’s unfortunate. Managers set their own procedures all the time. This is not an arduous task, and will help the OP meet deadlines. Sounds like a win-win, once they get used to using Outlook as instructed.

      2. CM*

        Yep, I also picked up on “ambitious lady,” plus the fact that OP#1 is a lawyer while the boss is not, and the OP is resentful that the boss feels her time is more important than OP’s (it is, she’s the boss!) I am a lawyer too, and found this attitude really common when I worked at a law firm. OP, if you’re harboring some resentment at working for someone who you don’t feel should be above you, you’re going to need to drop it if you’re going to succeed in your current position.

      3. designbot*

        The “ambitious lady” description in the context of “feels demeaning, as if I’m receiving a favor by her timely response, or that her time is more important than mine” to mean that OP has an impression of her boss as maybe having advanced too fast or having ideas above her station. This is a super between-the-lines read admittedly, but it gave off the impression that OP sees the two of them as closer to being equals than boss does.

    4. Billy*

      A request from the manager to set up reminders for tasks to do? I understand having to do extra work to get your boss to something is annoying (“I sent you an email – can’t that be a reminder? Or set up your own?”) but it does happen. And at a fundamental level (1) your boss’s time IS more valuable than yours. If you don’t believe that, then compare your salaries and be prepared to be shocked just how much more valuable it is and (2) your boss is the boss. If the boss’s work process is “Send me an email reminder, then write it on the white board, set up an outlook reminder and then call me about it a week later” then that’s the process and work-flow.

      1. edj3*

        Piling on re emails to say sure, my team sends me emails. And those are right in there with the 100+ emails I get every day. Sometimes things get missed in the daily barrage.

    5. Lily in NYC*

      I don’t think it was harsh! I also work in contract management and I spend half my life reminding attorneys of what they need to do for a contract – or else it will never get done. I just consider it part of the job. And the comment OP wrote about the boss thinking her time is more important than OP’s seemed a little tone deaf about the boss/not boss dynamic.

    6. Mark in Cali*

      Yeah, I understand that if your boss asks you to do it, do it. Or even in a contractor-client relationship, when the client asks for you for something you do it. But the way the OP described the situation it sounded like this norm wasn’t established or asked until something went wrong. At that point, it sounded like the boss decided to share her opinion about setting up email reminders. I suppose at that point the contractor should take the hint and just make that the norm, but it leaves a sour taste.

      I feel like adding a follow up reminder to Outlook emails is right up there with marking things as high importance: don’t do it and if you do it better be rare. Seems the norm for most, but understand there are always exceptions.
      Reminds me of a previous article where an OP described a colleague who chastised her for ending an email with “Please let me know if you have any questions,” because she felt that was a demeaning question because it’s always implied that people will ask more questions when they have them. It’s a preference outside the box, but if my boss told me not to end my emails with that when working with service providers or clients or customers, I would stop. It’s so unusual though it needs to be communicated.

      1. TL -*

        It was probably more like the boss realized it was a problem and offered a solution, then got (understandably) frustrated when the OP didn’t use the solution and continued to be frustrated that there was a problem.

        Asking to do something differently to fix a problem is a good thing! Getting annoyed because the problem doesn’t go away when y0u’re not using the solution provided is not, though.

    7. Mike C.*

      It’s such a trivial thing of a manager to ask of an employee, I don’t understand why it’s a big deal.

      1. Natalie*

        My guess is BEC mode. When I had a manager I disliked strongly (about half him being incompetent and half our personalities just not working) these types of minor requests used to irritate me to an unreasonable degree,

      2. Dr. Johnny Fever*

        This one baffles me too.

        I have a lot on my plate and I try my best, but I am human. When a quick question turns into a list of three followup actions, I tell my teams to make sure they see me write down the item on a post-it, my phone, my arm, whatever to make sure I do it. I have a hard time remembering that kind of quick one-off, especially when context-switching. I tell each person, If I have not done this by x time, remind me, because it might have slipped my attention with other things.

        While I’ve had a few people balk at the idea that I am dropping everything to answer a question *right now*, I’ve never had anyone flat out refuse to help me help them, or even tell me it’s not their job to help me help them.

        This is SO not a big deal.

      3. eplawyer*

        Quite common occurrence among attorneys — especially ones who went high school, college, law school with no real work experience (not even our perennial favorites fast food and retail). They have the attitude because they went to law school and passed the bar they shouldn’t have to do anything but law. They are the attorney and everything they do is right. You should see how some of them treat paralegals, secretaries and court staff. You know the people that can make your life wonderful or a living hell? Yeah they treat they terribly because the attorney went to law school and they didn’t.

        In this case, the guy is a lawyer, the manager is not. Therefore, despite a clear hierarchy, her time is not more valuable than him. She should be waiting with nothing else to do for his every request and act on immediately. Because “lawyer.”

    8. Bad Candidate*

      I kind of agree that I think this is harsh. To me this falls under the heading of “I don’t raise grown people.” I don’t understand why you need to remind other adults to do their job.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Because his manager has asked him to, and it’s her prerogative to enlist her staff in doing this if she wants to.

        Some managers have a zillion competing priorities on their plate. This one has found a way to keep working moving that works for her. There’s zero reason to be offended by what she’s asking the OP to do.

      2. Bad Candidate*

        I think I missed the attorney part in all this. I agree that’s a world unto itself. So many reasons why I won’t work in a law office and this is just one of them.

        1. Triangle Pose*

          This has nothing to do with a law firm. If your manager or supervisor has a preferred process for tasks/reminders/organization, you follow it. It’s really just that simple!

  11. Jen RO*

    #1 is making me feel super guilty :( One of the first thing I tell my new employees is that, if I promise them something and I don’t answer in time, they should just bug me until I do. Partly it’s my fault (I am not the most organized person in the world), but mostly it’s the fact that I am the only senior person in a large-ish team of new joiners, so I need to do a *lot* of shit on a daily basis until everyone gets trained up.

      1. Annabelle Lee*

        No it’s not how things “should” work. Adult professionals don’t need constant reminders to do their jobs on a regular basis. In special circumstances sure. In my department our no longer new manager never wrote tasks down and we were constantly reminding them of things until we decided to stop. Now manager writes things down. As it should be.

        1. Natalie*

          I think you might be bringing some things to the letter from your previous experience. The LW doesn’t say she needs to constantly remind her boss to do her job, just that her boss has requested that she send Outlook reminders for deadlines. That’s not functionally different from sending someone a calendar invite instead of expecting them to put it on their calendar themselves, which is incredibly common.

          Further, in my working experience it’s EXTREMELY common for people, especially managers, to forget things sometimes. They’re not forgetting those things *at you*.

          1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

            Seriously! It’s not like our brains get removed when we move into management.

            I really wonder about the office dynamic at play behind these types of assumptions.

            1. fposte*

              One of the things that I discovered when I became a manager is how intertwined your identity gets with your staff; it takes several people to be what I used to think of as “me.” And ultimately it’s better for my unit that some stuff that is individual at lower levels gets delegated at higher ones; it’s about working together to get the unit stuff done, and I’m a resource that has to get managed just like the copier.

        2. Dr. Johnny Fever*

          We are human. We aren’t perfect. We forget, no matter how adult and professional we are.

          This annoys me. Instead of addressing a straightforward issue and having a conversation, you chose to train someone to *your* likes and left him high and dry until he complied. This is passive-aggressive, not constructive, and not how professionals behave.

          If I had someone working with me who helped me only when I behaved to her liking, I would not deem that person to be a team player nor professional of any kind. That’s childish behavior – I don’t like the way you asked so I won’t respond.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Totally agree. I’m shocked that people are so outraged that a manager has workflow preferences. This is such a normal thing. I’ve failed at my mission here if people don’t get that.

            1. Gaara*

              I suspect people are bringing their own experiences to it, which may be different and more extreme than the LW’s. Like, okay, your boss wants Outlook reminders with task emails, do it.

              But, my boss sometimes refuses to deal with things no matter how often you remind them, and then it’s my fault that I didn’t force them to act. That, I think, is unfair and dysfunctional, and for that reason I’m predisposed to cringe at examples like #1, even when they are less egregious or maybe totally acceptable.

            2. Jen RO*

              A few years ago I thought the same. It was just a matter of not being used to the working world in general, and not understand what a manager does all day. My reasoning was “well, my boss expects *me* to know all this stuff when *he* is clueless?”.

            3. Dr. Johnny Fever*

              Alison, I share the same shock, yet began to see some of the cognitive drivers that could explain the unexpected discussion.

              I posted about cognitive biases below as a separate comment. Something above the discussion provoked my interest in understanding why, and I found the descriptions of how we view these situations gave me better insight into the discussion at large on this letter.

            4. Rocky*

              I’m also firmly in the “Why is this even a big deal?” camp. I’m a middle manager, not even a particularly ambitious lady, and I tell all my team to never be shy about sending me email reminders liberally, because I’m always on top of emails, but if they mention something they need verbally, there’s at best a 50% chance that I’m going to remember to do it. Maybe they’ve worked for other bosses who never looked at their emails and had to do everything face-to-face. Oh well?

              My boss is generally totally on top of functional tasks, but needs constant reminders about business relationship stuff (who people are, why we’re working with them, why we care about them, etc.) It’s annoying, but I’ll take it over not being able to get paperwork signed.

              However, I do remember when I was new to professional work and was shocked when my boss kept telling me, “OK, just remind me to do it later,” and I was like, “Why does she need reminders? Why can’t she remember? Doesn’t she know everything I’m doing?” I actually chalked it up to age at first (because, you know, I was in my mid-20s and she was 40 – LOL. After a couple more years in the workforce I realized it was *totally normal*.

              1. Rocky*

                Hi Rocky, this is a bit awkward…my username is also Rocky. I don’t know if the site can distinguish us, so would you consider being Rocky II?

        3. EmmaLou*

          Except… no. The boss said, “Do this thing.” Thus, “Do this thing.” OP seems to see it as demeaning. Lower than they ought to have to stoop. She didn’t ask him to clean the bathrooms. Scrape gum from under the conference table. Perform an interpretive dance for the partners. It’s not illegal. It’s not immoral. It’s just Outlook. She said, “Set up an outlook reminder with this kind of thing.” Alison has more than once mentioned that managers have a lot going on and that reminders may be necessary. This manager even has a quick way to handle them already in place. I had a boss like this for awhile except she just wanted reminders. “Jane? Those copies I needed for the Crane project. Can’t go any further without them.” It wasn’t a huge deal. Sometimes frustrating but I know I wasn’t the only one asking her for things. There were many other people asking for things.

          1. Too Funny*

            “She didn’t ask him to clean the bathrooms. Scrape gum from under the conference table. Perform an interpretive dance for the partners.”


            In my old job one of our brand managers used to do interpretive dance for boring subject matter. And really funny presentations slides. But obviously he chose to do this.

            My current workmates have not understood my requests for interpretive dance presentations . . . .

            And all of us, from the Head of Country right down the food chain, had to do 3 days a year in one of our retail & food outlets, which often involved toilet cleaning & gum scraping. Boy, if you didn’t have any respect for frontline staff prior you would after your first shift!

            1. Candi*

              …I’ve been saying for YEARS companies should do exactly this. I want to buy from your company on principle now. Fantastic.

    1. Leatherwings*

      This has been my job in almost every one of my support positions. Don’t feel bad. That’s a part of managing up, which is a valuable skill to develop and use. Additionally, OP1 may think that Outlook reminders in particular are annoying, but part of supporting someone means using the systems that are best for them and adapting them to your work.

    2. Lady Blerd*

      I do the same thing. I’m a junior boss lady and as time goes by my to-do list overflowed and due to being short on staff, I have developped what I call a non-mommy mommy brain where l focus on important stuff and let others slide. Therefore if my minion wants me to do something, I tell her to remind me.

      And being near the bottom of the totem pole means I answer to someone else and I find myself having to do the same with my own boss so I kind felt the same way OP1 does for a minute but it’s either that or people won’t have jobs, don’t paid etc

      1. Jen RO*

        Our situations sound very similar… I am the lowest “boss” there is (there are 3 or 4 levels of management above me).

        Before I was in this position, I used to think my manager was The Worst because he forgot when I was planning to time off, the exact release dates for our software, etc. Now, I get to work, 3 people start pinging me on Lync, two new joiners need process X explained, one new joiner needs help dealing with a bug… and 3 hours later, I realize that I came in planning to do task Y and I haven’t even started, and oh by the way, I have a week long backlog of things to sort out. My boss is still not perfect, but I should have cut him waaay more slack years ago.

        (But I am proud of myself today, because I finally managed to catch up with the stuff my team sent for review, and I am actually getting to focus on my own work!)

    3. Formica Dinette*

      I think it’s nice of you to tell new employees that. I have seen far too many coworkers who are hesitant or even afraid to “bug” their bosses about deadlines..

  12. Workfromhome*

    #4 Maybe the issue here is not that people here are “slacking off” in th or notice period but that the expectations are unrealistic to start and that the “incentive” to give one months notice is counterproductive.
    The organization has a workforce that is burned out and admittedly underpaid that are leaving en mass because of these conditions. It’s prolly fair to assume they are working in a “disengaged” manner long before they give notice. They have already given up to the point they are leaving. But in order to get an extra 2 weeks of very disengaged work from them you offer to pay out the left ove vacation that they have EARNED?! I mean what kind of message does that send and what kind of effort does one expect that to generate?
    I know what I would think: “They have required I our my heart and soul into helping these clients which leaves me derailed every day, refuse to pay me fairly and when I tell them I’m leaving they refuse to pay me out the few vacation days that I am owed unless I put up with their BS for an extra 2 weeks” Of course people will slack off. They are going to think if they want to hold me hostage for 2 weeks just to get a few 100 or thousand $ in vacation after all I’ve done then Amy revenge is to do as little as possible because that $ should already be mine.

    You can’t give raises beucase of some unreasonable processes so at the very least why not stop with holding vacation pay hostage and allow 2 weeks notice and then expect 2 weeks full work. You’ll get a lot more people who can be 50 to 100 % productive for 2 weeks than you will people who can be even 25 % for 4 weeks. It’s counterproductive to hold people hostage for 2 extra weeks that already have said I want to get the hell outta here. Yeah I know in an ideal world 100% until the last day but if people aren’t treated professionally when they are there you can’t expect them to be professional when they are leaving.

    1. N.J.*

      But don’t the folks leaving have a duty of care, since they are doing social work or case work with children in a special needs population, to fulfill some sort of minimum level of wrap up activities? I’m assuming that when the OP says one month is the standard notice in their field that this would include wrapping up any open assessment or notes, finishing up scheduled client visits etc. The OP also mentioned that by shirking these responsibilities, the department or agency is getting in trouble from an auditing perspective. The common trope is that social work professions can burn people out and that they receive bad pay. That is indeed a travesty, I do agree with that. But you can’t slack off during a notice period with a job that important. If it takes a month to wrap up case activities then it takes a month. If the OP has the flexibility to define a different notice period, I strongly suggest they push for that, but it may just be the cycle the work follows.

      On the vacation payout point–it’s not really an affront to justice to not pay out vacation, not in the standard U.S. working environment. Vacation is something you earn to use while working. If you will not be working for an employer it really is at their discretion as to whether to pay it out. It stinks to put strings on receiving a vacation pay out, but the lack of a vacation payout isn’t out of the ordinary. In the ten years I’ve worked full-time across several employers, only one has paid out. It depends on the industry, position etc.

      1. doreen*

        I don’t think the issue with the vacation pay is that’s it’s an affront to justice so much as having restrictions on paying it out encourages certain behavior.Employers who tie paying out vacation to notice periods are encouraging people to give that much notice- which is fine when it works, but can be counterproductive. I’d be really surprised if the OP’s agency is getting much benefit from this policy – apparently, a month isn’t enough time to find a replacement and while it might be easier to arrange coverage with a month’s notice , I’m sure they’ve had to do it with less notice when people go out on medical leaves , etc.

        Also, other policies may intersect with this one in a way that makes it difficult or impossible to hold someone accountable during their notice period or even in a way that encourages someone to give a month’s notice and then slack off. For example, the process to fire someone might take a month, or the agency might require a month’s notice to pay out vacation time when you resign but automatically pay it to people who are fired and/or provide two week’s pay in lieu of notice when someone is fired.

        1. N.J.*

          You make very good points. Dangling a carrot likevscstion time for x amount of notice can be very counter productive.

      2. Trout 'Waver*

        Calling someone who burnt out on doing high-stress/low-pay social work a slacker is unkind and unhelpful.

        1. N.J.*

          I didn’t call anyone in particular in this situation a slacker. I said that slacking off in a job that requires a duty of care to children, and to children from some sort of special needs population is bad. And that this isn’t excused by the resentment over having strings attached to vacation payout. I also stated that burnout is a common trope–if I didn’t provide enough explanation for that terminology choice I will now. The helping professions-social work, medical etc. are faced with the very real and depressingly common problem of burnout. There is a high emotional and physical burden imposed on social workers and the like and it drains everything-their enthusiasm, their souls, their care and concern. This is a very real and very complex and dangerous problem. A burned out case worker is, at some point, not going to be a good advocate for their clients anymore, even if they want to be. Even with burnout being real, the worker still has a duty to ensure they are helping their client not hurting them. Deciding not to put forth effort during a month long notice period is already showing consequences for the OP’s agency to say nothing of the harm that can fall to the children under the caseworjer’s reviee and are if they decide to skip their appointments that month or don’t log a crucial case note etc. Burnout is why I urged that the OP should reexamine the notice period if possible, because keeping on a burned out employee any longer than necessary to wrap up important items is dangerous and needlessly cruel to the worker. I would still argue that the duty of care applies though, even in the case of burnout. I’m sorry if I caused any hurt or offense.

          I’ll leave this with a story that hopefully illustrates my perspective. I had a close relative die many years back in the hospital because the medical professional who was supposed to physically be on watch in that very ward or room, all night, and never leave, was not around. He choked to death on his own blood from a burst clot. I don’t know enough details this many years later to know if the medical professional broke protocol or had a personal emergency or whatever. I can say that if this person was burned out, as many nurses are (this was the specific position this person was) from crappy pay, overwork, 12 hour shifts and the like, it still did not absolve this person from their duty of care and protection to my relative, whether they were participating in a regular work day or on day 10 of their notice period.

          I know this is an extreme example, but I thought it might illustrate some of the considerations I was making with the slacking off comment. That doesn’t mean most burned out or overworked people aren’t trying and it doesn’t absolve the system from creating this problem in the first place, but it does mean that at some point a job needs to be done to enough ofastandard that someone isn’t actively harmed. You have my sincrest apologies for wording it in such a way that social workers or helping professionals felt their value was being questioned or that burnout and underpay is not an important set of factors to address. I’m sorry.

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            If someone is burnt out to the point of resigning, they are not capable of doing their jobs any more. Forcing them to try to cover the job when they’re already burnt out is going to lead to outcomes exactly like you describe in your story.

            There’s already enough stigma around mental illness. Why add to it? You’re heavily implying that people suffering from burnout can do the job and choose not to do it. That is the exact opposite of burn out. Getting burnt out doesn’t mean you stop caring. It means that you care so much you get completely overwhelmed and are unable to relieve the stress.

            1. N.J.*

              Going numb in response to overwhelming stress is a common reaction to being burned out. This can happen in a work situation or someone’s personal life. I’ve certainly experienced it myself. There is value to the idea you stated that someone burned out can’t work their notice period. I’m not sure what the best approach would be, but giving a notice period implies that you have made a decision to wrap up remaining job items. In cases of high responsibility, such as child welfare there is still a duty of care. The ultimate answer is to fix the system, but that’s not going to help overnight.

            2. N.J.*

              I guess it boils down to the idea that if you are responsible for the lives or safety of others, I draw a bright line about the personal responsibility to do no harm. If that means an employee needs to be proactive and say they are resigning but are too burned out to perform their job safely, or the OP needs to change the notice period, or ultimately that they need to stop overworking employees in the first place, someone has to be responsible for ensuring that effective care/service is given to the clients.

            3. N.J.*

              I want to reiterate that I am sorry for not communicating this in a better way. Please don’t think that I don’t take burnout or mental illness seriously, I do. Social work and other helping professions are some of our most important jobs and anyone doing it deserves respect and support.

          2. Observer*

            You mention the consequences to the agency several times. The thing is that it’s unrealistic to expect staff who are leaving under such circumstances to care about that.

            Consequences to the clients is another thing. But, given what is going on, it’s not clear that the clients are getting worse service that what they were getting – the main difference, from what I can see, is the paperwork.

        2. N.J.*

          I also want to point out that I used slacking off because both Workfromhome and the title of the post use that exact wording so I assumed that was the framework we were using to structure this notion of acceptable behavior during a notice period.

      3. Mike C.*

        It is an affront to justice because it’s compensation that otherwise wouldn’t be paid out. It’s shitty and to pretend that it isn’t simply because labor laws in this country haven’t caught up to such new benefits as “paid time off” doesn’t change that fact. Just because it’s “industry standard” to be terrible about paying out vacation time doesn’t make it right.

        And I’m willing to bet that because of the over-worked nature of the environment, there isn’t much opportunity to take that time off in the first place.

        1. N.J.*

          The thing is though, yes it sucks, I never stated otherwise. It still is a common enough thing to not offer any payout that giving a standard or proper notice period shouldn’t be affected by its existence or not.

      4. Jesmlet*

        Except generally it doesn’t take a month to wrap up case activities. At least from my last job, they told us they needed 4 weeks notice to give them as much time as possible to find a replacement. For me, I did my wrap ups in 2 weeks. Obviously this depends on how many clients you see, but you shouldn’t have so many that you can’t see them at least once every two weeks (or at least in my ex-line of work this was true).

        Vacation is part of a benefits package. You should receive the benefits you’ve earned over the course of the year. It’s just stupid and greedy to not pay this out. It was very demoralizing to hear that my coworker didn’t get her vacations paid out when she gave 2 weeks because it was just further evidence as to how little the company cared about its employees.

    2. Fortitude Jones*

      I agree with almost everything you said, except for the part about maybe the expectations for the notice period are unreasonable. And I’m only disagreeing with this because of what I’ve seen from people taking internal transfers within my company. Those usually take a month to take effect, and we just recently had a guy leave our division brag about not doing anything the whole time. The only expectation his manager had for him was to try and settle as many of his open cases as he could, keep up with his open claims, and just generally not be an ass.

      Instead, this guy was taking two hour lunches, playing around on the internet, leaving early to play golf, and just generally not touching his caseload. He was pissed off because his manager micromanaged him and after threatening to quit if our division SVP didn’t give him another promotion he didn’t deserve, so decided he was going to “stick it to them.” Only, he ended up screwing his teammates who ended up taking over his workload and trying to fix the horrible mess he left behind, he screwed our clients, and I’m pretty sure he just screwed himself out of a good reference from our division. He may not care about that now because of his new gig, but if he ever wants to transfer internally again, the new division’s hiring manager will reach out to his former manager in my division and possibly our SVP, and I can almost guarantee they’ll tell the new division about how he left.

      1. Mike C.*

        I don’t see how new or stricter policies are needed when it’s clear management won’t enforce the ones already there.

  13. Hotel GM Guy*

    Removed because we don’t talk to people here this way. The commenter has been banned. My deepest apologies to the letter-writer who this was directed to.

  14. Sarah*

    OP 2 I,too, lost a child as an infant ten years ago. One of the hardest things about moving to a new job was the fact that no one had heard of her when everyone at old job new about her, and they were amazingly supportive and kind.

    As for what you say, that can change, even daily. If you’re not up for discussing your daughter on that particular day, it’s okay. No one will think it’s weird or you were lying if you talk about her later. She still existed and was loved in her short life whether you tell others about her or not.

    If you want to acknowledge her, that’s great too. In all likelihood, in response to the “I have a three year old and daughter who died earlier this year” script, you will get a short gasp and an “I’m sorry.” I’ve found it rare that anyone pries further.

    And let me add my own I’m sorry. It sucks and the grieving process is long (you’ll always mourn her), so please be gentle with yourself.

    1. Partly Cloudy*

      The more I think about it, in my experience, people usually just ask “do you have kids?” vs. “how many kids do you have?”. And I think “are you planning to have more?” would be a strange question from a new co-worker; that’s more of a friend question IMO.

      OP2, so sorry for your loss.

  15. Aly*

    #5 This was my question. I appreciate your answer and I think you make good points
    I’ve really been trying to be positive and not let stress get to me. As stated in my original email, my manager has already told me he’s seen a positive difference and he appreciates it. In a surprising twist, yesterday my assistant manager told me she thinks I should apply for her position when she leaves at the end of November. I told her that our manager would never approve that. She told me she’d already talked to him about it and he’s supportive. He also pulled me aside yesterday to tell me that I’ve been “rocking it” and he “can’t say enough good things.” I’m sure this particular manager is the exception more so than the rule, but I guess it’s never too late. Does that mean I’ll be able to transfer? I don’t know. I am still going to look for opportunities outside of the company but I want to take my time to find something I truly enjoy.

    1. Fluke Skywalker*

      That’s awesome! I’ll admit, I’ve been told at previous jobs that I had an attitude problem as well. It was difficult for me to course-correct, partly because I was deeply unhappy in those jobs. It can be such a test of yourself to stay positive in a stressful environment. Good for you for making the effort, and good job on your progress! I hope it works out for you.

  16. 42*

    OP #2:

    I lost my son when he was 4, in 2003. He was my daughter’s twin. I had another son a few years later. I remember being in the same situation as you find yourself now.

    At first when anyone asked how many children I had, I would say 3–because how on earth could I not count my son? That soon wasn’t working well because the follow up question was always “How old are they”, and I couldn’t answer that without crying and going into the details. So that didn’t work.

    So what I found myself doing instinctively when I’m asked now how many children I have, is answering “My daughter is 17 and my son is 11.” I don’t feel so much that I’m “forgetting” my first son–I’m simply stating how old my living children are. It works for me, and it answers 2 questions at once.

    It gets a little easier, but it took a while for me. I promise you it won’t feel as raw as it doesn’t now. And no one will fault you for getting a little emotional. I was always worried about the feelings of the person who asked a friendly question and ended up getting tears in response. It’s ok, and you’ll be ok I promise.

    1. Myrin*

      I really like this alternative! When I first read that question, I didn’t quite get what the problem is with just mentioning the child that’s still alive – after all, that seems like the easiest solution; it doesn’t have the potential of opening a can of worms with awkward huge shows of sympathy or inappropriate prying -, but now that I’ve read your comment, I understand the issue a lot better (can you tell that my sister sometimes half-jokingly calls me “ice cold”? I’m naturally somewhat unemotional, even in situations like deep personal loss or grief, so sussing out things like this can be a bit hard for me).

      Also, I’m terribly sorry, both for your and the OP’s loss.

      1. 42*

        Thank you for that Myrin. That’s the catch–how to acknowledge that a child was here. He lived in the world. Not including him at first, in the early years afterward, felt like he was being erased.

        1. Blackout*

          I felt the same way when my sister died (I was 21 at the time ; she was my only sibling). Telling people that I didn’t have any siblings felt horrible, yet saying I had a sister would usually elicit follow-up questions. And I was in college, and the vast majority of my peers had never experienced such a loss. So it was a terribly lonely period in my life.

          It does get easier, and today (14 years later) I sometimes tell people I have no siblings, and sometimes I tell them I had a sister who passed away. It really depends on my relationship with the person.

          1. Kasia*

            My sister died when I was 23, though I do have a brother also. I usually now just tell people I have a brother but there are still times that feels wrong.

    2. CM*

      Honestly, I don’t think this is a situation where you need to be worried about the feelings of the person you’re talking to. It’s so much more awkward and painful for you than for them. I have been the well-meaning person who asked, when a co-worker mentioned her child, “Do you have other children too?” and been told about their loss. I would hate to think that I’m causing even more pain not just by bringing it up and forcing them to talk about a sensitive topic with an acquaintance, but also by making them worry about MY feelings.

      1. Temperance*

        A friend if mine lost her husband and child. I dint know details, but it’s actually a problem for her that other people start crying when she mentions their existence. She then feels the need to comfort them over her losd.

        LW may be trying to avoid that.

        1. JMegan*

          If that’s the case, the OP may find this article helpful:

          The gist of it is, there are people at the centre of the tragedy (OP, her partner, and their other child.) Those people are the ones who are most affected, and they are absolutely not required to comfort or support anyone. People farther away from the centre may also feel like they need comfort, but they need to get it from people even *further* from the centre. The author calls it the Ring Theory.

          OP, I’m so, so sorry for your loss. Take care of yourself.

            1. fposte*

              I’m sorry to hear that, Jean. That’s a tough thing as a sibling, especially since it sounds like you’ve had losses there already.

          1. OP #2*

            OMG YES!!!!!! Had an incredibly awkward conversation with my boss (also a parent of two young children) where he was in tears.

        2. Alton*

          Yeah, sometimes people’s emotional reactions or their attempts to show sympathy can end up being uncomfortable for various reasons. I still avoid talking about my deceased father 15 years later because I’ve encountered some awkward reactions over the years. Everything from a neighbor wanting to read the letter he wrote to me on his death bed (what the hell? NO!), to crying because I casually said that I’m not into Christmas as much because it isn’t the same without him, to generally acting awkward around me.

          The OP may not be in a place where she feels up to dealing with people who don’t know how to respond.

        3. Case of the Mondays*

          That’s a real concern. I try to avoid comparing pets with humans but I experienced this exact issue when I lost my dog this year and was grieving. One coworker couldn’t even look at me without crying. Another would cry anytime I mentioned something about the process. If someone asked if I had any pets, I’d say I had a dog for almost 12 years that we had recently lost and were hoping to get another soon (we did). At least 3 times, the person I said that to started crying. One coworker told me her son (who I have met twice) cried when he heard we had to put my dog down. With pets, I think people immediately think of their own pets and know that they will be losing them someday too and they start to preemptively feel that grief.

          I also think for people that rudely pry with follow up questions, it is a defense mechanism so that they can rest assured it won’t happen to them. If someone dies in a car accident, it’s easier to learn they were speeding or drunk. My friend’s baby is in the hospital. She was in a Zika country right before they realized you shouldn’t do that pregnant. A lot of concerned friends have asked if it is Zika. (So far, the answer is no). I think those friends would be relieved to learn it was Zika because then they could avoid that with their babies and not have to fear this mystery illness.

          1. Partly Cloudy*

            “With pets, I think people immediately think of their own pets and know that they will be losing them someday too and they start to preemptively feel that grief.”

            Either that or they already have their own memory of having lost a pet. It’s something that’s a lot more common than losing a child; almost anyone who’s had or has pets has lost them or knows they will lose them someday.

            Last year, I said goodbye to my almost-18-year-old dog and met one of my neighbors for the first time later that same day. She mentioned her dogs and we ended up talking a bit about how dog friendly our city is. Then of course she asked if I have a dog. I was able to hold it together and say “not right now” while mentally high-fiving myself for not losing it in front of someone I just met who had no idea what had happened that morning.

    3. Kimmiejo*

      I lost my son when he was seven months and this is the option I use as well. It’s still hard but it gets me through that awful moment.

  17. SophieChotek*

    #3 – cannot make money at sales and marketing
    Another aspect to consider (or maybe it has been, and it’s a fit, or you and your co-workers definitely would not want to do that is): sales and marketing. I get it sounds like you are already overworked and not given a good/clear direction with a manager, but in addition to being berated for not having supplies – if you do go back and say something along the lines of AAM suggestion – would you want to hear: “Fine, then to keep your jobs, you all need to sell [product/textbook/educational materials]?” Would you be willing to somehow add that job responsibility also?
    – also if he has company credit card, and won’t leave it? Could you negotiate for X amount of cash on hand, and you keep all receipts to show you only spent it on supplies? or is there a company checkbook?
    – related to being asked to do sales and marketing — I work in a really niche market to, and although my job is technically not related to sales and marketing, I’ve been tasked to do cold calls, etc., to try to increase business and its a clear (and new) expectation for me to keep my job (I’m looking for a new one)…
    – maybe you and your coworkers would not want to do that, but is that another response you could expect? Or a direction you could go/be willing to go? (Even just while you look for new jobs, etc.?)

    1. Billie*

      Hi. I’m number 3. We are all already very burned out in terms of our work load and the time he give us to work on things. I’d be willing to cold call etc cause it’s a small business and being scrappy/wearing hats is par the course, but we are so under staffed, that we don’t have enough people to cover the lesser tasks, we all already work through our lunch breaks (he insists we take 90 minute breaks to avoid paying us OT) to get tasks done, so there is no time to take on more tasks

      He also offers no true guidance. All of us got told we had new job duties and were told what we were expected to do, but with no actual gudience. Questions are often met with “well if you don’t want this title and can’t handle this work load, I can find someone can!”

      Normally I’d agree, solutions like leaving petty cash on hand would be a good idea, but along with not being around to help out, my boss is a compulsive liar. We are suppose to have a petty cash folder, but it’s been empty for months, asking when it will get replenished is met with long winded stories about quarterly payrolls and employees who steal. Surprise, surprise. There is a huge lack of transparency at this job.

      My boss has come on the past week with all sorts of new plans on how to get the company money again, but they involve a work load we can’t handle and
      staff we don’t have. He also has a bad history of getting excited for something for two weeks, vanishing, then coming back a month later and publicly berating us all for his new ideas never getting off the ground. Needless to say, as much as I love the work I do, I’m burned out at my job.

      Regardles, Alison, and other commenters, thank you so kindly for all the advice. I started to look for a new job with the goal of leaving by February, regardless. He will no doubt be livid I only give him two weeks when he’s been “the best boss I ever had” because he “gives (me unpaid sick) days off”, but Alison already gave great advice on how to leave on two weeks notice, so that answered my second question

      1. SophieChotek*

        Thanks for more clarification. It sounds you’re in a hard spot right now with a boss that has made it impossible. Best of luck in finding a new job soon.

      2. Annie Moose*

        For what it’s worth–if he’s telling you to record a 90 minute break but you’re actually still working through that time, he is legally obligated to pay you for that time. (assuming you’re hourly) Given what else you’ve said about the guy, it might be a lot of trouble to get him to pay what you’re owed, but just another confirmation that this guy does not know what he’s doing.

      3. TL -*

        Seconding! If you’re non-exempt, he legally owes you overtime and you should track your OT and file a report for missing wages. If you’re working off the clock, that’s a huge problem and very illegal.

  18. Lance*

    Re: #1, I think a lot of the reason that you’re forgetting those reminders is that you’re mentally fighting against them. Consider that it’s highly possible your boss has quite a number of priorities on her hands, and those little reminders can be a large service to her; ultimately, that they’ll make both of your jobs easier. I would recommend trying to get into the habit under that pretense (that it’s just generally useful), and otherwise, maybe see if you can talk with your boss sometime about that sort of system for both of your benefits, since you say that you occasionally miss deadlines for whatever reason; I’m sure you can come up with some sort of solution together (and ultimately, little outlook reminders are only minor inconveniences, and certainly not in the ‘micromanaging’ territory).

    1. Temperance*

      As an attorney, I have to say that he just needs to get over it. Missing deadlines is huge. He could be losing money for the firm and clients.

      1. Pwyll*

        This. Most firms I’ve dealt with consider their internal folks to be their “internal clients” to set the mindframe correctly. It’s OP’s job to make sure the contracts are drafted/signed on time. If that means reminding the manager, s/he just needs to do it.

      2. bridget*

        Agreed. His professional reputation is on the line. Also, senior attorneys or partners in law firms have workflow preferences and quirks all the freaking time. The junior people just have to learn them, that’s part of the job. I work for several partners and yeah, it’s kind of annoying to remember which ones of them want link attachments and which ones want documents and whether they prefer bold headings or underlined, but them’s the breaks. They are not having preferences *at* the more junior folks to demean them.

        1. Rocky*

          I don’t work in law, but – I had one boss who didn’t use Oxford commas and would make us take them all out, so I got out of the habit of using them. Then at my next job, my boss was one of those “Oxford commas or STFU” people, and I had to re-learn to put them all back in again. Annoying but honestly, not a big deal. It has made me totally unwilling to take any side in the Oxford comma debate.

      3. Dr. Johnny Fever*

        For the hell of it, I opened a new email in Outlook, clicked to add a followup reminders, added it with a few clicks, and set it. Took maybe 5 secs.

        I try to look at things with an open mind, but OP is loopy to protest such a simple procedure, especially given the losses!

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, this. If you’re emailing this person, anyway, just do the Outlook reminder. We use these all the time at my job because the two upper-level people in the department have wacky schedules with classes and meetings. The reminders make it a whole lot easier to keep everyone together.

  19. East of Nowhere South of Lost*

    OP5: I have had the ‘bad attitude’ problem too. What really helped was i did a self-help course, and let my boss know about it. I chose one of the Dale Carnegie courses, but there are a lot of other options too. Until i took the course i didn’t realize just how negative my usual thinking was. It really opened my eyes to how much of my interpersonal relationship problems were self-induced.

    You could try framing it this way ‘Jane i know i’ve had some problems and i really want to improve so I want to attend class (x) ‘ Its a way of letting them know you really mean you want to change.

    1. Aly*

      Thanks so much for your feedback. I’ll definitely check out the suggestions you made. I appreciate it!

  20. boop the first*

    #2: “How many kids” seems like a weirdly specific question to me for new-person smalltalk. Do strangers genuinely care about the answer or is it just an empty script? Allegedly, we are “okay” with avoiding questions about politics and religion; Considering the drama, maybe it’s time to retire all reproductive smalltalk as well

    It’s just… not that interesting or necessary. If someone has kids, oh boy they will tell you about it. No need to ask pressing questions, no need to find awkward answers.

    1. fposte*

      I think it’s pretty common, though; it’s just a variant of “Do you have kids?” I think it falls into the realm of an acceptable question that’s complicated for some people to answer. And some areas have “What church do you go to?”, so I’d much rather have the kid question.

      1. Fluke Skywalker*

        My last job was in a small, ultra conservative Texas city, where the only personal question I was asked for my first week was whether I’d found a church yet. I struggled with how to dodge it, since I don’t go to church. It was the kind of workplace where we would be called into meetings in order to pray for a coworker going through something difficult, we prayed before work lunches, etc. It was so not the right job for me.

    2. Dot Warner*

      I’ve seen it crop up organically. For example, Cersei mentions that her kids are in Scouts and then Catelyn asks her how many kids she has, etc.

      FWIW, if I’m asking somebody how many kids they have, yeah, I probably am interested in the answer (if for no other reason than there’s nothing else going on and we need to kill time).

    3. Mike C.*

      Yeah, I’ve been asked this a million times, which leads into a lot of discussion about why I don’t have any yet and how many I plan to have and ugh they won’t shut up about it.

    4. Chat Noir*

      I avoid asking people directly if they have kids because I have no idea what they are going through. It could be the loss of a child, infertility, etc. If they bring up the fact that they have kids, I’ll ask their ages and other small talk that seems appropriate.

      1. Mike C.*

        Yeah, I figure for a whole lot of different topics you shouldn’t go looking until they bring it up themselves.

      2. Ellie H.*

        I’m almost pathologically private about stuff like that (in terms of other people, and myself) so I usually don’t ask any kind of personal question until I can basically deduce the answer already rom context clues. Nobody has ever asked me yet if I have kids except for little kids themselves, but I’m a little young for it given the area I live in, plus, not married (no ring). I don’t mind the question though bc I would like to and I occasionally wonder if people think I just don’t seem like someone who would or could.

      3. AK*

        As someone who has no children due to infertility I’d like to thank you for not asking. I dread that question, because even though I know the person is only trying to be friendly, it’s still a reminder. After many years I’ve gotten my canned responses down, but even so, there’s still a little *ouch* moment as I prepare my response, even simply because it’s the opposite of the response I’d rather be giving.

      4. LibbyG*

        I don’t ask it either. If I’m in a situation that encourages small talk, I’ll ask, “So what do you like to do in your free time?” Or if the situation is purely social, “What keeps you busy these days?” Because “What do you do?” can be classist or bothersome.

  21. TotesMaGoats*

    #1-Do what your boss wants. I’d be annoyed by that request too but if it keeps me from getting chewed out, I’d do it.

    #2-I’m so sorry for your loss. I totally understand how you feel and all of those responses have drawbacks. I think because I’ve got some distance from it when people ask me when I’m going have another child (because you have to have more than one apparently) my response tends to be either “this one was hard enough to get here/I almost died #truestory having this one, I think I’m good” or “I’ve been pregnant 7 times with one child to show for it, I think I’m good.” The second is for the people I’m closer too but I’ll whip that out if people won’t let it go. It’s none of their business. It still hurts.

  22. Mickey*

    RE: 2. – I’m so sorry for your loss. Having lost a child myself, I know exactly what you’re going through. Questions about children come up and it’s always difficult to respond.
    Over the years, since my son died, I’ve used several different answers when asked about children. When coworkers ask, I tell them. ” I’ve got 2 children, one is 19, and the other would have been 29.” I quickly explain the loss, leaving out details most of the time. Things are awkward and painful for a few minutes then everything goes back to normal.
    With small talk with strangers, I just say I have one child. It’s easier that way, no need to dump my problems into their lap.
    I hope you find something that works for you. Hang in there, it does get easier.

  23. Trout 'Waver*


    If people are resigning due to burnout, they likely were completely burnt out long before they made the decision to resign. Asking burnt out people to do a high-stress/low-pay job that they probably feel guilty or stressed or a failure for leaving is never going to go well. People suffering form burnout to the point of resigned are likely depressed as well. Being harsh to these people is going to come off as being unkind and likely hurt morale for the other likely-stressed-out employees.

    1. Purest Green*

      Absolutely! I can’t imagine clients are getting the true and full benefit from their help at this point either.

  24. Judy*

    OP2: Maybe it’s just where I’ve worked, but while I’ve usually been asked if I had kids, and how old they are, I’ve never been asked at work if I’m going to have any more. (I am an engineer, and I’m usually surrounded by men, so that may be the difference.) In fact, I’m not sure I’ve been asked if I’m going to have any more during any kind of small talk. It’s only during actual friend making conversations over lunch or otherwise on my own time that I’ve been asked that, and then rarely.

  25. Temperance*

    LW1: I’m also an attorney. Most of the commenters here are not. I’m curious to know your gender, because you really don’t seem to know your place in a way that seems sexist (“ambitious lady”!?).

    For those of you not in law, our hierarchy is more severe than most, and if a senior attorney asks you to do something a certain way, you do it. Period. Thinking that you’re above a calendar appointment says a lot.

    1. Pwyll*

      I think this is perhaps a bit harsh. I’m not sure I see a gender problem here, I think it’s an experience problem. As in, OP went to law school to practice law, not manage deadlines, and is now learning that practicing law IS managing deadlines.

      1. Pwyll*

        I apparently glossed over the OP’s description of the boss as an “ambitious lady.” Eww. Just do your job and remind her.

        1. Temperance*

          That’s actually what stuck out to me. I’m always one of “those women” who calls this out, but I’m feeling especially salty this week.

      2. Jennifer M.*

        But if they OP is in the compliance department at a defense contractor, then there isn’t a ton of law to be practiced. I’ve been working in compliance for gov’t contractors (but not in the defense industry) for years and we generally operate separate from in-house counsel. I’ve never worked at a firm where anyone in the compliance department was a lawyer. Just compliance professionals who basically learned on the job. Our contract templates get reviewed by the in-house when we create them, but other than that, we write all the contracts, deal with the contracting officers at the client agency directly, and we manage the compliance of the technical team implementing the contracts.

        1. Candi*

          Contract management and review is law, and a spectacularly important part.

          Even if it’s based off a template, each contract has to be triple-checked. Every part of a contract interacts with multiple other parts, and a mess up on page four can have repercussions in several parts of the agreement.

          Contract law also operates under a combination of state and federal law and court decisions, the exact details depending on location, industry, the specifics of the work being done, etc.

          Getting all of this right, while keeping errors, or worse, non-enforceable clauses that a lot of lay people don’t realize are toothless legally, out of the document is a lot of work. There’s a reason contract lawyer is it’s own speciality.

          Even going off of templates.

    2. Elysian*

      Setting aside the ambitious lady comment, which I’m just going to chalk up to clumsy wording for the OP’s benefit, I think this is a problem a lot of new lawyers have. You go to school for 7 years and then come out to… set up someone else’s reminders and calendar appointments for them? There can also be a lot of mixed message regarding what things a junior attorney should or should not be doing for themselves vs. delegating, or how to manage your time. Sometimes you have to be the one to run down to the mailroom, if no one else can do it, but sometimes you need to have someone else do that because the client won’t pay $150 for an attorney to be running back and forth from the mailroom. It can be a confusing balance, and some people definitely fall on the side of the line of doing too much for themselves (that’s me! it’s hard for me to deleagte something I could do myself), and some people fall on the side of resenting being asked to do that things someone else should or could be handling themselves/delegating differently/etc. Both are problems, and neither is good. It takes time to find the right balance.

      1. Temperance*

        Eh I’m a junior attorney and work at a pretty swanky firm, and I just don’t agree with this. We’re taught over and over to meet the partner’s expectations, no matter what they are.

        I don’t know, maybe I just work at an exceptionally great place, but I’ve seen the managing partner and other high-ranking folks do things that are probably administrative or beneath their station, on a regular basis, without complaint.

        1. Elysian*

          I’ve been counseled both ways – “Why did you do this table of authorities for the brief? That’s an admin task, I don’t want to see you doing that. We can’t bill the client for that, your time should be spent on X instead.” and “It isn’t beneath you to make sure the brief is formatted properly. We all need to do things like that.” It varies by firm, by group, by partner, sometimes by project… It can be hard to figure out the right balance sometimes.

          1. Pwyll*

            Yeah, I agree with this. I’m on my last day at a tiny firm, and it’s very hard to find the right balance. I constantly have to balance “Why are you preparing that binder, we can’t bill that” with “You should mail that yourself, the assistants have other work to be doing more important that mailing a letter.” And Bridget is absolutely right, it really is about considering the impact on the client’s funds while, at the same time, figuring out the best and most effective use of your internal resources.

            1. Gaara*

              Yeah, I’m an associate at a small law firm, and I still get conflicting messages from the partners all the time (even any particular partner contradicting him- or herself!). It’s incredibly difficult. And one of my biggest pet peeves is where I’m not authorized to act without sign-off, but they can’t be bothered to pay attention long enough to make a decision or approve my recommendation or whatever — and then later, eventually, they want to know why something hasn’t been handled.

              It’s hard to be put in an impossible position. The LW isn’t facing anything that severe as far as I can tell, but I think advice like Temperance’s (“meet the partner’s expectations, no matter what”) can be unrealistic and unhelpful when applied more broadly to varying circumstances in different environments.

      2. bridget*

        I find it useful to think about it from the perspective of being a good and ethical steward of the client’s funds. It feels weird to ask someone to make my copies or coordinate my travel, but it’s not fair to charge a client hundreds of dollars an hour for me to make the copies when someone else could do it for much cheaper. In that same vein, that’s why the OP should adapt to the boss’s preferences, because even though it might not feel “fair” to the OP, it’s a fact that her time is more valuable/costly to clients and so more junior people should be trying to make the senior peoples’ workflow run as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

    3. Dr. Johnny Fever*

      “Thinking that you’re above a calendar appointment says a lot.”

      I co-sign this statement wholeheartedly, regardless of profession.

    4. Lady Blerd*

      “For those of you not in law, our hierarchy is more severe than most”

      Pretty sure our hierarchy puts law to shame. We have a saying, when you are told to turn left, you turn left. If my boss told me to send him Outlook reminders, my only option would be to vent about it in the Open thread. I’m lucky that current boss is open to discussing his orders but otherwise adaptability is part of my job description.

    5. Observer*

      You know, I’m not a lawyer, and don’t play one anywhere. Our hierarchy is not all that severe. But, my first reaction when I read this was “get over yourself”. I’ve managed to moderate that a bit, but what you say totally resonates with me.

      This is not about mixed messages about what should be left to the admins vs done yourself. This is simply about how your boss wants you to communicate with her and manage your projects.

  26. Dust Bunny*

    2) Don’t use C. Answers that you hope will shut down questioning often just lead to more questions because they’re not the response people expected, and anything that’s intriguing will encourage nosiness. Just say either one or two, which is a totally normal, uninteresting answer. (For the record: I have never asked a coworker this, and only been asked a few times, so I hope it doesn’t come up for you.)

    1) OK, I get the annoyance, but my supervisor sends Outlook calendar things for everything, and his office is right across the hall from mine–we see and talk to each other every day. But it definitely makes things easier since it means there is a written reminder and a block of time marked off on his calendar, which is full of other meetings and appointments (I pretty much stay put), and it means I don’t have to worry about forgetting times or places if he’s not around. Just get in the habit of doing it: You’ll get the material you need when you need it, and she’ll stop bugging you about reminding her.

  27. Trout 'Waver*

    OP#1, When you’re delegating work to a team of more than a couple people, it can be tough to remember what exactly you delegated, and what responses and follow-ups you owe. By setting up outlook reminders, you’re making it very easy for your boss to tell what tasks she needs to prioritize. This makes her job easier at virtually no cost to you. Bosses love employees who make their jobs easier.

    She’s making a small ask of you that is a big benefit to her. As her employee, this is the sort of thing you should go out of your way to accommodate.

    1. Non-Prophet*

      Yes, exactly. This attitude (of striving to make your manager’s professional life easier) goes such a long way in the workplace.

      I report to the EVP. She’s very responsive to my emails, questions, timelines, etc. But she’s also managing six other departments that are equally important. It’s easy for her to overlook an email or forget to follow up on something. It’s not because she’s dropping the ball or doing here job poorly. To the contrary. It’s because the very nature of her role means that the things that are top of mind to her may not be the same things that are top of mind to me. So when she asks me to do something reasonable to improve the work process (and it’s always reasonable, because she’s a reasonable person), I do it. It makes the workflow more efficient for both of us.

    2. Lance*

      ‘Bosses love employees who make their jobs easier.’

      This is a very, very key point that everyone everywhere should keep in mind.

  28. Allison*

    #1, I get it. I’m familiar with the job contracts managers do, and while they sometimes come out of admin backgrounds, it’s a very skilled and specialized job within the legal team, yet perhaps right now you feel your boss sees you as an all-purpose “helper” and she can rely on you for other administrative tasks she has a hard time with. Maybe she had a paralegal take care of that stuff in a previous job and she’s having trouble adapting to a job where she doesn’t have a helper. I know this feeling because I’ve been struggling with it for nearly two years myself, under a senior-level coworker who used to be a lawyer.

    But this isn’t about making sure she remembers her 2PM call, or shuffling around her schedule when she gets busy, this is about making sure she remembers to get YOU what YOU need to do YOUR job well. Sure, she should either figure out a way to stay on top of her own stuff or hire someone who’s actually an admin, but until then, remember that these reminders are for your benefit, not hers.

    1. Elsajeni*

      And honestly, this also sounds like an approach that will save the OP a little trouble, too. Of course she’ll still need to be aware of her own deadlines, and at some point she still might need to send additional reminders, but instead of having to keep track of all of that in her mind and wonder when is exactly the right time to send that reminder, she’s being told “Hey, I know I’m going to need some reminders, so go ahead and set them up up-front.” The crappy part is that it sounds like she was told this as if she should have already known it — “I knew I was going to need some reminders, so you should have known also, and it’s your fault you didn’t proactively set them up” — but it’s still a reasonable expectation; it was just delivered in kind of a rude way.

  29. Stellaaaaa*

    OP3: The situation you describe is par for the course with small businesses, especially when your boss fancies himself an entrepreneur. He likely resents having to pay people to do tasks that he used to get the neighbor kids to do for free. Here’s the thing: He doesn’t know how to run a business. Don’t assume that he has the knowledge and all you have to do is propose a marketing strategy. He also probably isn’t hip to employee regulations in general. I’d get out now. There’s no fixing a small business with a clueless owner. It’s also not your responsibility to make sure things shut down gracefully.

    1. Billie*

      “He likely resents having to pay people to do tasks that he used to get the neighbor kids to do for free.” Yes. THIS. The majority of our staff is 17 year old kids who work for min wage and surprise surprise, get burned out/slack off and leave. It’s no coincidence us senior staff are also the oldest and the ones that are paid the “most”.

      He literally, hired a 17 year old to be our social media manager, fired her when all she did was post one pic to Facebook and spend the rest of the day on her phone and spent a month ranting about how he “wasted 1000 dollars!!!” on her.

      Im looking for new work now. Regardless of my boss, the job itself was an amazing experience, but yes. It is time for me to leave

  30. alsoAlison*

    #2 – I’m so sorry. We have friends who lost their second son at birth due to medical complications. Several times, I’ve heard her answer this question and I love her response. She says “we have three children, our oldest K, who is four, our youngest A who is 1 and our angel baby G”. It gives people the necessary information, she “claims” all of her babies, and it generally stops people from asking more questions. If they ask about G and she’s not yet comfortable with sharing with that person she says “it’s a hard topic” and changes the subject. I believe this is one thing that (unfortunately) gets easier with practice. No momma should have to “practice” this and my heart breaks for you. Best of luck in your new position!

    1. Sybil Fawlty*

      Yes, I meant to say that in my response earlier, practice is super important. Say it in the mirror, 25 times. The first 10 you will cry. But you can do this and eventually it will not be as difficult as it is now. Most people will be supportive.

      I didn’t realize so many of us on this board have lost children. So, OP 2, feel free to post in open threads if you need support from the rest of us angel moms. I’m so sorry you have to go through this.

  31. AdAgencyChick*

    In a more general sense of #4…employers get the kind of engagement they deserve during notice periods.

    In my experience, employees who have been treated well, and are resigning for career development reasons, or because they’re moving away, or because their manager is great but can’t budge TPTB on getting the employee the raise she deserves, end up working diligently through their notice periods. The ones who totally check out in their last two weeks are the ones who weren’t treated well.

    OP admits that her agency *isn’t* treating employees very well — below-market salaries for stressful work. So I’m not surprised they aren’t engaged during their last month (especially since the agency wants a month, and not just two weeks).

    On a related note — what *is* it reasonable to ask of an employee on her way out the door? I think it’s pretty unrealistic, even for a manager who’s been good to an employee, to expect late nights and/or weekend work out of an employee once she has resigned. But I once had a grandboss who, while genuinely awesome in other respects, did make a negative comment about another employee who resigned and refused to pull 60-hour weeks for his last two weeks. (Grandboss was not a tyrant who made people work these hours on a regular basis, but that team was in the middle of a launch, and unfortunately it’s quite normal for teams to work even more than that for a 3-4 week period during a launch.)

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      The ones who totally check out in their last two weeks are the ones who weren’t treated well.

      This can be true, but I’ve never let myself fall into that trap. I have to continue to do good work, even if the company/my manager/whoever doesn’t deserve it because my professional reputation is on the line if I don’t. And as I said above, when people just stop working during a notice period, they’re not sticking it to the manager/company – they’re screwing over their coworkers, who are probably already drowning under their own heavy workload (this has been the case in every job I’ve left) and who will now have to absorb all the crap their former colleague didn’t finish until the company hires someone else to replace him/her. Like, I wouldn’t be at all sorry if my last manager fell off a cliff tomorrow, but I still did good work during my six week transition period (I was moving internally) so I could have more accomplishments to put on my resume and so that should I leave this company one day, the old cow will think twice about giving me a negative reference.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Hit submit too soon – I didn’t, however, do any work outside of a normal 40 hour workweek. I did not stay late like I used to, I did not do anything extra – I did my job and did it well, but that was it. Whatever didn’t get done in 40 hours got carried over to the next week.

  32. Fluke Skywalker*

    Hi OP#2. I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through, and for some of what you’ve seen in the comments here. Know that the rest of us are with you and wishing you the best.

    At my last job, I had a coworker who lost a son when he was 10. She would respond to this question with “my daughter is 12 and my son would have been 17”. Granted, she had much more distance from her loss than you, so you may not feel that this is a good option.

    Also, perhaps I’m in the minority, but I’ve honestly never worked somewhere where people ask these kinds of personal questions right away. Usually they take time to try and get to know each other and see if that information is given voluntarily. Maybe you will be lucky and find yourself in such a place. I hope that you’re able to surround yourself with compassionate people who are understanding and kind towards you.

  33. Natalie*

    LW #1, do you possibly just dislike your boss in general? I ask because when I’ve had a boss I just didn’t like, all of these normal small things were intensely annoying. If true, just acknowledging that and giving yourself a reality check when you’re getting irritated could help. And you never know, your opinion of them might change – I completely turned around on a boss I didn’t initially care for at least once.

    1. Partly Cloudy*

      May I ask how/why your opinion changed?

      I like my boss as a person but not as a boss. I’ve also been asked to “remind” my boss about things* but there’s no good way, in my case, to actually accomplish that. My boss is unreliable about reading emails, etc. and can be tricky to get face time with (and honestly, a verbal reminder might as well not even happen, unless whatever task is supposed to get done gets done right then and there).

      I’m sympathetic to this OP because I can hear myself in the letter. And I don’t mind pitching in and doing tasks that aren’t my job (I’ve cheerfully mopped floors before), but with reminders that go into a black hole, I feel like there’s no way to succeed.

      *I am not an admin assistant or personal assistant, officially speaking (although I do get asked to do things that fall into those categories not infrequently).

      1. Natalie*

        Good question. I haven’t spent a ton of time thinking about it, but a few factors come to mind immediately:

        Change in expectations: This was my first professional job and my initial management group was quite passive, indirect, not very confident in their decisions, etc. New Boss was the total opposite. While directness is actually my preferred communication style, I had gotten accustomed to thinking someone would only be direct if they were at their wit’s end with an employee, so New Boss’s requests seemed like serious overkill and would upset me.

        My own career & life shit: I wasn’t in a good place in my personal life (a long term co-habiting relationship was coming to an end) and while I had found a good career path, I was stalling out on how to proceed forward. New Boss really loves developing her underlings, but unfortunately I was in a totally different career track so I couldn’t take advantage of it, and I was jealous. As I resolved my life stuff and started making some forward steps in my career, the jealousy receded.

        Battle buddies: The company went through an enormous upheaval where we lost a major client, nearly half the company was laid off, and they went through at least 2 reorgs (the second was in progress when I left). One of the positions that was eliminated was my old boss’s protege, actually. We had to do a lot together and survive a lot of uncertainty together, and it helped patch over any lingering bad feelings.

  34. Annie Moose*

    OP3: whether or not you talk to your boss about shutting down, don’t think you have to wait until that happens to look for a new job. Do it now, if you aren’t already! And I don’t think it’d be out of line to encourage your coworkers to start looking immediately also. Especially if, like you said, you have a niche skill set.

    And if you do get another job offer, but the boss is still in the process of shutting the business down (or still is stringing things out)… not your problem. He’s the one that caused himself all these problems; you’re not responsible for helping him extricate himself. (especially with how he’s been treating you and your coworkers–not trusting you with money, refusing to communicate, blaming you for the failure of the company…)

    1. Billie*

      Thank you Annie! Yes, I’m already looking for new work and me and the other two girls have all agreed to be each other’s references as we know our boss sure won’t speak well of any of us.

    2. Pennalynn Lott*

      I came here to say something similar. OP, you acknowledged that you need to look for another job, but then talked about how difficult it would be. But. . . if you tell the boss to close the company, then you’ll be looking for another job (and, most likely, not on your time table and without pay). So why not start looking now? Let the boss pay you while you find your next job.

  35. Jessesgirl72*

    OP1: I hate having to remind people to do their job too, but as Alison pointed out, your boss has a lot more on her plate than just your projects. You do want her to be able to do your job and finish what is waiting for her approval, right?

    Even if Alison told you that you were 100% right and she is 100% wrong, since what you’re being asked to do is in no way illegal, you need to suck it up and do as you’re asked, or join the long line of unemployed or underemployed law school graduates vying for open positions.

    We don’t live in an ideal world. Deal with the one we have, in a way that will get what you want accomplished.

  36. Crazy Canuck*

    Re #4

    I found this one interesting, as it clearly demonstrates how different US and Canadian labour laws are. Alison’s advice is terrible from a Canadian perspective. By moving up the notice period, you would be considered to be firing the employee, and would be required to pay severance in addition to all the time worked unless you could demonstrate the firing was for cause. Also, Canada requires all earned vacation pay be paid out, no exceptions.

    This leaves Canadian employers three choices. Accept the slacking, offer a bonus tied to certain goals, or just pay the severance when they give notice and walk them out. In some fields the threat of a bad reference can be effective as well, but that varies.

    1. Partly Cloudy*

      “By moving up the notice period, you would be considered to be firing the employee, and would be required to pay severance in addition to all the time worked unless you could demonstrate the firing was for cause.”

      This is how my former employer in the U.S. handled things also, so it’s not just a Canadian thing. Not every time, but often when salespeople resigned, they were terminated immediately and given severance in lieu of working their notice period, even if the parting of ways was on good terms.

      1. Crazy Canuck*

        As Alison pointed out, it is different in Canada though. Canada does _not_ have at-will employment, and that changes these things.

        The best example I can give, and one of my favorite stories, comes from a temporary maternity leave cover gig I worked in BC a few years back. The owner was a grade-a jerk, who was born on third and thought he hit a triple. About six months after I started, a 5+ year employee give three weeks notice. She didn’t slack, but she was very happy to be getting out of there, and it really showed. On her second last day, the jerk boss got tired of her happy attitude, and told her to go home and not come back.

        I was doing payroll, so I processed her last check. It included the two and a half weeks of her notice period that she worked, and then three weeks severance on top of that, plus her vacation pay-out. Jerk boss saw the check I prepared, which was for a fair bit of money, and ripped it in half instead of signing it. He then told me to redo the check without the severance. I refused and quit on the spot. I then informed him that if both of us didn’t get the proper checks in the 72 hours the law required, I would not only go to the provincial labour board, but I would be contacting the CRA (Canada’s IRS) about several accounting irregularities I had noticed.

        We both got our checks in less than two days, and she got her full severance. I’ve never taken so much satisfaction in burning a bridge more.

  37. Erin*

    #1 – That’s tough. I really see Alison’s side, but as a former admin who was at one point basically told I had to “babysit” the higher ups, I completely see your side. It felt very, very demeaning to me, and it was just very much a part of my job, a job that wasn’t a great fit for me. For you, I can see how it’s even more so, as you’re not anyone’s assistant (right?), you’re an attorney.

    You also can’t really argue that it’s not a part of your job, because many jobs evolve and grow to take on duties not explicitly specified upon hiring. So again, tough.

    I’m thinking I’m landing on, let it go and do it. At least it’s only this one thing, and you don’t have to do additional things, like leave sticky note reminders on her desk, or wash her coffee cup. Sorry this sucks.

    1. Jen RO*

      But it’s not babysitting the managers or acting as an assistant… I actually don’t see the difference between this scenario and getting the same information out of a peer. Why does it become demeaning when a manager is involved?

    2. sssssssssss*

      It really depends on the manager. Some directors and managers need assistants to keep on top of things like expenses, travel bookings, emails, calendars and other stuff but otherwise, manage their time and work very well. They have pride in their work.

      Other managers and directors do need to be babysat. You call around for everything to help them. They can’t remember their schedule at all. They exhibit a lot of learned helplessness (can you download this file for me, I just can’t figure out Dropbox), neediness and despite all the reminders in the world to try to keep them on track, they don’t stay on track, and they trample all over your schedule (can you stay late to finish this? Sure…if only you had given me this three days ago when I had reminded you when it was due…) while mucking about in their own. They have pride in their own egos.

  38. j-nonymous*

    OP #1 – You may not be intending to do this, but you’re prioritizing your own forgetfulness over your boss’s forgetfulness, and that’s probably not going to carry you far.

    It may be frustrating to have to remind people of things you think they should remember (I have a similar issue where I get frustrated with people who forget the details of decisions/conversations and rely on me to provide the information on demand); I deal with the frustration by reminding myself that it’s as a team that we accomplish what we need to do.

  39. Dr. Johnny Fever*

    OP#1 demonstrates two attribution biases in the letter above, Fundamental Attribution Error and Actor-Observer Bias.

    Functional Attribution Error is a phenomenon in which for the same behavior, we draw different conclusions for ourselves that in others. Let’s say that as I am leaving work, someone who is walking and looking at a mobile at the same time bumps into me. I’ll likely assume that the person who bumped me is an oblivious idiot, I mean, who walks and texts at the same time?

    Now let’s say the next day, I’ve got my earbuds in, I’m listening to Doug Loves Movies and I’m walking out the door while setting up my commute podcast list. While scrolling through my choices, I bump into somebody. I quickly assume that it was an accident since I wasn’t paying attention, I should pay better attention.

    Notice how OP expects Boss to remember all of her deadlines on her own, yet admits that he forgets to set the requested reminder because it’s not SOP and Outlook is tricky. It’s a classic example of explaining his circumstances to forgive himself for the SAME behavior that he chides Boss for exhibiting, forgetting to set a reminder, and further assumes that Boss cannot handle her workload, rather than understanding HER circumstances for forgetting the deadline without said reminder.

    Actor-Observer Bias is an extension of the above, in which we further judges the reasons behind our assessments. OP declares himself as just as valuable as Boss, and describes her increased value as due to her ambition. Boss is only Boss because she is an “ambitious lady” and sets early groundwork to prove his better expertise as a lawyer when Boss is not. OP finds the reminder to be demeaning, not just annoying, and places more value on his situation than does with hers.

    I just wanted to share. I found it very interesting that OP is completely unaware of the psychological dichotomy of the argument even while writing for advice. Our behavior is driven to varying degrees to the level of these biases we carry – because ALL of us carry these same biases and follow these same thought processes. Food for my thought, at least, as I pondered the letter, and the further discussiom that show different levels of situational expectations with rationale to describe our own behaviors against how we conclude assumptions when others exhibit the same actions.

    1. sssssssssss*

      That was awesome to read. Very well put. And something I shall have to keep in mind going forward.

  40. jaxon*

    I have some thoughts about #2 – which are not meant to dismiss the OP’s concerns, and sorry if it comes across that way. But I have never had an experience where coworkers at a new job wanted to know all sorts of details about my personal life. I’ve been in my current job for almost a year and I don’t think any of my coworkers even know I have a partner. I am vaguely aware that a couple of my coworkers are married, and I do know one is currently pregnant because it’s obvious. It’s not as though I’ve ever had a “getting to know you” orientation and had to explain all kinds of personal details to them.

    We have great working relationships and I genuinely like these people but my personal life never enters the equation, and it would not even occur to me to worry about this. I don’t dodge questions or evade the topic; it truly never comes up except in very vague ways like “what did you do this weekend” and “any big plans for thanksgiving?” and that kind of thing. I can share as much or as little as I want, without feeling like I need to develop explanations for anything. Am I alone in feeling this way?

    It makes me kind of wonder if one’s personal approach to the job plays a role. If one goes in assuming one is going to have to share all kinds of personal details, or dreading certain discussions, etc, these situations will happen. If one goes in assuming that one just won’t talk about persona details at all, these situations don’t happen. The only unknown, for me, would be the potential presence of a busybody coworker who probes for details, but I’ve never really had one of those.

    This is just my impression. I might certainly feel differently if I were in a situation like the OP.

  41. Newlywed*

    #4 – Make sure your expectations are reasonable for what is means to be productive vs. slacking off during a notice period. When I resigned from previous job, I was going to be starting a new job and getting married within two weeks, so I had a lot to prepare for! Boss made me feel like I wasn’t doing enough work even though I was still producing at my normal level and wrapping up my projects during normal business hours. She kept adding things to my plate and I finally had to tell her: Look, I’m getting married and starting a new position in two weeks, and I am unable to commit to any additional projects that would cause me to work overtime. You have this many hours with me left and I am happy to do whatever I can during those hours, but I cannot work beyond them. She seemed to think that I was just going to work myself to the bone until I left that company. This was the same woman who had also tried to keep me from leaving work to get my MARRIAGE LICENSE a few weeks prior to me resigning because she said I “didn’t have enough PTO left” and I had to call HR (located in a different city) to get permission to leave work (and I was on salary, btw). And she wondered why I didn’t want to work overtime my last two weeks… :p

  42. Robbenmel*

    OP #2, I am so very sorry for y our loss. My first grandchild died in an accident just 5 days short of his second birthday. He’s been gone six years now, and it is only in the last two or three years that I have been able to talk about him to coworkers without tearing up (sometimes), which is the last thing I want to do at work! I have started two new jobs since that happened, and I usually just tell people about my granddaughter until I know them better. It’s not that I don’t want to remember my Max or talk about him…just that it’s still really hard. Just reading this thread has my eyes welling up. My son is still at the job he had when the accident happened, and his team was completely awesome, but he hasn’t had to explain it to new people. Do whatever you need to do to get through.

  43. BTW*

    #1 – Please know that I know exactly how you feel. It is not anywhere in my job description to babysit my manager (or any other nicer way of putting it) She is the GM and I am in a different department (I don’t want to be overly descriptive just in case. If I said my department and she saw this, she would 100% know it was me talking about her. The good part is, she’s aware of her shortcomings) Anyways … it takes weeks for her to do anything and it really frustrates me. The mgmt team is also all over the board. They will do X for this customer but not for another. They will give X quote to one person but not to another. It’s just driving me batty.

    She is good however, at calling me to see if there’s anything urgent that she needs to address and if there is, I’ll tell her. But I’m usually still waiting even after that. I am constantly making apologies to customers for her. (These are customers, not clients, which I feel there is a bit of a difference but regardless of that difference I still think we’re losing business)

    My advice is that if it’s part of your job description then yes, you’re going to have to do it but if not, then this issue needs to be addressed.

    1. Observer*

      My advice is that if it’s part of your job description then yes, you’re going to have to do it but if not, then this issue needs to be addressed.

      Not really – the way in which your boss wants you to communicate and schedule issues is not something that needs to spelled out in the list of duties. That’s just part of dealing with your boss.

  44. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    #2: I used to dread the “do you have siblings?” question, because my sister died of cancer when I was seven and she was fourteen. Here’s the thing of it: you are not denying her existence by not mentioning her. I respond by saying, “I’m an only child,” because I am my parents’ only living child. This avoids a great deal of tension, because that way, the person who asked doesn’t feel put on the spot, as if they should have known. It’s a perfectly normal question, and can be given an honest, non-awkward answer.

    The fact that you do not mention your daughter does NOT, in any way, make you cruel, or dismissive, or dishonest, or in denial. It means you have a made a decision to keep your daughter in your heart, where it’s no one else’s business. If at some point you decide to tell a person about it, presumably you’ll already trust them enough that you know they won’t get all “but HOW could you not TELL me about this BEFORE?”, thereby making it all about them.

  45. First Time Poster (CDM)*


    It’s two days before the twelfth anniversary of my son’s death, and I still have not figured out a good way to answer that question. He died after complications from his second heart transplant, he was eleven.

    We have no words like ‘widow’ or ‘widower’ or ‘orphan’ to describe a bereaved parent. I had a couple of different responses, and frankly just went with whichever felt right at any given time.

    If it’s just casual conversation with people I have no real relationship with, I usually answer ‘three’. That’s how many I currently have, I do not feel in any way that that invalidates his existence. Sometimes I say ‘four’, if it’s followed up by the ages question, I say ‘L is 14, A is 16, J is 22 and S would have been 23’. They usually don’t follow up with anything more than ‘I’m sorry’

    I spent years teaching a parent/child class, and talking about my own children in relation to the kids I taught was common. It wasn’t uncommon for a parent to catch that at different times I had mentioned three kids, two boys and two girls. If they asked, I explained and their reactions were always understanding and supportive. It became easier to do with time.

    Also in that context, with people who I had that sort of ongoing relationship, if someone asked, sometimes I would turn that back with ” do you want the long answer or the short answer?” If they were just chit chatting, I could answer three and move on, if they were looking to make more of a personal connection, I could explain more fully.

    When I started my current job, fortunately it was a very small office. I brought in a bunch of photos, including the one family portrait I have of all four kids together (my youngest was 18 months when her brother entered the hospital to the last time) and I showed off all my pictures to my co-workers. That got the awkward explanation over with in one fell swoop, about 2-3 months after I started.

    There’s just no good or easy way to deal with this, we just have to each figure out what works best for us individually, what we can handle emotionally.

    With a larger employer, HR can be your ally if necessary. DH’s employer celebrates birthdays, but never mentions his, so he doesn’t receive congratulations on that painful day from co-workers who don’t know.

    It does become a bit easier over the years to keep your head up and smile while telling someone that you are parent to a child who has died.

    1. OP #2*

      I think this is the problem I face that when people ask the question and I reply one, but in conversation I refer to my girls or my daughters and people pick up on that. Then they are left to speculate on why I talk about my girls but say I only have one child.

  46. OP #2*

    Thank you to everyone who has shared advice and especially to those who have shared their stories of their own children. I’m still not quite sure how I want to answer this question but I think I have a better handle on how people are likely to respond to the various possibilities and I think I’m comfortable choosing a response that fits the situation.

    Oh and for those who said this is a strange question. I am leaving a particularly toxic, co-dependent workplace filled with nosy busy-bodies so this probably colors my perception of how normal these questions are. But I work in cancer care and (as with most medical clinics) we have our own particular brand of normal and weird so clinic staff are usually pretty close. I did get asked this question during an interview at another location while I was searching for a new position, fortunately in an interview “That has no bearing on my ability to perform the job functions” (maybe not in those exact words) is an appropriate response (I did run fast and far from the position that asked that question)

    1. Tiffany*

      To # 2: I am so sorry for your loss. I lost my 3 year old on 2 years ago and I still find myself in similar situations all too often. There are landmines everywhere.

      I came up with a solution that helped me “I have two kids at home, how about you?” And then I ask them follow-up questions or ask another question to change the subject. “Oh wow no kids? any pets?” “9 Kids wow! what kind of car do you drive”

      Only once has anyone ever asked me about the AT HOME part.

Comments are closed.