updates: recovering professionally after an internet hate campaign, teased about my drunken holiday party behavior, 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. Recovering professionally after an internet hate campaign

Things went both good and bad. My company continued to stand up for me publicly, and eventually the internet hate died down. The next big controversy came along and the trolls went that-a-way. I was left scarred and wiser, but intact.

Unfortunately, I never quite settled back in at my job. My managers decided I could no longer do public-facing projects, and since I was the marketing director, that was hard. I couldn’t appear on streams anymore or do interviews. I also felt like they were always watching me. I knew it was out of concern–my boss said a few times that he didn’t want any “targets on my back”–but it was stifling.

I also had a strange conversation with a coworker that led me to believe there were some people in the office who blamed me for the whole situation. I never felt sure who was behind me and who secretly wanted me to fail. It made for an uncomfortable dynamic.

In the end, I stayed with the company for a while longer, then resigned for (legitimate, unrelated) reasons. Basically cited family stuff as a reason for me having to quit. Everyone acted like they believed me (hehe) and I went off without fanfare. Now I work for myself again as a professional freelancer and it’s marvelous. I’ve gotten tons of work and found a lot of my fears were unfounded. Most of the people I’ve contracted with told me they admired my strength in the face of the hubbub (even though I didn’t feel at all strong on the inside!) and that they wanted people like me on their projects.

I’m still enormously grateful to my former company–despite the hiccups, they really stood by me. And I’m lucky I had my group of fellow women professionals who helped me through the crisis. Crash Override was also an amazing resource for anyone else who faces a situation like this. Thank you again for your wise words!

2. My coworkers tease me mercilessly about my drunken holiday party behavior (first update here)

Last week was our company holiday party. I’m happy to report that I stayed 100% sober and professional this year. Well, I did do some silly dancing, but it was just plain ol’ (sober) bad dancing, not falling-down-drunk embarrassing dancing. My behavior last year did come up once or twice, but it wasn’t too bad.

Having made it through this year’s party, I feel like I can finally move on from that incident. I have been working really hard on sobriety this past year. I wish I could say I haven’t had a drink since my update letter, but the truth is I’m still working on it. However, I am in therapy and AA and doing really well. I believe that 2017 will be the year I can stay sober for good.

It makes me happy to read through the comment section on that letter and remember all the support and empathy I received from Alison and the commenters. Thanks everyone.

3. My employee disagrees with my evaluation of his performance

Thank you so much for answering my question and thanks to the commenters for the helpful advice. I did adjust some of the scores down a bit because of his problems meeting commitments. The evaluation meeting was rough, but I stood by my scores and what I had written. I provided concrete examples of what he needed to improve. Carl did argue over a specific example and wanted me to change what I had written, I refused. I told him he didn’t have to agree with me, but that I was not seeing him following through on his commitments and I needed to see improvement there before I would change anything. He was upset, but signed the evaluation and we were able to move past it.

Fast forward 6 months and Carl’s performance has improved greatly. He took the feedback I gave him seriously and has been making great strides in keeping track of and meeting his commitments. Our relationship has also improved. I think Carl does not see me as a pushover anymore after the evaluation meeting (a lot of commenters hit the nail on the head about gender and age issues leading to Carl’s prior behavior). At our monthly meetings, I do check in to make sure we are on the same page when it comes to performance (or at the very least in the same book). We just had his mid-year evaluation meeting and though there were some questions and concerns he had about scores, overall we were in agreement on his performance and the areas where he needed to improve. Because of the advice I received, I try to frame issues with performance in a better way. Not so much “You need to do this because I said so”, but more along the lines of “If you want to be promoted, I need to see this from you” which seems to be more effective. It really is almost a night and day difference from where we were in May.

4. Employee is citing a family death two years ago as a reason not to work around any holidays

I pretty much took your advice, and your post helped me figure out how to better react for such a situation in the future. There were numerous things that came up in the comments that helped solidify what I did. Both of these employees are within easy driving distance from family and both already get the week between Christmas and New Years off—the bereaved employee wanted an additional 2 weeks, and ultimately got one extra week—staggered with the other employee. The two employees had to figure out who was working up until December 23 and who would come back January 3. I know the bereaved employee wasn’t happy about not spending the entire winter break with their family, but we do have to keep my unit open.

There were numerous comments about having the students covering the holidays meant that others could take time off, with mixed opinions. I took myself and the other full timers out of the equation when coming up with a solution. We’re lucky in that all of the other four full timers (except myself) have family close by and don’t need to take extra time off over the holidays, but like to have the option. But, we do depend on our students to fill in for lunches and breaks, especially if we’re missing a couple of people. I’m the only person with family outside of the region, and my husband and I alternate years flying to my family. This is my year, and I am taking a few extra days off to save on airfare and deal with school schedules. These trips are important to me as I have an ailing parent myself who cannot travel to see me.

I am a bit concerned that the employee in question is going to be asking for more time off in the future because they want to be with family on such events like the deceased parent’s birthday, but I’m going to hold firm that they need to work out a trade with the other student or else not have the time off, just like any other request for time off.

5. My manager invited one of us to her wedding, but not the rest of us

So it hasn’t been long at all since you published my letter but a lot has happened! As I mentioned in the comments, right after I first wrote you I learned that the coworker who got the wedding invite received a promotion and became a supervisor to me and others working under our boss. I did my best to roll with it. It’s also possible that since boss knew the promotion was in the works she felt more comfortable inviting her – who knows.

A friend of mine made me aware of a job opening so in mid-November I started a new job for her company and I’m thrilled because the culture is super positive and the benefits are amazing and I wasn’t a fan of our parent company. I’m REALLY grateful for this timing too because from what I hear my former coworker is really struggling to lead people and ruffling feathers and she’s a really skilled person in many ways but probably not ready to manage people. I know I would have a really hard time not viewing her promotion through a favoritism lens if I were there and reporting to her. If nothing else, I think my former boss has a blindspot. She wouldn’t necessarily manage her better if they weren’t friends but I learned I would rather not work in an office with those dynamics at play.

I’m super happy about my move and really appreciated the feedback in the comments! (PS – It seems like having a question answered on AAM is good luck for job searching. Half of the updates are “I got a new job!”)

{ 34 comments… read them below }

  1. Leatherwings

    Update#3 is fantastic! I’m really impressed you’ve seen that much improvement in 6 months. Congrats on finding a way to talk to Carl that allowed him to understand where you were coming from without compromising your feedback.

  2. Adlib

    Really cool to see OP #3’s update! That’s the way things are supposed to work. How awesome for you, OP!

    1. OP #3

      It is really awesome. Carl did resign this week though, which I can’t say I’m unhappy about. I am just glad these last 6 months went much better.

  3. Sabine the Very Mean

    Is it inappropriate to cite his somewhat unprofessional reactions to the evaluation process in the eval itself? This, to me, is like when a child screams and cries for getting in trouble. After a certain age, s/he gets in trouble for reacting that way, too.

    1. Jeanne

      No. A boss is not a parent. Try to understand your employee is human and may have felt surprised and upset. The punishment is like LW said, not considering him for promotions. I have cried in reviews before. It is a complete shock when a boss attacks you out of the blue and I had a human reaction. These are not random evaluations. They affect your raise and promotion. The monthly meetings and clear examples mean that Carl shouldn’t feel surprised anymore which is good management.

      1. AMT

        I disagree. There is no reason an employee shouldn’t be expected to behave maturely in what is supposed to be a normal, routine meeting. Furthermore, as Alison has said before, none of what comes in a performance review should be a surprise. It’s no occasion for outbursts, especially if one has been getting feedback consistently throughout the year. If I had an emotional outburst in a performance review, I’d expect my boss take it as a reflection of my overall professionalism and factor it into her future decisions.

        It’s possible that Carl’s performance review was delivered in an unprofessional manner, or that the LW surprised him with negative feedback that hadn’t been communicated before, but we don’t have any evidence of that from the letter.

        1. Mookie

          Furthermore, as Alison has said before, none of what comes in a performance review should be a surprise

          Nevertheless, some of them are and we regularly meet people here on both sides of an evaluation who feel blindsided. Managers are human, and in many cases don’t always succeed in providing timely feedback, following up, monitoring accordingly, and putting systems in place to guide staff to improving their performances between reviews. And in some rarer instances, their feedback is misleading, inaccurate, or counterproductive — meaning there’s no way to anticipate it coming. However, as Jeanne says, Carl had (before he resigned this week) what sounds like a solid manager who knows what she’s doing and gave him the tools to boost his performance to his own high standards. Good for her.

      2. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

        This. Early in my tenure as a manager I had an employee who was completely shocked at her poor evaluation, as well as how in danger her job was.

        Her reaction was really not great, but the takeaway was that I had been failing as a manager. My concern with not hurting her feelings was that I was couching things and not being direct and my criticism.

      3. PK

        I disagree to a point as well. Some emotional reaction is understandable and even moreso if the issues are new to them. Provided that this information has been handled clearly prior to the evaluation and the employee is aware of those issues, they should be able to keep their reaction in check. If they completely flipped out and lost their cool, my immediate thought is that they are unable to control their emotional reactions under stress. That IS a negative.

      4. Jessesgirl72

        In the original letter, though, the OP stated that both she and her manager had several meetings and discussions with Carl, all along, about these issues. She also didn’t give him a bad evaluation, they just didn’t meet the very high evaluation he expected, despite the many discussions of problems: the scores were simply “satisfactory” with a few “exceeds expectations.” This wasn’t someone reacting to the idea that he could suddenly be fired.

        I would also suggest that there is a difference between tears welling up, and forcefully arguing with your boss over the evaluation given. Tears are human, but the kind of arguing the OP described falls in the unprofessional arena- not as tantrum-y as Sabine seems to think it was, but the behavior described has certainly edged into not someone I’d really want to be working for me. Which was part of the problem, as his communication with his coworkers were one of the things they were having multiple conversations with him about.

        I suspect Carl was someone who went through school “negotiating” for A’s when he had earned B’s or C’s, and simply had learned some bad habits, as happens when young people get the results they want from behavior that should not be encouraged. That his tactics no longer worked, he had to adjust. It is very encouraging that he was able to, and that it didn’t take coming down on him any harder than the OP did.

      5. LBK

        That doesn’t sound anything like what happened in the OP’s situation, though. Nothing was out of the blue, nor did she “attack” him. If Carl wanted a good evaluation that would lead to a raise or promotion, he should’ve done better work.

      6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I agree that the parent/child analogy may not be the most apt, but Sabine is, in my opinion, bang on when she notes that certain reactions during evaluations are appropriate while others may appear unprofessional. In the context of the original post, in which Carl had received consistent feedback and OP #3 reframed her feedback to emphasize the connection between Carl’s performance on specific metrics and his professional advancement (and not as a personal attack or as an edict from on high), any reaction from Carl that was anything other than professional would have been inappropriate. Jeanne, it sounds like your experience was very different and perhaps not analogous to Carl’s.

        That said, I generally think it’s a dangerous practice to note “unprofessional reactions to the evaluation” in an evaluation unless: (1) the issue has been brought up before and the employee is acting out; (2) the reaction is part of a pattern of unprofessional reactions/communication; or (3) the reaction is so unprofessional that it merits a conversation (and honestly, that convo should probably happen much sooner than the next evaluation meeting). Assuming management is in the right, the underlying management issue is that the employee does not receive or respond well to feedback, and ideally an evaluation would focus on that issue instead of the individual actions that illustrate that point.

  4. Jeanne

    #4, Since these are graduate students, obviously at some point this student will graduate and move on. My advice is to be very clear up front what will be expected with holidays. It sounds like you were clear about working nights, weekends, etc, but as recent college students they may need more explicit information on working Christmas. I share the concerns about them working so others can be out but if you are completely upfront when hiring that goes away.

    1. Bwmn

      For this reply, I have to say that my greater concern isn’t so much around the graduate students but the full time employees. If Christmas/New Year coverage in particular is highly dependent on student employees – I would strongly recommend trying to think of contingency plans that ensure that regular full time employees are ensured actually having days off. Whether it’s hiring students or temps specifically to cover breaks or something – because relying on students like this may always end up making the full time staff forever without certainty of a break.

      Being a student – graduate or undergraduate – is very often the easiest time to suddenly quit anything. Volunteering, an internship, a student job – if any of these don’t work out for any reason – students are typically in the best position to have a large set of other jobs, experiences, and references to make dropping a bad fit very easy.

      As a grad student, I was volunteering at a nonprofit that was a real pain and distance to get to and I wasn’t particularly loving the work. Towards the end of the fall semester, I got pneumonia. In addition to calling to say “I can’t come in because I’m sick” – I added on “and to make sure that I get caught up on my classwork, I will also not be continuing to volunteer into the spring semester”.

      I’ve never quit a professional job like that in my life and started volunteering there after having a solid resume in the real world. But at the end of the day I was in a position where being unprofessional at that moment simply didn’t cost me. I still had my old professional references and professors – one wonky volunteering situation just didn’t matter that much. In the future there may be grad students who get opportunities over winter break to travel that they won’t have at other times in their lives and figure “may as well just give my two weeks notice instead”.

      Maybe this job does have enough weight that it’s not likely – but for the non-student staff – I would really be taking this time to reconsider how to staff holidays. Because relying on students for this can just become unreliable in so many different way.

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl

        I would agree with this, though the caveat is that they *are* paid. Unpaid “internships”/volunteer roles are a lot different and typically end up being a last priority for a student (even the most responsible ones) for all the reasons you cited. However, paid work that will work around your school schedule and is close by/on campus is pretty nice. Getting part time work off campus 1. will probably not allow them to just take time off whenever they want to “go home,” and 2. also will probably not be as flexible when it comes to working around a class schedule (as we’ve seen here).

        1. Bwmn

          I completely agree -but I’ve still seen grad/undergrad students do that. A trip or internship that’s seen as “once in a lifetime”. Recovering from an illness or injury and having to prioritize school work. Having to drop out of school for a significant reason – all of this happens. Good students, bad students, mediocre students – this all happens all the time.

      2. AcademiaNut

        As a former grad student, though, I’d say a paid job on campus will generally be treated pretty seriously, particularly if it’s part of the funding package. Unusual situations can still can occur – illnesses, family emergencies, people quitting – but that can occur in non-campus jobs with non student employees too, and graduate students are probably less likely to leave for another job in the middle of a school year than a regular employee. And like any sudden quitting, they would rearrange schedules until a new student could be hired and trained.

        If a student quit with two week notice to travel over Christmas, that’s no different than any other employee quitting with two weeks’ notice, with the added wrinkle that the student would have to do this knowing they’d likely be giving up any other campus job opportunities (and the money from them) for the rest of their degree.

        And in the OP’s case, the students get two full weeks off at Christmas (the problem student wanted three full weeks). In my program, that was about the limit of what you could take off between classes ending and the new term starting. The exceptions might be foreign students travelling abroad, but they’d have a much higher incentive to keep campus jobs, as they were prohibited from working off campus.

  5. Annie Moose

    #1, that was such a weird situation. I’m glad to hear that you had such wonderful support from people around you (even if some of your coworkers were weird about it!), that it’s blown over now, and that, if anything, it’s improved your future work opportunities!

    This is a really heartening example of how even a bad situation can turn out OK. Sometimes it seems like in the face of smear campaigns and hate, there’s no way to recover, but you definitely proved that wrong!

  6. paul

    Yay for mostly-happy updates!

    I’m still a bit flustered with the person requesting extra leave because of a two year old death though. Yeesh.

  7. Starley

    I’m so proud of you LW2! This time of year is soooo hard for staying sober. I quit drinking after some similarly embarrassing behavior on my part at a New Year’s Eve party last year. I was actually thinking of you earlier this week at my own work party – it was hard not to drink when everyone else was. Luckily no one said a darn thing about it like I was worried. Hang in there, even if you’ve made a few missteps this year it sounds like you’ve made amazing progress.

    1. Code Monkey, the SQL

      I just want to pop in to say, good for you Starley and LW2!

      You are absolutely right that it’s tough to stick to a sobriety commitment this time of year, especially when you feel like you’ll be judged for it. But a lot of people are so busy thinking about their own crazy holiday stress, they don’t even notice what’s in other people’s glasses.

      Keep on keeping on!

      1. Starley

        Oh thank you! I feel pretty fortunate, my work culture has a strong drinking culture so it was a relief. If I can make it through a holiday visit to my family I’ll know I’ve really made it.

    2. LW2 / TeasedLW

      Thank you, Starley! It’s so kind of you to have thought of me. This holiday time has indeed been a challenge. I was so stressed about falling off the wagon at the holiday party, so my therapist and I prepared for it for weeks ahead of time. It felt like a huge victory that I made it through!

      Good luck to you with your family visit, hang in there, you can make it! I’ll be cheering for you from across the internet!!

    3. JessaB

      I really wish they’d post giant neon flashing noise making signs that say “Stop bothering people about what they are or are not drinking or eating. Leave them the heck alone.” For all those people that try to pressure someone into “Just one drink, you can have that cake it’s a party, etc.” I’m on medications that would pretty much end me in hospital if I drink and people still want to tell me I should drink something at the party.

      1. JessaB

        Addendum, no flashing noise signs if there are photosensitive/noise sensitive people. Just large and bright and noticeable then.

  8. Temperance

    LW4: Not knowing how your system works, I’d worry that forcing the student with the requests for time off might make it awkward for her counterpart to say no. I am kind of a curmudgeon, so I would have no problem asserting my rights, but I think a lot of people might feel icky telling a coworker that they can’t cover for them to go visit Mom on their deceased father’s birthday.

    1. SMT

      If the birthday isn’t over a holiday weekend (or when the coworker might otherwise have plans), it shouldn’t be to difficult – especially if the person making the request does so well before the requested date off.

  9. Tomato Frog

    #1 — Thanks for updating again, I’m so glad to hear that you’re in a better professional place now! Your managers deciding you could no longer do public-facing projects was pretty crappy, regardless of their motives — essentially they punished you for doing nothing wrong. It sounds like you handled things in the best way possible.

    Also, being strong isn’t about how you feel, it’s about what you do in spite of how you feel.

  10. Stonkle

    #5 Congratulations!

    It is a bit weird. I had a question recently published and then received a job offer shortly afterwards.

  11. esemes

    #2, way to go on making the hard choice to be sober. You are doing a great job and I have faith in an even more successful 2017 for you. :)

  12. Manic Pixie HR Girl

    This is only quasi-related, for OP#4: though the student may not have asked, if you are in a position to do so (and want to), I would advise this student to look for post-graduate work in her hometown. I know there are a lot of reasons why someone would be in school a few hours drive from home even if they didn’t want to be, but this is obviously someone that is going to be very unhappy if she is not close to family after she finishes school. Perhaps that won’t be possible, either, depending on the field, but if it is, it is something she should be considering as a priority.

  13. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)

    It’s horrifying how often stuff like #1 happens – and it’s often the same repeat offenders who are responsible for Internet hate campaigns.

    If I recall correctly, back in the 1990s you could complain to someone’s Internet service provider that they were harassing, threatening, or spamming, and the ISP might cut off their service. I wonder what happened to that. At any rate, people with a track record of violent threats shouldn’t be online. Threats are not protected speech – threatening violence is a criminal offense. Courts have imposed bans on Internet use for computer-related offenses like hacking into government or corporate systems – Kevin Mitnick, say – so why can’t they impose such penalties on someone who repeatedly sends graphic threats of violence?

    Last time I brought this up to someone, he said “but wouldn’t that make it impossible for someone to make a living?” My response: should have thought of that before sending violent threats. This kind of crap silences women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ people, and other marginalized groups, chilling the hell out of THEIR freedom of speech, and makes it harder for THEM to earn a living, especially in public-facing roles and industries where they face particular oppobrium. Isn’t it time we valued the rights of people like OP1 to safety over the “rights” of the troll brigade to harass, threaten, and endanger?

    OP1, I’m really sorry this has happened to you, and really sorry your company responded in a way that drove you out. But I’m glad you’re doing well as a freelancer now.

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