updates: I dread meetings with a snotty coworker, my company lies to clients, and more

Continuing our annual December “where are they now” series, here are four more updates from people who had their questions answered here this year.

1. I dread meetings with a snotty coworker who calls me by the wrong name

Firstly, thank you for answering my letter and thanks to those who took the time to comment. Your response and also responses from some of the people commenting made me realise that I was letting this woman (Tracey) get to me more than I should, and that I was perhaps taking things personally and to heart that weren’t intended to be (although I am sensitive by nature). In hindsight I can see Tracey is a brusque person and it was never anything personal. Many people also made the excellent point that I will come across people I dislike throughout my career and that I shouldn’t bail on the opportunity and experience because of Tracey.

I still attend the meetings for now, however a new junior member of staff will hopefully be transitioning into the role within the next 6 months as my role has now changed following a promotion. I’m really glad about this! Whilst the experience has been very useful and has given me great insight into the minds of those managers, I’m ready to focus on my new role now.

Almost ironically, Tracey didn’t refer to me by (the wrong) name for a long time after I’d written to you so I never got the chance to correct her, however at the most recent meeting she used my correct name! I should clarify that it was never a totally different name, just an addition to my name that shouldn’t be there (as an example, someone called Diane being called Diana). I don’t think it was ever an intentional and malicious thing, I think she just got into her head that my name was Diana and it stuck. I know this wouldn’t bother some people but it does bother me as I get Diana all the time (which I correct!) however I think the issue I had was with the power dynamic as a few comments mentioned.

People were also right in saying that I shouldn’t be offended by Tracey asking me not to record a comment on the minutes. I realised that she was just covering her own back by making sure I didn’t write anything down which shouldn’t be discussed outside of those 4 walls. Recently when a topic goes off piste I’ve been placing my pen down on the table and holding my hands in my lap so people can see I’m not physically writing. It doesn’t stop people asking me not to minute things but I hope it gives them some faith that I am able to distinguish between what is to be noted and what isn’t.

AAM has been such a huge help to me in both my professional and interpersonal development and compared to some of the other letters, I can see I’m one of the lucky ones! Thanks again.

2. Reassuring employers that a past medical issue won’t interfere with my work (#5 at the link)

My reference from my previous job was good, and I got hired as temp to perm which swiftly became perm. I’m doing an interesting role in an area I care about, and it has prospects for the future. I also just got a new boss who is really interested in the personal development of the department, and is willing to give me further training.

The subject of depression has come up organically at work, because I am not the only person who has had this issue in the past (now *there’s* a surprise) but everyone is very supportive.

3. My company lies to clients about our use of freelancers (#3 at the link)

Our freelancer crisis is temporarily over – it happened because a particular client was fussy and micro-managed us a lot, making a lot of last minute demands.

We are looking for a new FT person with those skills, although my manager has yet to find someone who fits the bill and isn’t too expensive to hire. He’s keen on talented fresh grads, and does rap me (also a fresh grad) for contacts, which I find understandable but annoying (I come from another state and don’t know many peers willing to move for work.) Well, at least it’s a step in the right direction so that we don’t have to overly rely on freelancers.

I’ve also noticed that this lying about freelancers pattern is a part of a bigger picture: my small company is trying very hard to look bigger than they are. There’s always a ‘team’ on a project when it’s just one person, and our website says we have X years of experience (what’s not mentioned: this is the combined years of experience of all individual employees in the company. The company itself is only 2 years old!)

Now I read that this “blowing up your company” thing is common among entrepreneurs and startups, but I still don’t think that this is beneficial because it’s misrepresentation. Clients will expect more from us than we can deliver.

Then again, my manager seems to be of the thought that as long as we deliver, there’s nothing wrong about it. Asked several friends about this and they thought it was such a small problem, that I’m making mountains out of molehills. I’m genuinely curious to what AAM readers think about this, though.

Some commenters suggested that I look elsewhere for work. I’ll stay on for now (need to build up solid work history first) and wait and see if things improve.

4. My intern is a rude jackass

I spoke to my managers about the intern in question and things have not gone so well since then. While they listened to my complaint, their reaction has been, well … While the internship ended, I was informed that the intern “was right” and that my job “should be outsourced to India.”

Since then I’ve been trying to find another place to work. I don’t understand why they hired me if all they’re going to do is turn this place into a sweatshop.

I was trying my best to get into development work as I’ve developed a real rapport with some of the dev crew, and have even managed to impress both the head UX and Sr. Java developers, but with the way they’ve been treating me the past few months I feel like that’s just a carrot they’re dangling in front of me to get another year of work out of me.

I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to find employment – I really want to live in New Hampshire so I’ve been looking around there as hard as I can for now.

{ 65 comments… read them below }

  1. Looc64

    #3, I’m pretty sure that it’s your company that’s trying to make a mountain out of a molehill.

    #4, I hope that you are able to find a good new job soon!

    1. AFRC

      Totally agree re: #3 – you are not overreacting! This is super shady, and exactly the type of thing my previous boss used to do. It felt icky, and when we were consistently late with project deadlines because our freelancers didn’t come through (because we were paying bare bones, and they prioritized other work over ours), I was the one who looked bad. My boss always tried to sell his way out of it, but since I’ve left, I had hoped that some clients would start to figure it out and not work with the company. The charade can only last so long, and it’s incredibly short-sighted on the company leadership’s part.

  2. Gadfly

    #4 Best of luck. And, with outsourcing your job: with the way you describe it with events, the odds are good they will regret it when it comes time for those everything hits the fan shifts and they don’t have an in house person. My last job discovered that it can be very difficult to deal with that sort of work flow–you tend to get whoever is available and lose experience, they don’t schedule enough people for the feast times because there isn’t enough work for the famine times, etc. And that is before technical difficulties are considered (we nearly had to print a couple major local papers with white space where half the ads should go because of technical issues one night)

    Your best vengeance is probably them doing that to themselves.

    1. Annonymouse

      This is for OP:
      Has ownership or management changed at your job? Because these don’t sound like the same cool bosses you described before.

      It sounds like your manager doesn’t understand your role or how important it can be.

      Reminds me of a story on “not always working” where an engineering firm got new owners and the design department got a new manager.

      Manager met with the team of 5 and fired the only woman on there because she didn’t have a degree and saw no use for such a high priced secretary.

      The truth was she had a masters in applied mathematics and was the only one who could figure out a vital piece for the design. When the others pointed it out to their new boss he decided to create an unpaid internship to replace her.

      Cause my many years of education and crippling student debt aren’t both considerations I need to make for any job I take.

      1. LBK

        Yeah, that seems like a complete 180. Who gives someone a 10% raise that they think should be replaced with outsourcing?

      2. Candi

        I remember that one!

        They were in airplane design, and she had expertise in applying the physics principles to airships.

        She also wasn’t white. (Insert snarky comments on measuring brains.) The supervisor made some very rude comments about her ‘making coffee’ and other such ‘female’ job remarks. (This guy was a real prize.)

        Because half the time she was in other departments doing work, she wasn’t ‘on the floor’ much of the day in hers. New Supe counted the lack of visibility against her.

        At this point, will it surprise anyone he didn’t look at her (or apparently anyone’s) file?

        She moved on to bigger and better things (including paychecks), while new supe was torn to shreds by his supe when grandsupe found out about his idiocy (and prejudice).

        Basically, Supe did everything opposite what Alison, Wakeen’s Teapots LTD, fposte, and a bunch of others here would do.

  3. Cristina in England

    4. Please don’t let that be the takeaway from being outsourced. The intern wasn’t “right”. He was a jackass. Even a broken (analog) clock shows the right time twice a day, his bullying word vomit just sounded similar to the business decision your company made. Best of luck in your job search.

    1. MK

      I agree. Any number of things can be objectively true but inappropriate to say in certain (or all) situations. Even if he was actually correct (for whatever value of the word) in his opinion that the OP’s position should be outsourced, it was totally unacceptable for an intern to say so to an employee, and for anyone, even a manager, to say so in a casual/rude manner; if this a conversation that needs to be had, it should happen in a professional manner that addresses the issue. And it’s unbelievable that your managers would validate his inapropriate and rude behavior this way. I mean, it’s one thing to say “your position should probably be outsourced, let’s talk about a possible transition”; what they basically said was that because the position should be outsource the OP needs to tolerate insults?

    2. Joseph

      #4’s job wasn’t actually outsourced, nor did #4 say that the intern was right – those were both snide comments from management.

    3. CM

      I know! That was an unexpected twist from OP#4 — she didn’t just have an intern who was a rude jackass, she’s at a whole company of rude jackasses!

    4. Whats In A Name

      But who makes a business decision based on the opinion of an intern?? This update is all kinds of weird to me!

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Agreed! OP#4, I’m so sorry your managers reacted poorly and made those comments to you. It’s insane to me that they thought this was an idea worth validating instead of useful feedback/debriefing on a problem intern. I’ve had bosses who’ve done the same to me with a problem intern, and it was a sign of broader problems in the organization. I’m not saying that’s your situation, now, but it seems wise to start looking into a transition.

  4. Czhorat

    On 3 – I’ve sometimes used “team” or “we” even on a small project in which the “team” is actually just me. This depersonalizes it and reinforces the message that they’re hiring TeapotsInc and not CzhoratTheTeapotDesigner. I think you’re right that some puffery is OK.

    On freelancers, I’ve never been in exaclty that boat, but HAVE been part of firms [even very large ones] which have farmed work out to subcontractors or other hired-guns when needed. We would supervise them and, so far at the customer is concerned, they were us. I don’t recall ever directly lieing, but there’s not really anything to gain by saying that it’s a free-lancer or other sub doing the work; from the client’s perspective, it’s your name on the work, you who is standing behind its quality, etc. There are ways to push back time expectations without either lieing or admitting that you aren’t doing it yourself; navigating that is part of customer service.

    In short, a direct lie to a direct question is not OK; implying that you’re bigger and stronger than you really are is very highly normal.

    1. periwinkle

      Regarding team, I use that a lot for my projects even if I’m the only person officially doing it. One, I am there representing my full team/function. Two, I am reinforcing that “my” approach is “our” approach – some of our internal customers are like the kids who ask one parent if the other parent already told them no. And three, I bounce ideas off my colleagues all the time; it feels like I’m taking credit for their ideas if I claim it was all me!

      For the big, high-visibility project I’m wrapping up, yes, I drove the project and did the heavy lifting. However, I can name at least two dozen people whose input and help were instrumental.

      Which brings me to four, I’m still new-ish to the company and very low on the org chart compared to the big stakeholders and subject matter experts. Calling it a team effort helps disguise that this whole thing was driven by a newbie peon…

  5. Joseph

    #3: Since you asked for reader thoughts, I’m going to break down what you’ve posted:
    1.) “There’s always a ‘team’ on a project when it’s just one person,”
    I don’t think this is too blatant, since the definition of team is pretty loose. Does your manager do 40,000-foot checkups on the project every now and then? Are there other people in the company who could help with the project? Do you sometimes pull in a co-worker to help with specific tasks? Unless your company explicitly promising 4 people full-time on the project, it’s entirely reasonable for the project ‘team’ to count people who are involved but not day-to-day.
    2.) “website says we have X years of experience (what’s not mentioned: this is the combined years of experience of all individual employees in the company. The company itself is only 2 years old!)”
    Maybe this varies by industry, but IME, this is commonplace. If CEO Andy has 40 years of industry experience and VP Bobby has 22 years of experience, it’s very common to say that “our engineers have over 60 years of experience in teapot design” even if the company itself was only founded in 2014.
    3.) “Clients will expect more from us than we can deliver.”
    This is a legitimate thing to worry about, but it’s not really linked to the way you market yourself. Rather this is all about how well your company manages projects and plans workload. There are five-person firms who routinely exceed client’s expectations; there are 5,000 people firms that routinely overpromise and miss deadlines because they’re poorly run.
    4.) “Then again, my manager seems to be of the thought that as long as we deliver, there’s nothing wrong about it.”
    I’d modify this slightly: “As long as we deliver and the clients wouldn’t be mad about it, then there’s nothing wrong about it.” As for evaluating whether clients would care, that really depends on both the particular client and industry norms.

    1. Czhorat

      Yes, always say “team”.

      1- I agree 100%. And, very loosely, there is always various support staff and infrastructure around you.

      I agree ithat item 3 could be trouble, and it needn’t be. You could say up front that your commitment to having the right team member with the combination of the right skillset and project familiarity working on updates or changes, and this means responses will be in, say, 24 to 48 hours. This is not only more honest than the absurd “my dog ate my homework” style games they’ve been playing, but means that when the 48-hour delay comes it will be expected. And expected delay is often accepted, while a random one is a cause for anger.

      1. Daffodil

        I agree with saying ‘team’ for the same reasons. Even if it’s 95% one person doing the work, you’re still surrounded by other knowledgeable people who can back you up as needed, and presumably some management who’s keeping an eye on work quality. If you were suddenly out sick and unable to do the work, there’s a team who would step in to take care of the client. Unless you’re specifically lying about how the work is divided up, I would not feel at all lied to in the client’s shoes. The other items are iffier.

    2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd

      Mild hyperbole is normal and expected; flat out lying is a bad idea if only because it’ll bite you later on.

      “Team”: everybody does this. If the work is somewhat project based, and you aren’t a solo practitioner, it probably sounds weird if you don’t say “team”. And, as Joseph says, as long as there’s a boss, there’s a theoretical team.

      If words are used or points stretched to increase a client’s comfort level, AND the client’s work is taken care of well, it’s all in a day’s work and don’t sweat it.

      If you lie to a client about the company’s proficiency in teapot handles, ya know, “the teapot handle team” and nobody there knows jack all about teapot handles and the client is screwed over on their handle project, that’s bad for everybody (and in my book morally wrong because they trusted you on handle-ry).

    3. Kassy

      I have also seen #2 commonly. It usually includes the word “combined” to make it clear that’s what they mean, or else it’s a number so high that it can’t be mistaken (110 years of experience in child welfare)!

      1. Czhorat

        Which is why everyone knows it’s useless.

        20 prior people with six months experience each is not equivalent to two people with a decade each.

    4. CM

      I agree with Joseph on #1 and #4. Referring to a “team” of one, meh, no big deal. “As long as we deliver” and the clients wouldn’t be mad if they found out details, no big deal.

      I think “X years of experience” is very misleading. Unless it says “combined experience,” or “our staff has X years of experience,” to me it implies that either the company has been in business for X years, or maybe the current company plus a predecessor company with the same founders have been in business for X years.

      It seems like #3, “clients will expect more from us than we can deliver,” is a big concern. There’s puffery, and then there’s puffing up to the point where you can’t possibly deliver on your promises. I have seen that happen many times. At first, business is rolling in and everything seems great. But over time, your clients become unhappy and you start building up a bad reputation. You can’t sustain a business on puffery. It sounds like OP has reason to believe that this company is going in that direction. My advice to OP #3 is to be careful to separate your own reputation from the company’s, make sure that you can stand behind the things that you personally say to clients, and try to get out if you notice a pattern of clients refusing to pay their bills.

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      OP#3, it depends on your industry, but I agree with Joseph and others that issues #1 and #2 are super common across industries related to professional services (architecture, engineering, law, business consulting, etc.—it may also be used in other industries, I just have less familiarity there).

      Issue #3 is a mixed bag because as long as your company is completing work within the parameters they agree to with their clients, most clients don’t care super deeply about staffing levels (they just care about experience and number of FTE hours allocated). If staffing requires hiring people who do not have the expertise the company promised, then you start getting into a kind of white lying that can really damage the company’s relationship with clients (but again, sometimes conversations happen with clients that will be above your pay grade, and some of this may have been disclosed). In the meantime, best of luck! I hope your company is able to reach a level of success where these bumps smooth out.

  6. Schmooples and the Binkie-Boo

    #1 Glad it worked out. Just FYI, deciding what to minute might be above your pay grade – theres nothing wrong with someone else directing that.

  7. Artemesia

    #4 If you want to move into developing have you looked into any of the intensive ‘boot camp’ development programs? I know several people who have switched careers that way, doing the program in several weeks and then being hired into web design firms or as web designers for larger organizations. It is a hard transition to make without some sort of credentialing and training process and a program like this sort of resets the clock in your resume as well.

    1. Shoshanna

      Seconding this! I did a software development boot camp and it was one of the best decisions of my life. Pricey, but the pay boost made up for it very quickly. Just do your due diligence and find one with proven outcomes, because there’s a lot of snake oil out there.

  8. NYC Redhead

    #1: One of the reasons I love this blog is that its often teaching me new words! “Off-piste,” was a new one to me, but one I will try to incorporate into my vocabulary!

    1. Elizabeth West

      It’s a skiing term, I think; piste is French for trail / track. To ski off-piste is to go off the marked and beaten tracks.

      That’s one word I remember from college French because our conversational unit was Suivez La Piste(Follow the Trail), a detective story exercise from a BBC French language course. I still have the book and tapes, actually!

      1. BlackEyedPea

        I’m not sure about skiing, but it’s definitely a fencing term; the fencing strip (i.e., the area of play) is called the “piste.”

            1. roisindubh211

              I think the phrase as it’s used in conversation is skiing related – off piste in fencing means you are out of bounds and have to get back on before you can resume the match.

      2. Iain Clarke

        Yes, ski term. Aka “off the beaten track”.
        Green runs, black runs, marked.
        Go a new way? Thats off-piste.

        1. Artemesia

          I remembered it because those horrific Swiss skiing accidents always seem to involve people who die in avalanches when they go ‘off piste’ like one of the Dutch princes a few years ago.

  9. Allie

    That last update has me seeing red, especially given that the Intern in question also made horrifying comments about the OP’s weight. Like seriously, how DARE a company treat people like that? Employers who treat their employees like cogs or burdens and not like people will get exactly what they deserve: good and loyal people fleeing (after all OP said that this job involved 30 hour shifts on occasion). The whole idea that anyone should tolerate crap like this is just part of a toxic work culture that develops in some places.

    OP: This is NOT normal and NOT okay! Get out of there.

    1. Annonymouse

      The company is going to shoot themselves right in the foot/face if they outsource OPs job.
      For one, during the busy season he pulls 30 hour shifts and I assume he needs to be at the location to make sure things are correct. Try outsourcing that to India.

      Two people are going to see how OP has been treated and not want to work there.

      OP, just out of curiosity: Has ownership or management recently changed? Because this does not sound like the company you initially described.

  10. Mazzy

    The intern was right, your job should be outsourced? Seriously? What the heck does an intern understand about these things, and why were they listening to an intern of such issues that were so above their level? And why India, can I ask? Maybe that’s a side note. My first thought in streamlining processes isn’t “screw it, send the jobs overseas!”

    I’m angry on your behalf.

  11. Brogrammer

    #4, I had to re-read your original letter twice, because this update was so wildly different from what I expected. Your bosses really did a 180 from the workplace you described, with its relaxed attitude and full understanding that your workload was cyclical to… whatever insanity prompted their response to you. Good luck finding something better.

  12. Hiding my pen name

    Slightly off topic but semi-related to #3:

    If a company does use contract employees (aka a startup), is that a sign you should run for the hills? Asking for a friend, haha.*

    *(Found something tech/doc writing-related I could maybe do but it’s part-time contract but “could be full-time in future”. I’m trying to see if I can get a little more experience.)

      1. an anon

        They probably wouldn’t need to provide benefits regardless, as companies with fewer than 50 employees aren’t subject to the ACA employer penalty if they don’t offer benefits to full-time employees. Most startups have far fewer than 50 employees.

    1. Undine

      It’s pretty typical that a startup doesn’t have a need for a full-time writer immediately. Eventually, if they grow enough, then they do bring someone on full-time. If the start up is super small, I would be worried, but if they have several engineers, an existing product, and some customers, then it’s reasonable. Writing for a startup can be pretty crazy, but they do often hire people who don’t have much writing experience, for cost reasons. What would be hard in that situation would be having to produce doc on short notice, and not having anyone to give you any guidance in writing practice.

    2. SomeoneLikeAnon

      I would say it depends on your industry and what the contract staff did. In government contracting, a lot of the freshly made businesses outsource some of their HR functions until they are big enough to big people in-house for it. It cuts costs when they are starting out.

    3. CM

      No, this is very common. Startups do this all the time, including hiring their own founders as contractors. (Not legal, but very common.)

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      It depends on the industry, but I’ve seen it used as a common model for new businesses and start-ups (graphic design firms, worker coops, law firms, tech start-ups). My impression is that in early stages there’s more autonomy but also greater uncertainty about the company’s viability in the long-term, and also folks like to avoid paying for benefits, etc., for as long as legally possible.

      I think what’s more important for your friend to know is that start-ups are super volatile, so it’s pretty difficult to really hang one’s hat on any promises about longevity or full- vs. part-time commitments. If your friend is super risk averse, a new company might not be the right fit.

  13. QAnon

    OP #4, if you’re looking to move into development, QA can be a great track in! The company where I work (in the major city on the NH Seacoast) does exactly that–new QA hires are considered for developer roles after three years of QA work, as a standard. Most of us have a CS background. I think that’s fair, as it gives you time to learn development methodologies, get more involved with the code as you work with the developers, and understand why design and code choices are made.

    I sort of hope you hit my workplace in your job search, as it’s a phenomenal place to work and I think fellow AAM readers are likely to be good coworkers. ;)

  14. Milla

    LW4- reading between the lines, is it correct that the intern’s comments about you “doing nothing” lead the management to look in on your daily tasks, and then, perhaps because it was the off-season you described, it seemed like the intern was “right”, you don’t do much, so your job is a bit redundant and should be outsourced to India?
    If this is the case, offer to take on extra work, especially in the development department since you prefer it, during the slow times. The busy period will redeem you eventually, and show them exactly why outsourcing you is a bad idea.
    Still, I hope you get a new job that suits you and isn’t as schedule-crazy, or as good at making you feel crazy.

  15. Jeanne

    #1, I’m glad you’ve been able to find a way to deal with the issues. I think you should help your junior colleague by giving her some advice and lessons learned. Not the wrong name thing but how important it is to be clear what you’re recording and whatever else you’ve learned about the group’s needs. Pass it on.

    1. LW1

      Thanks. My colleague will be attending the meetings alongside me (what we’re calling ‘shadowing’) to gain experience and get a feel for how the meetings are run. I was very keen that he wasn’t thrown into the deep end like I was, and I was adamant that I wanted him to gently transition into the role rather than being dropped into it. He won’t be fully taking over the role until he’s comfortable to do so.

  16. Chelsea

    I’m surprised no one has commented in shock that OP #5’s company not only didn’t admonish the intern and his rude questions, but said he was right and that her job is worthless?? I’m finding it hard to believe the OP’s original statement that her job has plenty of great coworkers and a nice culture.

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