updates: I’m hearing secondhand reports of problems with an employee, coworker forces loud political rants on me, and more

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

1. I’m hearing secondhand reports of problems with an employee but she denies them

I really appreciated the advice of all the commentors, as well as your response. When you published my question I had already taken some steps towards rectifying the issue, which were along the lines of your recommendations so I was relieved to see that I was on the right path. I was able to identify two more senior employees who were able to help keep tabs on the employee’s attendance when I am unavailable and confirmed that the early departures were not an ongoing issue. I also apologized to the employee for not doing my due diligence first and conflating those issues with my real concern. She was receptive to my apology and I saw some immediate improvement in the legitimate issues. I really appreciated that you and others did call me out on saying that I’d done all I could when I most definitely did have additional options (and the obligation to pursue them). Everyone was very kind about it but it was definitely something I needed to hear.

I also took the great advice to look into pot-stirrer’s behaviour as a problem as well. I was so focused on the other employee that I hadn’t recognized how potentially damaging this behaviour could be. As many suggested I did loop in with her after the fact to discuss that I wasn’t able to verify the issues she brought forward and I noticed a definite switch in her demeanour and approach to other employees. I am watching her interactions with others more closely now and am making sure if I see issues to bring them up immediately.

Coincidentally, shortly after this all came up an issue arose where the employee who was said to be not pulling their weight ended up stepping up and providing a lot of support to the pot-stirrer. The employee did a great job of managing that situation and it really helped tie things up nicely and address the concerns the other employees had brought forward. Unfortunately, a few months out from all this I am starting to see signs that the real concerns I had with the employee are starting to creep up again, but I feel much more prepared to address them this time. Thanks again for all your help!

2. Is it unprofessional to write notes on your hands?

I’m the OP who asked about whether it comes across as immature to write notes on my hands throughout the workday. Initially, I felt somewhat resistant to your advice that I stop, especially since a number of commenters shared that they wouldn’t personally look askance at a coworker doing that. However, a few people pointed out that this is one of those things that will use up political capital to some degree – semi-immature, quirky behavior that isn’t bad or unprofessional, per se, but won’t bolster my reputation or help me move up in the company.

So, I decided to stop! I looked for a few smaller notebooks and gagged at the idea of spending over $5 for a 30-page notebook that would last me about a week, so I ended up peeling off a small stack of full-size sticky notes and sticking those in my pocket, along with a Sharpie :) and have been using that for the past week. It’s been great! I feel prepared, professional, and on top of things. I still occasionally make a small mark on my hand – one letter, or a small shape – when I have to remember to do something st a particular time, since I can’t have an alarm on my phone, but it’s small and inconspicuous, and I wash it off as soon as the task is completed.

Thanks so much noticing my question and answering it, and to all your thoughtful commenters. Y’all are the best!

3. How to deal with a coworker in a small office who forces loud political rants on me

As the election ramped up, the rants grew in frequency and size. I approached it two ways. First, I tried the “bean-dip” — essentially, changing the subject to something we both agreed on or could discuss amicably to steer the rant elsewhere. I said something like “I get what you’re saying, Lisa. Oh, by the way, while I’m thinking of i t… Did you see the new designer teapots we’re getting from Imma Little-Teapot? Arent’t they goregeous!?” That was fairly effective. We both love to talk about designer teapots! I did that a few times, but it didn’t stop the rants.

Finally, I said, “You know, Lisa … I really admire your passion and conviction. I agree with you on a lot of these issues. I have to be honest though … With everything on the news and on Facebook right now, I’m politically fatigued. It’s really hard for me to take much more in. I’m absolutely drained. Would you mind if we talked about something else?” She actually apologized, and said that she’s definitely very passionate, but she gets herself worked up easily. She didn’t realize that it was affecting me. Either way, I’m so glad this election is over! In the end, we did both vote for the same person, which I find rather amusing. Crisis averted!

4. I’m afraid my bosses will freak out when I tell them I’m pregnant (#2 at the link)

Thank you so much for answering my letter. I’d like to thank everyone who commented as well. When I wrote you, I was in my first trimester and no one knew about my pregnancy. We were still in the midst of genetic testing, and worried out of our minds about everything. It was such a stressful time and glad it’s over. I’m happy to say I have a good update!

I told my direct boss first. He happens to be a good friend of mine and he was really happy for me. He seemed to think that my executive director would feel the same way and I’d have nothing to worry about. I told her the next day and she was thrilled. She told me that they’d be flexible with my schedule after maternity leave because “I won’t know how I’ll feel until I’ve had the baby.” She offered that I could work from home some days, come in for meetings, etc. She said that she trusted that if anyone could strategize and plan my maternity leave as well as the capital campaign, it was me! I absolutely will come up with a concrete plan for my maternity leave and easing back into work full-time that I will go over with them in the new year. I want to make sure we have an agreement in writing as to meet everyone’s expectations and make sure they are ok with everything.

Since I told her, my executive director has been so nice to me (she always has treated with respect and genuinely likes me – don’t get me wrong) and asks me all the time how I’m feeling. It feels good.

As for working on the capital campaign, a lot of the silent phase will occur before I go on maternity leave. So I’ll get a ton of experience working on it this spring. We are also hiring a consultant to help with the public phase and that won’t start until after I’m back! I’ll miss a board meeting over the summer and probably some other stuff, but I’ll still get to work on it. It will also continue for the next three years, so I don’t have to worry about missing any opportunities. It’s all good!

I really took to heart the comments from readers telling me that I should in no way apologize for the timing of my pregnancy. That resonated with me the most, since I tend to apologize too easily. This isn’t something I should ever apologize for. I work for great people who are happy with the work I do and care about me. I even told them right before my annual performance review. I got a glowing review and an 8% raise!

Again, thank you for taking the time to answer me and comment. You really calmed me down when I needed it most. Happy holidays and happy new year!

5. Is it weird not to meet with the hiring manager? (#3 at the link)

So yes, it was weird that I wasn’t meeting my potential boss (the director). I went to the interview, met with three people, had nice conversations with them … and then waited around for over an hour. The recruiter came by to let me know the fourth person couldn’t make the interview, but the fifth person would be along shortly. The fifth person, had I gotten this job, would have been my closest coworker one level up from me (i.e., I was interviewing for an associate production manager job, and she was the production manager). This conversation, unlike the previous three, was rushed and weird. And then she showed me out very quickly. I heard from the recruiter one week later that I didn’t get the job because they decided that they needed to hire another production manager instead of the associate role, and they didn’t feel I had enough experience. It was really disappointing, and what made it sting just a little bit more was the fact that my younger sister was hired into this same company just three weeks later (albeit for a junior role on a different team).

However, she heard through the grapevine that the day my interview was scheduled, the director quit with no notice, and then the day after my interview the production manager I met with put in her two weeks to move on to another company, but only ended up staying for one day of her notice period before leaving. Turns out this company is kind of terrible to work for — though it is a brand name company that makes it on to tons of “Cool Places To Work” type lists, it has an overgrown startup-like culture, and seems like an overall not great place to work. My sister hates it, and is counting down the days until she reaches a year of employment so she can get out.

A couple of months after this interview I was hired by another company — it’s not a glamorous job, like the other one would have been, but I get to work on interesting projects, the people are nice, the hours are flexible, and the money is good. I successfully transitioned out of nonprofit work and am putting my graduate degree in communications to use, making it worth all the effort and money.

Can’t ask for much more!

{ 43 comments… read them below }

  1. misplacedmidwesterner*

    To OP #2, I used to use tons of scraps of paper and they ended up everywhere and made my desk super cluttered, and I would lose them. This may not happen with you (post-its are probably better than scraps of paper). However, I have had really good luck with cheap notebooks from the kids sections. You can get some neutral ones like this that are fairly cheap and can keep things together:

    It’s funny at my place of work, we all carry around (slightly larger) notebooks that are running lists of notes. It’s actually a standard part of office procedure for us all now! (My current one is bigger than pocket sized, 5×7 inches with 80 pages, only a few dollars, and lasts me for months.) I stock up on them at back to school sales.

    Good luck!

    1. Susan*

      Yeah, you can get cheap mini notebooks like this at office supply stores (and maybe get your office to order some so you don’t have to pay for them yourself). You might also want to check out a web site called pocket mod dot com that allows you to print a customized 8-page pocket notebook that you can fold from a regular sheet of paper.

    2. Sydney*

      Yeah I use notebooks from Walmart – $1 or $2 for a 100 page notebook. No one is going to look askance at it – it’s a plain cover. You can also get them from a dollar store. When would anyone fault you for writing anything down to remember it?

    3. Misc*

      I just throw stuff away after a day and write a new list for anything unfinished. But then, my brain automatically ignores ‘old’ boring stuff like lists I’ve had hanging around for awhile, and if I don’t throw them away regularly, they’ll fill up all my pockets :D

  2. Amber*

    #5 “it’s not a glamorous job, like the other one would have been, but I get to work on interesting projects, the people are nice, the hours are flexible, and the money is good” That sounds pretty glamorous to me! Congrats!

  3. Cautionary tail*

    Op 5, I once took a position and moved my family across the country for a company that was in all the industry rags as one of the best placed to work in the tri-state area. IT WAS HORRIBLE. They were a dysfunctional mess and I left after five months with no other job lined up. I just had to get out. Some reasons: 72 hour weeks (6daysx12hrs) were expected, 7x12s were done but more than a few people; 3 people crammed into a 10×10 office that was so tight that in order for one person to enter/exit, the others had to step out; the final straw was when I was told that I would be fired if I took my months-ago pre-approved already paid for vacation. I took my vacation and quit upon returning.

  4. meh*

    Those “Best Places to Work” contest thingies are just PR. They in no way demonstrate actual good places to work. Companies put themselves in for consideration and they fill out a questionnaire that they then send in. It’s totally curated and very few of them have employee feedback sections.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Yep. My company was a “Best Places to Work” in 2014, the year they campaigned for it. It is a good place to work, but I was not personally very happy in 2014 and switched divisions/departments that year.

    2. Elizabeth*

      Yep, and they’re often based on perks to the job that not everyone has access to depending on their role, etc. My ex-employer was chronically on that list, and while it was generally a good place to work, not everything that was listed as a great benefit for working there was necessarily something you’d get to enjoy as the average worker. (e.g. benefits designed to attract C-level talent). It kind of gave a bit of a lopsided view of the place.

      1. Mae North*

        One of my former employers did something like that too – they described the local amenities surrounding one office, the on-premises fitness area at another, the pictures were of a recently-renovated third location… it made me think much less of both the award, and the people who put together the application packet.

    3. Bonky*

      Not only that; the company has to pay to be considered. I think my company’s a fantastic place to work: one of the things that makes it fantastic is that there is no way in hell we’d spend the organisation’s money on a faked-up award like this.

    4. BBBizAnalyst*

      I worked for one of the most prestigious large institutions in my industry and it was the most toxic workplace I’ve ever encountered.

      A lot of places have their marketing/communications/RFP teams write up and/or vet responses as “employee feedback”…

      Sounds like OP found a great role and dodged a bullet. Good luck!

    5. Elizabeth West*

      Mine was, until my job changed. :( If I could have found a different position, I would have stayed there. But there was nothing–I started looking after the accommodation meeting.

      1. Anon for this*

        I used to work somewhere that landed up on one of those lists (before I ever worked there), but was told that it was because the senior management faked all the employee reviews – funnily enough, they’ve landed on one of those lists again (I don’t work there anymore, maybe it was me?), and I can’t help but feel that it might be because of the same reason…

    6. SomeoneLikeAnon*

      Completely agree. My last company was always sending out those contest surveys to help them win “best workplace” or whatnot.

      Since I worked for a government contracting company, I stopped answering the surveys entirely, because for the most part none of the questions that mattered applied to my situation and work space. I didn’t know enough about how my front end office worked or interacted in order to give a good response, in my opinion. I didn’t work directly with my company peers, I was lucky if I saw any of them.

    7. Elise*

      Almost all “best places” awards (and awards in general for organizations and cities) are PR contests they submitted themselves for. Realizing that – by virtue of a close relationship with marketing in my current organization – means I never have to flip through another online slideshow. :)

  5. Bwmn*

    OP #2 – I think the point about political capital is huge in the workplace. I think that there are lots of little things that all of us do or don’t that either builds or costs that kind of capital in the workplace. And figuring out that something may cost capital and isn’t entirely worth it, makes a lot of sense.

    1. Beezus*

      My coworker misses this point completely. She always comments that she can get away with saying toxic things because she’s a hard worker and she has good relationships with people in high places…to some extent, she’s right, but she spends career capital on that and then wonders why she doesn’t get ahead. And eventually, she’s going to say the wrong thing at the wrong time and her productivity and connections won’t matter.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        Yeah, I have a friend who can be kind of abrasive – not horrible, but he’s blunt spoken, has a low threshold for getting annoyed, and is very vocal when he is annoyed. He’s very productive and enthusiastic about his work tasks, but these things have cost him professionally in the past.

        But in his mind, it comes down to ‘politics’ being more important than merit for jobs and promotions. He just doesn’t grasp that in his job, being able to work with other people, even ones who irritate him, and knowing when to rant and when to be tactful, and being careful about the enemies you make, *are* part of the job, and are more important as you get more senior.

  6. Dust Bunny*

    2: $5 for a 30-page notebook?? Whatever happened to good old college-ruled spiral-bounds? Not stylish, but still better than writing on your hands. $1.29 for 70 sheets at Office Depot. Cheaper if you buy them during the school-supplies sales.

    1. Mockingjay*

      Wouldn’t a small notebook fall under the realm of office supplies? Perhaps OP #2 can ask for some.

  7. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*


    SHARPIE! Well done, well well well done.

    ( I gave the son’s GF a set of 12 in rainbow colors for Christmas. I know she said to herself “will be best mother-in-law ever in the universe”, I know she did.)

  8. Muriel Heslop*

    In my first job, my boss HATED that I had sticky notes everywhere so she just told me she hated it and to get a notebook. My work covered the cost as office supplies. Black and white composition books aren’t expensive and I buy a lot of classroom supplies at Dollar Tree and during sales.

    Good luck, OP! I think it’s really commendable that you were open to feedback that you admit was hard to receive. That’s a great professional skill to have.

  9. James*

    #2: What I’ve found works for me is to take three pieces of paper and fold them in half twice (vertically then horizontally), then put them together into a book and staple the seam, then cut the top–the end result is a small notebook I can keep in my back pocket. I keep scheduled tasks on the left side, and a to-do list on the right. It costs practically nothing, and given that my tasks tend to take a few hours a piece one such notebook can last me two weeks (I don’t include weekends). I’ve gotten one or two funny looks for it, but it’s efficient, always at the ready, and cheap enough that if it gets damaged (a not-unlikely occurrence given my career) I don’t care. As a bonus, I can practice book-binding with them n they’re done, a hobby I’ve recently taken up. I can also manufacture them on the fly (I keep a supply of paper on-hand), so if I need to take a lot of notes for some project, or want to try something new, I can do so in all of five minutes.

    This may not be 100% professional, but in my field it works, and there are resources online to make such a print-out far more official.

  10. eplawyer*

    #4 so happy this is all working out for you and your office has been so supportive. I also think it is very smart of you to get your maternity leave plan in writing. That way there’s no “well I thought she would be available by email every day” when you only intend to do your office job 3 days a week, including checking email. Or whatever. Just so everyone is on the same page as to expectations will avoid a lot of misunderstandings (and letters to Alison) in the future.

  11. - Michael Scott*

    OP2 if you have a smart phone why not use a note taking app? I use Google Keep for personal use on all of my devices. It’s very easy to use, in fact I don’t know how I’d survive without it. You can access your notes from any device or from a chrome browser on your pc. I also use Microsoft’s Onenote at work since I work in IT and using Google Keep would violate IT work policies.

    1. Kyrielle*

      There’s an update in the comments from “OP #1 – hand writer” on the original that notes in part: “I’ve lucked across one of the work environment where using my phone might be unprofessional! At the very least, I don’t want to be writing notes and looking like I’m texting in our public space (it looks pretty bad to our customers/patrons, so I don’t generally do anything more than slide my phone out of my pocket to check for texts). I LOVE the alarm on the phone idea (one of my frequent notes is one word reminding me to pick up a report at 11:00 each day), but sadly, ringing phones in our public space is a no-go.”

      1. CDM*

        iPhone allows you to set one alarm for 11:00 am weekdays in vibrate mode, no sound, while leaving any other alarms you set as audible. Since OP carries her phone in her pocket, this would be a useful reminder. Check the options in Android phone alarms and you might find a similar option.

    2. James*

      There are numerous problems with that. As was said below, this is often mistaken for not paying attention. Given the political capital already burned, I doubt this is a good option. Perception is important.

      Second, it’s much harder to shift notes around and look at notes side-by-side on screens–if you have two meetings about a project (or notes about different projects that relate to one another), you have to open up the notes separately, transfer at least one set to another format (or try to remember it all, which defeats the purpose of note-taking), and compare them that way. I’ve done it, but only for meetings where my presence was more a matter of politics than a matter of actual information.

      Third, recent studies have shown that taking notes by hand helps you remember them better. So it may be self-defeating.

      Also, if you’re not taking notes on your phone you can use other aps, such as scheduling aps. My father always laughs at people my age who need to check their schedules–his schedule is in a notebook in his pocket, and if the book is open he can see it. Folks how use phones take a lot longer.

      I’m not saying “Therefore you shouldn’t do it”–you do what works for you. I’m just saying that there are very good reasons to not want to use electronic gizmos to take notes.

    3. Candi*

      Use Your Handwriting app! Scribbling down stuff in writing on a phone. Works with stylus or finger. (Not an employee, just love it.)

      There are others as well, if something else works better.

  12. Cassandra*

    OP3, I’m glad your colleague was receptive to your appeal. Now I’ll have to try the same tactic with my father…

  13. B*

    #2 I am glad you took the advice to start writing items down. As others have suggested getting a notebook/scratch pad/etc should fall under office supplies that your company should pay for. I use a spiral bound, cheap one that would work in school with a black cover – they don’t have to be fancy. I do suggest spiral bound so the binding doesn’t break. Mine is small enough to carry and always helpful. I would suggest that instead of post-it’s as they can be thrown out easily, lost quickly, and still not be as helpful. It may take some time to get used to bringing it but after awhile it will feel weird not having it.

  14. Schmooples and the Binkie-Boo*

    #2 Do you have a calendar you use on your computer, e.g. Outlook? I put reminders in mine all the time and mark them private if I don’t want everyone to see them. Also, rememberthemilk.com will send you reminders by email.

    Personally I take a notepad to meetings, write any action points in there, then add themselves to my to do list when I get back to my desk. Your in-meeting solution doesn’t have to be your only solution.

  15. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    OP#2, since you said you can’t have a phone/alarm on the floor … have you thought about a Fitbit? (Or something similar?) You can set silent alarms and it will gently buzz your wrist. I am pretty sure even the cheap base models have this feature!

    1. DevManager*

      Anything flex and above will. The zip does not. I’ve been using my flex’s silent alarms as a “hey stupid, it’s 5pm, go home” reminder.

  16. toomanybooks*

    What a perfect, diplomatic way of handling the political discussion on both sides! Opinions are so strong right now that I’m sure everyone can understand feeling a bit fatigued by it all and wanting a break. I’m glad the coworker accepted it and stopped (I work with a lot of like minded people but I definitely feel iffy about talking about politics too much at work anyway).

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