4 updates from letter-writers (the clock watcher, the over-sized chair, and more)

Here are four updates from people who had their letters answered here recently.

1. My employee constantly talks about waiting for 5:00 and the weekend

This employee’s overall performance did not improve. I did not speak to her about her “5 o’clock” habit, but I did address other performance concerns as they arose.

She called in sick two days in a row, and because of deadlines, I had to get into her email to check the status of some things. While doing this, I came across an email with an odd attachment. It was a word document that our company normally sends to candidates as a PDF. I opened the word document with a sinking feeling because I knew what I would find.

Yep, she had taken a perfectly good PDF that was approved by the company for distribution, converted it to Word, and sent it out without looking at it. She had never asked me or a coworker any questions about whether or not we had a Word version/if she could produce one herself/etc. The PDF had been highly formatted, and some pages had scanned inserts — the word version was an absolute mess. There were literally pages with just random symbols on them and not a single intelligible English word. (But don’t worry — our company name was still prominently displayed on the top!)

She was fired the next day. During her termination she revealed that she had not looked at the Word document prior to sending it out. I honestly don’t know whether that is better or worse than her having looked at it before sending it out.

2. My company is insisting my employee use a chair that’s way too big for her (#2 at the link)

The employee in question ended up leaving for a new job. She was open and upfront with me that the chair and being uncomfortable was one of the main factors for doing it. She was a great worker and I was sad to see go leave but I understood why she was going and gave her a good reference and made sure she knew she can count on one in the future. Her issue with the chair was the width (side to side) and not the depth (as some of the comments suspected). She was tall enough that the chair was fine from the front to the back, as I said it was the side to side causing the problems. There was room enough for a second person of her size to sit next to her and even then they both still would have had some room. It was wide enough to cause issues with her comfort and she could not use the armrests at all.

If it was up to me, I would have given her a different chair but our company clearly stated they would not approve an order for any other chair for her and would not pay for it. We don’t have any petty cash and she (rightfully) refused to pay money for a chair the company would have disallowed her from using anyways. We sent HR and the health and safety department a photo of her sitting in it and the response was that most people like their chairs to be roomy. I’m job hunting because I’m upset at how this was handled. My other team members were upset at how she was treated also.

3. I want my department’s monthly public praise (#5 at the link)

Reading the comments from readers was especially helpful getting through this problem. I was feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated at work, and seeing everyone but myself getting acknowledged was eating at me. The overarching theme from comments was spot on: it might feel good in the moment but doesn’t do anything in the long run.

How do I know it was spot on? Because last month, I was given the award. (Five people nominated me at the same time because they all thought it was unfair I had not received it. I had also completed a difficult project.) It felt good for about five minutes, and then everything went back to normal. I was still overwhelmed and under-appreciated — the only difference was this brightly colored ornament temporarily living in my office. However, getting the award did give me a boost of confidence and some confirmation that I’m good at my job, which was a message I needed. Thank you everyone!

4. Reaching out to the person I’m replacing, who might be unhappy about losing the job (#2 at the link; first update here)

I have just been offered a position at another university (had a great application thanks to your general CV, cover letter and interviewing advice, hence my thanking you yet again for running your blog). This halves my commute and is a $15k payrise to put me into six figures, which I never dreamed I would achieve as a female academic with two young children, before I was 45-50 (I am 38).

I am so excited about my career progression now – sorry about the gushy email I am just extremely high on life right now :D.

{ 171 comments… read them below }

  1. Lady Phoenix*

    #1: To quote Hermonie Granger: “What. An. Idiot.”

    #2: Ugh. I am glad you are in solidarity at least and I hope your whole departments drops these losers.

  2. Bostonian*

    I am just baffled by #2. The company would rather pay the cost to rehire and retrain employees than shell out a few hundred bucks (at most) for a decent chair? I have no other words.

    1. Ama*

      Yes that is exactly what I was thinking. I hope the OP and any other people who start looking because of this make sure to tell HR on the way out that their handling of this incident was one of the things that prompted them to leave.

    2. beanie beans*

      I was coming to say the exact same thing. And the message that gives to the employees is terrible! That the company cares more about a big crappy chair than responding to employees concerns.

    3. Kaden Lee*

      That’s what strikes me too. The company seems almost a little petulant here. “We bought you your big fancy chairs and now you want more special treatment?”

    4. Delta Delta*

      And not only that, the fact that the company may also lose OP because s/he didn’t like how the situation was handled. Very tone deaf response by this company.

    5. Notthemomma*

      I had a manager try to tell me that’s my wrist support splints and ergonomic keyboard wouldn’t help my carpal tunnel. Her source? An hour long company ergonomic training; I had to threaten to go to HR to be allowed to follow doctors orders.

      People can be stoopid. ;-)

      1. Blah (formerly feeling)*

        Wait, why was she so determined to not let you use them? It’s not like they interfere with anything.

    6. Observer*

      It’s actually worse than that – they wouldn’t allow the staff person to buy her own chair either! And they claimed that it was not about money, but because “it’s good for people” and that “most people like their chairs roomy.”

      How does that make any sense? Not that a staff person should ever have to buy their own chair, but who forbids someone from using it when they have a clear reason for it?And even if what the company was after was finding only seriously overweight people, do they really think that overweight people are going to be thrilled about working for a company that treats all people like indistinguishable chess pieces? That’s exactly what the company is doing, and the staff seem to see that quite clearly.

      I hope that everyone gets better jobs and lets the company know why. Perhaps that will make HR realize that the company is not going to do so well if they are that stupid.

      1. AW*

        …do they really think that overweight people are going to be thrilled about working for a company that treats all people like indistinguishable chess pieces?

        Right?! Did they think they wouldn’t care because it’s normally the other way around where it’s the larger employees unable to use something (chairs too small, everyone gets a company t-shirt but we didn’t get sizes over 1X, etc.)? If anything it means you recognize when it’s happening and you have more empathy.

        They could have shown that they were being considerate of employee’s needs in getting the bigger chairs but instead they proved that it only happened because the numbers happened to be on their side this time. That does not inspire confidence that your workplace needs will be met in the future.

        1. JessaB*

          I cannot get why they’d risk a worker’s comp case when the employee in the too large chair pulled their back or otherwise injured themselves. With all this current push for ergonomics, this is insane.

          Then I worked for a boss with an ADA requirement for a chair and he wouldn’t let me keep one he OWNED outright and insisted on A: making me sit in chairs I could not because they “matched,” and would rather get stuck spending a few hundred dollars on an ergonomic chair when I had one (oh and I was not on dayshift, I could easily stack my purse on the chair and wheel it out to the warehouse so that visiting people would never see it.) I actually bought the chair for my home office from him for 50 bucks. I finally got out of there, that was NOT his only stupid action.

    7. Nolan*

      I was thinking the same thing, in the end (assuming the others have started looking as well) they’ll have lost an entire department over one office chair.

      What must it be like to go through life being that stubborn and obtuse???

      1. Jerry Vandesic*

        Reminds me of this:

        For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
        For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
        For want of a horse the rider was lost.
        For want of a rider the message was lost.
        For want of a message the battle was lost.
        For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
        And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

        1. Grapey*

          The process engineer in me is thinking ‘If the message is that important, what rider wouldn’t 1) get another horse or 2) send another messenger?’

          1. MashaKasha*

            I was seeing it as the enemy was able to kill the rider, because his horse slowed down, when he was on his way to the battlefield to deliver the message. They then used that advantage to win the battle. So the answer to your question is “a dead rider”. heh heh

            1. SenatorMeathooks*

              True. However with more than one rider with the message, your chances of not receiving the vital information goes down drastically with that extra redundancy.

              But yes, it’s overall a solid message.

            2. sstabeler*

              I see it more that the horse threw the rider off- but it comes to much the same. Also, the originator of the message should really have sent multiple of such an important message via different routes. (as in, have different messengers take different routes to the battlefield)

    8. Marzipan*

      It is completely ridiculous. I’d be pushing back with HR to quantify the cost of the employee leaving, just to highlight how daft it is.

    9. Rusty Shackelford*

      Yes, but they aren’t looking at it that way. No one said “Wait, we might lose Francine and it would be a lot cheaper to just buy her a damn chair.” They said “Oh, Francine thinks she’s so special. If we buy her a chair, everyone will want their own special chair, or desk, and when’s it going to stop? No, we’ll put the kibosh on this request and that way we won’t start down that slippery slope.”

      I mean, they were wrong, obviously, but it was probably more stubborn/misguided than just plain stupid.

      1. Gen*

        In my country employers are legally required to have disabled workers needs assessed and then buy them specialist chairs if needed. I needed one with no arms and a special back because of my height and pain issues. The management team hated me because the other staff resented me having a ‘special’ chair. They regularly stole it and complained to management when I asked for it back or insisted I’d have to go home if I couldn’t use it (my pain was that bad). When I finally quit because I couldnt cope any more the exact response was ‘thank god’ even though I was the best performer in the unit. Some people are just really petty and like to make people miserable

        1. Ramona Flowers*

          That’s horrible, I’m so sorry.

          I have a different chair for medical reasons. Nobody touches it.

        2. Optimistic Prime*

          I’m just…infuriated on your behalf that people were glad you left because you had a different CHAIR than them (and particularly because you have a disability). Like…on the list of things that I have brain space to think about at my job every day, what chair someone else is sitting in isn’t even in the universe.

        3. Observer*

          What? You were working in a kindergarten full of bratty 5 year olds managed by another overgrown brat? I’m just having a hard time wrapping my head around this.

        4. Alienor*

          That is so crazy. As long as the chair I sit in is meeting my personal needs, I don’t care if someone else is sitting on an actual throne at their desk.

        5. Mes*

          Able-bodied people get so jealous about our accommodations. I needed a chair at a previous job while everyone else had to stand. My coworkers were so jealous I got to sit down and wouldn’t stop harassing me about my “special treatment.” I’d rather have a functioning body than a dumb chair, but what do I know…

          1. Jenna*

            I had the same. My (twice my age) coworkers used to hide my stool. This was a pharmacy so you’d have thought they’d understand about medical conditions…

        6. MashaKasha*

          Wow, that’s ridiculous. We had several people at OldJob who had special chairs and footrests for medical reasons. No thoughts ever entered anybody’s mind on this issue other than maybe “oh, Florina has a special chair, aww I didn’t know her back problems were so bad, okay back to work”. But it could be because we were a team of adults that had to work together as a team on mission-critical issues, not a bunch of social misfits who think it’s a great idea to steal a coworker’s chair and cause them physical pain.

        7. The OG Anonsie*

          Yeah, I had a similar experience when an old company happily bought me a new chair when I was too short to comfortably use their standard ones all day. Everyone got very upset that I got a “special” chair, I probably didn’t need it, I was just gaming the system, I’m just causing trouble for no reason, etc etc. They all ended up getting their own different chairs via a manager who was on the Anonsie Is Being Selfish With Her Chair bus, which at least got them off my back about that.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        The “slippery slope” is kind of what I figured was the company’s rationale in the whole situation, which is just. . .dumb. My company requires you to undergo a cumbersome ergonomic assessment if you want anything special, so that is one way they could make sure people have the right equipment AND prevent the slippery slope. I bought my own standing desk conversion rather than go through their process.

        1. seejay*

          I’m so glad that when I said “I need an ergonomic keyboard and this one, which is $150, is the one that doesn’t make my wrists flare up into throbbing balls of fire”, my company just said DONE and ordered it for me. And they happily replaced it when it pooped out on me after a year. No doctor’s note, no ergo assessment, they just believe me that I have RSI/carpal tunnel and get me the stuff I ask for.

          1. Mine Own Telemachus*

            YES. This is making me grateful that my request for a standing desk was met with “sure!” and then the company bought standing desks for most of the staff. We may be a small non-profit, but we also take really good care of our employees. It costs a bit more in the bottom line, but if you’re pinching pennies so much that a CHAIR is going to make the difference, you maybe shouldn’t be in business?

            1. JessaB*

              Yes, I had a friend who has major disabilities, and trouble walking and the layout of the building is awful, but they were trying and got an ergo specialist in the building to get him a chair that wouldn’t kill him with pain. She took one look at his condition and said, as an ADA requirement we the accommodations department are requiring you to now move him up the top of the list and if necessary special order the equipment yesterday and send him to work at home. A chair is not enough to help him. He has just celebrated his one year anniversary of working at home.

              I love companies like that.

      3. AW*

        But that doesn’t explain them not allowing her to buy her own chair.

        Even if they worried that people would think she’d gotten it from the company all they’d have to say to follow-up requests is, “She bought that chair. If you want something special you have to get it yourself.”

          1. Specialk9*

            She refused, yes. The LW mentioned that she wouldn’t have been allowed to use a chair she bought anyway.

      4. The OG Anonsie*

        Yeah, this is exactly the deal. “Francine should be grateful and stop complaining about stupid things.”

    10. JD*

      I’m a small gal and just sitting at booths that are now made to fit larger people ends up with my back throbbing due to having to sit almost a foot forward to reach my meal. Working with a chair that was similar would not even be close to an option.

      1. Garrett*

        I’ve noticed that too. I’m not a small guy, but even I feel awkward at some booths in restaurants where the table feels miles away from me!

        I hope the OP wrote all over whatever paperwork there was why her employee left. This was just stupid and now they are out lots of money because they will have to hire and train a new employee. Dumb.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I’ve come to accept that my feet will never touch the ground when I’m seated anywhere.

            1. Rachel*

              I’m also short. I solved the foot/ground issue by getting a folding foot rest. You can get a plastic one from Amazon that’s pretty light and about the thickness of a laptop. They’re so great, I’ve left two on various planes! Bonus: not only did they help the physical issue, they also reduced my anxiety significantly :)

        2. AW*

          I think the people designing the seats don’t realize that when a larger person sits down, their body fat spreads. I think they’re imagining someone’s butt propping them up which…no? Or maybe that’s muscular people or maybe they’re trying to get the table out of the way of someone’s stomach.

          Or maybe they are just trying to accommodate very tall people.

          I don’t know, booths are almost always kind of weird when it comes to space.

    11. Optimistic Prime*

      This is what I was thinking too! The cost of searching for, hiring and training just ONE new employee way outweighs the cost of a new chair (or even a couple of new chairs in case other people asked too). But now you’ve got a whole group of employees who have seen that the company is petty and doesn’t value its employees, and that might be the straw on the camel’s back for a few and a motivating factor for some more down the road.

    12. Wintermute*

      It’s classic penny wise and pound foolish. Something that sadly afflicts too many businesses. They’ll sweat the cost of minor benefits and normal office policies, without concern about how it affects their ability to attract and retain skilled talent. Nevermind the way the situation LOOKS too. How you present yourself applies to everything your company does.

    13. Linguist Curmudgeon*

      This literally happened where I work. The guy said in his exit interview “You could have kept me if you’d just bought me a decent chair.”

  3. Lance*

    Do people actually like their chairs to be roomy? I’m genuinely curious, since I’m not hugely comfortable with arm rests that are too far (more than, say, 4 inches or so) from where my hips rest.

    1. MashaKasha*

      I’m envisioning OP’s employee’s experience with that chair to me trying to work on my computer while sitting on a couch. I’d be miserable and in a lot of back pain by the end of my first day on that couch! I think they were just saying whatever popped into their head to justify their decision not to replace her chair.

    2. Red Reader*

      My work chair is a one-and-a-half seat wide armchair. But that’s because I work from home with a dog who likes to be in the chair with me, and that stopped working with a regular desk chair once she hit about 40 pounds. So I get the half, and she gets the one. :P

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I was thinking that I could sit draped sideways across a large armchair, but somehow I’m guessing the company would have frowned on that, too.

        1. Red Reader*

          Probably. But yeah, like Zidy below, I like space anyway so I can sit in ergonomically ill-advised positions, even without 110 pounds of dog taking up my allotment.

      2. Ramona Flowers*

        My cat would like this. When I work from home I have to have two chairs side by side, as he steals my chair whenever I get up.

    3. Zidy*

      I do, but I shouldn’t. Roomy chairs lets me sit cross legged and other very non-ergonomic friendly ways. And while that’s really comfortable for me in the short term, I know it’s not doing my back any favors.

      1. blackcat*


        The only upside to my too-large office chair is that I can sit with my legs crossed underneath me on the chair.

        1. seejay*

          I do this at home, but yeah, I don’t have the best posture there. But I’m also wrapped up in a blanket usually and with a cat on my lap or sitting behind me.

          Office posture is way different from home posture IMO.

    4. Lala*

      I’m overweight, so I’m just happy if I fit in my chair; I definitely tend to prefer to sit in the biggest chair I can find. I despise most chairs with armrests because they almost always dig into my side. That being said, the office I work in is extremely accommodating of all seat preferences and needs; they see it as a risk management and healthcare issue b/c uncomfortable chairs can lead to back/etc. problems. We have people in varying sizes of aeron chairs, people in more old-school chairs, standing desks, and even people with exercise ball-type seats.

      Lord knows my office has its share of issues, but at least seating isn’t one of them.

    5. The Other Dawn*

      As someone with chronic lower back pain that seems to be directly related to sitting too much, I don’t like a lot of room. It’s too easy for me to slump over or just sit in a way that makes my back hurt more. I prefer a chair that has good support, I can reach the armrests without effort, and my feet are flat on the floor. I’m tall, so that’s not always easy. Luckily my job sprang for a good chair when I brought in a doctor’s note. Didn’t solve the problem, but at least I have better support now.

      Unfortunately I’m in a back pain cycle now, mainly because of having to take multiple out of state drives in the span of about a week and a half, then go back to work and sit all damn day. UGH

    6. Infinity Anon*

      In general I think people like their chairs to fit them. Overly large armchairs can be nice in your living room, but not at work.

    7. KR*

      I’m not quite in the same position as the employee – I’m short and petite but I’m in a chair meant to fit a normal sized person and it’s uncomfortable for me. It’s very roomy side to side and front and back so I find I don’t get the support I need to sit straight up. It is, however, nice when I want to sit cross legged and that’s the only bonus. My solution is that I have a thick sweatshirt that I ball up and use to fill the extra space. I think in the future when my husband wants his sweatshirt back I’ll buy a cushion or pillow to put behind me and strap to the back of my chair.

      1. T3k*

        This. I’m in the same camp (short and petite) and even in on my own desk chair at home I have to have several pillows behind me if I want to sit up straight and since I move around a lot in my seat, this doesn’t work out very well. The past several years I’ve been sitting like L (character from Death Note) to at least have some back support from my chair. Lately though, Ive been wanting a butterfly chair that has the height and swivel functionality of a desk chair as I really like to lounge at my desk (sit back, legs flung out over one side, cross legged, etc.).

    8. Optimistic Prime*

      I like to cross my legs in my chair, so I like enough room to do that. But I can also accomplish that with a chair with no arms or at least arms that are towards the back of the chair, and that also doesn’t mean a chair that is more than twice the width of my body. Right now my office chair is about exactly the width of my hips when I’m sitting normally and it’s perfectly comfortable and I can cross my legs just fine because of the way the arms are shaped.

  4. Chriama*

    #1 is so weirdly paternalistic. “You’ll use this chair and like it!” “But it’s too big.” “No, it’s roomy. You don’t know what’s good for you.” “Ok, I’ll just use my own chair.” “No, you’ll use this chair and like it!” “Why can’t I use my own chair?” “This one is better for you.” “But it’s too big…” Repeat ad nauseum. Man, I wish there was some law they were breaking so we could take them to task. What a weird hill to die on! Maybe they were deliberately trying to provoke the employee to leave?

    1. Jaybeetee*

      Someone commented above that it might have been some weird slippery-slope concern, where they’d already spent a fortune on these special chairs, and now this employee wanted a different special chair, and if they got her one, everyone else would be wanting different special chairs, and they’d spend another even bigger fortune on special chairs, and they just wanted to stop all that before it started. Which…is still dumb, but is about the only line of thought I can think of that even kinda makes sense.

    2. The New Wanderer*

      Management can be weird about office purchases, for sure. I asked about getting a new chair (mine was old and lumpy) and told there’s no budget. Within two months, a large number of new chairs arrived and were distributed around to the little-used hotelling and summer intern desks. You better believe everyone with an older chair swapped theirs out immediately.

      To be fair, I could have had an ergonomic assessment done (company-sponsored) and gotten a better chair that way, so I really didn’t get the “no money for chairs, except for these chairs” philosophy.

    3. Wintermute*

      I’m not sure there isn’t a legal concern.

      How will a company this inflexible on ergonomics and employee comfort issues handle a bona fide ADA compliance accommodation request? I think there’s a good chance it would definitely not be a good-faith negotiation to find solutions that work for everyone, and that is asking for an ADA suit.

      In her place before I quit I’d have probably gone to a doctor and gotten the documentation I needed to start an accommodation request.

  5. Garrett*

    Converting PDFs to Word is a messy process. Formatting never transfers well. I can’t even imagine doing some kind of conversion like this and not even looking at the final product. Even Word to PDF doesn’t always convert perfectly. She was very careless.

    1. SophieChotek*

      and why would she do so anyway? (I usually prefer to convert from Word to PDF to send attachments so that when someone opens them, the formatting won’t be odd, if their default margins or different than mine, or if they have a different version of Word, etc.)

      1. AW*

        I wondered that too. Adobe PDF Reader is free and there are other free viewers out there. There’s no reason to switch formats; anyone with a computer or mobile device can get the software to open it.

        1. Many Emails*

          Yes, they can, if they have any of the pdf-editing software. Unless you embed protections into the pdf. Even then, you can still get around most protections by print-to-pdf or saving the pdf down into an image file.

      2. JessaB*

        And depending on which version of Word the person receiving the document has, this can be a big issue. PDF stays the same no matter what. And me, the odd one out, the Word Perfect user, who saves stuff as .doc for her friends, I’d rather use PDF because no matter what you read it in, it’ll come out fine. And not only is Adobe free, so is my preferred Foxit.

        Going TO PDF is one thing, but going from it? Nope. Nope me right out of there, and to not check the document? I’m glad she was dismissed, sending ANYTHING out without double checking it, is insane.

        1. SusanIvanova*

          It’s only been a few years now that the standard Mac text editor could open Word files, but even then some of the fancier formatting gets lost. And in the days when you had to have Word, Mac Word lagged behind the PC version so much that sometimes it couldn’t open them at all.

          So I always assume that anyone sending me a Word file isn’t actually concerned about whether I can read it.

    2. Kathleen Adams*

      I posted a question below asking this very same thing. Why would somebody take the time to convert a PDF to a Word document for no reason? If you do it well, it’s time-consuming and tedious, but even if you do it very badly, it takes a little bit of time. Why not just send the PDF? I don’t get it.

    3. Artemesia*

      Plus a primary reason for using PDFs is security; you don’t want editable versions of your work being distributed.

    4. OP#1*

      I’m pretty sure I know why she converted the pdf to word. The pdf is a compilation of several documents, and we often send a couple of these documents in advance of sending the large pdf. I think she wanted to remove the pages that we “pre-send”.

      This is of course fine, and I would have been able to provide her with a pdf that didn’t include these pages if she had just asked! Or, she could have used our pdf-manipulating software (which I had trained her on using) to delete those pages w/o going through a messy word conversion. Or, she could have asked me (or anyone else on our team) for guidance. So many options that would have been way better than the one that was used.

      1. Wintermute*

        You can even kludge your way around it by printing the PDF to a PDF printer and selecting only the pages you want! It’s inefficient but at the very least you’ll preserve formatting.

      2. Baska*

        There are free online tools that will allow you to remove pages from PDF documents. It takes less than a minute to do it. My mind boggles at how someone could think that converting to Word would be easier or better.

      3. Kathleen Adams*

        Count me officially boggled as well. It sounds like something my department’s old admin, who was barely computer-literate, would do, except that even she would have at least taken a quick look at the converted document before sending it and would have noticed all that Martian gibberish that a PDF conversion tends to create.

  6. Lindsay*

    You fired her because she messed up a document? Maybe I’m missing something but that seems over the top.

    1. Jean*

      I don’t know, taking a perfectly good PDF, reformatting it into a very bad and unprofessional-looking Word document, and sending it outside the company is serious business, especially if it’s coming on top of other performance issues. Plus, the PDF had already been approved for distribution, so it’s likely that she wasn’t authorized to be making any changes to it at all.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        This. The document was something that got sent outside the company. Also, this was just something else on top of the clock-watcher behavior, which to me seems like an indication of a somewhat negative attitude, and OP saying she was a bad fit.

      2. Wintermute*

        Distro authorization is a huge thing in some industries. It’s basically how companies that always have a really polished presentation and consistent brand image get to that point. So if that’s your image, or you work in a field where presentation is important, sending out off-brand materials that aren’t authorized is absolutely a fireable offense.

        1. SusanIvanova*

          And if there’s any legal text in that document – oh, boy, you do not want to touch it. Even the list of patent numbers in our software’s About Box had to be formatted just so.

    2. Alton*

      I get the impression that there might be more context, like this document was being used to represent the company to job candidates and it was embarrassing that this was sent out without authorization.

      But I agree that firing someone just for that feels somewhat extreme. In this case, there was a pattern of bad performance, but I hope she was given some sort of feedback prior to this.

    3. Angelinha*

      Agreed…it’s embarrassing, to be sure, but hardly firing-worthy, at least anywhere I’ve worked.

    4. Squeeble*

      It might be for an otherwise great employee, but OP mentions that there were other issues–maybe the document was a last-straw sort of situation.

    5. ZVA*

      I don’t think she was fired just for messing up the document; LW wrote in her original letter that the employee was having performance issues, and in this letter she says that she tried to address those issues & they didn’t improve. Sounds like the messed-up document was the straw that broke the camel’s back…

      1. Justin*

        Yes. And I bet, sadly, she’ll think “it was just a documentttttt” instead of honestly pondering her many missteps beforehand.

        1. OP#1*

          ZVA has it exactly right, and, Justin, you nailed her response. She texted current team members after her termination requesting that they send her the documents because she thought it would useful in her unemployment hearing. (We provided severance and did not contest unemployment)

    6. MassMatt*

      Yes, you are missing something. The employee in question had multiple performance issues, as enumerated in the original post and mentioned in the update.

    7. Student*

      At my company, there are certain documents that, if you screw them up, will cost the company lots of money, reputation, or legal headaches. Those types of documents, we have an approval process for. There are other documents where the stakes are not nearly as high.

      Picture the difference between screwing up the company newsletter and screwing up the company’s primary sales ordering form. Company newsletter looks bad? Oops, embarrassing, fix the next one. Company sales order form is missing important fields or info on how to send it in? Company misses sales, loses money until the form is fixed, and frustrates or angers a bunch of customers.

      Company legal document is missing important text? Start throwing money at the lawyers immediately and desperately hope no one notices it.

      1. Blue Anne*

        Yeah, this is what I figured, that it was a particular type of document that really needed to be done correctly. (And/or that she had sent out the messed up Word version a bunch of times.)

        At my first job at a small tech company, I accidentally emailed our Christmas card to every single customer and prospect we had in the system… in July. I wanted the ground to swallow me up, and my boss, colleagues and clients laughed at me, but that was about it.

        If I had instead sent someone’s invoice or quote out to everyone? I’d be seriously screwed.

      2. OhNo*

        That’s what I was thinking, especially with the legal side of things. It sounds like this document was going to candidates, and while I’m not 100% sure what that means (Candidates for hiring? Client candidates? Political candidates? Who knows!), that’s usually an indicator that the document was really important to get right.

        If, heaven forfend, it was new hire paperwork for job candidates, or some kind of contract or legal document… yikes.

        1. Blue Anne*

          Yeah, this was at a recruitment agency… so it could very easily be a contract or new hire paperwork.

        1. sstabeler*

          to be fair, that case is actually different- the article actually mentioned that similarly-bad “jokes” had occurred before, and it WAS actually a culturally-acceptable thing to do in that office. It was lack of supervision of immature writers, not someone who should have known better doing this. (if the same thing occurred at, say, the Daily Telegraph in the UK, heads would roll (and quite a few, for that matter- at a minimum, the writer, the editor, any proofreaders, and probably more people)

    8. Spooky*

      I thought exactly the same thing. One document (and looking forward to 5:00, which we all do)? Sheesh. That seems like a pretty extreme overreaction. Sounds like this turned into a BEC situation and OP was looking for any chance to fire her.

      1. seejay*

        Did you not read the original post or even this one? The LW indicated there were multiple performance issues, it wasn’t just a document and clock-watching. It sounds like it was hardly an over-reaction.

    9. AW*

      In addition to the other performance issues, she also admitted she hadn’t even looked at the Word document before sending it out.

      That she changed the format at all and then didn’t even check it says she exercises poor judgement, in my opinion.

      1. Consultant*

        I get plenty of emails without attachments where there should be attachments. Plenty of emails that are simply unintelligible. Plenty of people fail to connect to conference call. Or they forget to press “mute” disturbing others, some of them every call. Plenty of emails sent to wrong recipients with sometimes serious consequences (e.g. emails sent to clients instead of colleagues).

        I agree that one document shouldn’t be enough to fire anybody unless there were many more serious issues.

        1. AW*

          But everything you mentioned is something someone forgot to do. While checking the document could have been something she forgot, changing the format in the first place without permission was something she did on purpose.

          Whether it would be enough to fire someone without any other issues would depend on what the document was and who it went to though I do generally agree that this wouldn’t be a dealbreaker on it’s own.

          1. Captain Obvious*

            What kind of micromanager fires someone over *changing a document format* without permission? We probably do that ten times per week. If you require so many levels of approval to *change a document format*, I shudder to think how lean (or not, more precisely) your company is.

            I agree that the employee should have confirmed the document was accurately converted.

            1. Wintermute*

              In some industries “distribution authorization” is very, very important. Some companies are known for their extremely polished presentation and distro authorization is how they get that reputation. Aside from any general reputation issues, there’s the risk of allowing anyone to send out materials that are “off-brand”, it dilutes your message.

              So it’s not on-its-face unreasonable that if this was a document subject to revision control and distribution authorization, and it sounds like it was, that violating those would be a serious disciplinary matter.

            2. JessaB*

              And it’s not necessarily the format change, it’s the taking a polished approved document and turning it into an unintelligible mess. AND then delivering it outside the company.

              If she had changed the format, then made sure it was still perfect and sent it out, she’d probably just get a lecture, depending on the company and or legal requirements for the document.

            3. OP#1*

              The problem was not the change in format. (The change in format was a concern on its own because the document was in pdf for a reason – we don’t want its recipients modifying it. But, if that was the only concern, I would have just explained not to do that going forward.)

              The problem was that the document became complete gibberish after the conversion and was sent out without review. It was a total embarrassment for the company, and we likely lost business over it.

              Basically, what JessaB said :)

              This was the last straw for an employee who was not performing well, had been counseled several times, and had shown no improvement. This incident basically demonstrated that she did not care, so why should we keep counseling and hoping for improvement?

    10. Solidus Pilcrow*

      It looks like the bad document was a last straw situation; the employee had several performance issues that were not improving and the bad document just brought things to a head. It’s not so much about sending the wrong file format as it is about the employee 1) ignoring the standard process/practice and 2) making the company look bad to outside parties in the process. It also calls the employee’s judgement into question: Why did she waste time converting a file that was ready to mail as is? Why didn’t she bother to double-check the conversion? Did the employee not think that they send PDFs for a reason?

      When a company has a standard to send a PDF it’s often so that the file can’t be edited (at least not easily). The only reason to send a Word doc externally is to edit it. Editing can lead to things like copyright violation or the recipient altering terms of a contract or offer. (Not that alterations are likely to succeed, but that doesn’t stop people from trying to pull a fast one.)

      1. Blue Anne*

        The OP says right in the first sentence that she addressed performance concerns as they arose.

      2. Observer*

        That’s not what the OP says, though. She says that the conversion was a mess and missing important pieces.

    11. Artemesia*

      Sounded like ‘straw, camel’ to me. Just one more example of her failures as an employee.

    12. Can't Sit Still*

      There is a woman out there who thinks she was fired for throwing away my lunch. That’s not why she was fired, but it was the last straw. (I was not her manager.)

      1. Kathleen Adams*

        LOL – and also congratulations, or so it sounds to me.

        There is another woman out there who thinks she was fired due to “office politics” when she was actually fired for sloppiness and numerous personality problems including repeated insubordination, lying and threatening coworkers (not me – she liked to threaten the nicest, shyest and most fragile employees). So many people don’t just want to visit de Nile – they want to live there.

    13. Creag an Tuire*

      Even aside from the other performance issues in question, this is a “You had one job” sort of thing — all she had to do was forward the PDF along to the distribution list. Why did she convert it to another file type? Why did she do that and then not examine the result? For the record I do this sort of work and it’s not that easy to do “accidentally” and it’s bad enough that for a good employee, it would be a “what was your thought process/how do we prevent this” situation? For a new empolyee or poor performer? Nah, we’re done here.

        1. Creag an Tuire*

          Yeah, it’s kind of like if your hotel valet driver scratched your car… because he drove a mile to the car wash on the way to your parking spot.

    14. Observer*

      Well, it sounded like a bit of a final mail thing.

      But in any case, what she did was actually pretty egregious. She didn’t just make a type or two. She took a perfectly functional document messed it up to the point of near unsuitability without asking any questions first and then sent out this in-your- face aggressively unprofessional piece of garbage out without taking all of 30 seconds to verify the most basic level of appropriateness. All with the employer’s name prominently in the light.

      That’s a pretty big issue.

    15. Captain Obvious*

      100% agree with this. OP overreacted because she didn’t like her employee’s constant (but mostly harmless) references to 5.00 pm and the weekend.

      There are plenty of valid reasons why one might prefer a Word version of a document to a PDF (ability to track changes, for one). To be sure, the employee ought to have confirmed the conversion was accurate before distributing it externally. But by the same token, surely the client would have said “something is garbled in this document” if it were ultimately that important.

      1. Observer*

        That’s actually not true. Of someone wants to make it hard for you to see changes, all they need to do is turn off tracking.

        Sending out a truly garbled document is a really bad move under any circumstances, and even more so when it’s a result of flat out laziness and failure to follow basic policies. And given that this was a recruitment position and SHE WAS THE CONTACT PERSON, expecting the company to get timely information about the mess is not realistic. Worse, even if they did get the information from someone, by that point the company has been made to look really sloppy. NOT a good thing, and one that definitely warrants a serious consequence.

  7. Student*

    #2 – I’d take this as a management lesson. When you’re a manager, there’s such a thing as giving others too much detail, or fighting the right battle with the wrong tactics, and I think that’s part of what happened here to you.

    Part of being a really good manager is figuring your own boss and related departments out, and how to get what your team needs out of them. In this case, you presented the facts and details because that’s what appealed to you – but you presented too many facts and details to the wrong people.

    If you had gone with a tactic of “I need a $100 annual budget to address morale and retention issues, can you help me swing that?” you might’ve had more success. It invites less judgement and second-guessing on exactly what’s up. People get super invested in other people’s bodies, especially when stuff like weight and furniture comfort come into play – everyone has an opinion on that stuff, and all their opinions on it are useless drivel in specific applications like this, and they’ll dig in forever on it. You might as well have brought up politics or religion. Sidestep the stupid, get to the heart of the business matter instead.

    If you’d talked to your boss more based on your personal relationship (where he might care) instead of presenting your employee’s case (whom he probably doesn’t know very well), you could’ve tried a play like, “Boss, you’re great, but I really need you to trust my judgement on this one. It’s such a minor expense. Please have my back here. If it turns out to be a mistake, it’ll be a learning experience in managing for me, and you can tell me “I told you so” all day long.”

    1. Yorick*

      I don’t think this would work at all. This company is not going to provide a vague $100 for the manager to address morale, and that probably wouldn’t cover the cost of this chair anyway.

      Also, if I were the company, I would buy her a new chair. But if I had decided she didn’t need it, the manager saying “just do this for me, and if I’m wrong it’s a learning experience for me” would just make me have huge doubts about him.

      1. Student*

        Yeah, but it’s not really about adequate office equipment. That’s my point. That’s not what they’re objecting to. If he’d asked for a computer monitor to replace a broken one, he’d have gotten it, and it’d cost about the same.

        They’re digging in because they don’t like accommodating different body types. They don’t like acknowledging that there are different body types. They don’t like a specific body type, or they think somebody with a specific body type should suffer through discomfort. They don’t like that the things they find comfortable are uncomfortable for others. They feel like someone is getting more than their due, or complaining about something frivolous.

        1. Observer*

          The problem is that Purchase orders are processed centrally, which means that the OP couldn’t just take the hundred dollars, or whatever it is, and make the purchase. And the boss clearly was NOT open to “trust me on this one” – when you have HR AND the “safety officer” telling you that your staff person cannot even use her own chair because THEY KNOW WHAT SHE NEEDS, you’ve gone way off the deep end.

          There is a reason that the whole department (being people for whom the chairs work!) are ticked off.

    2. Optimistic Prime*

      Mmm, I don’t agree.

      First of all, at my company (and many others, I’m sure) we aren’t allowed to request vague amounts of money. Here we have to provide receipts for any charge over $100, so the higher-ups would’ve easily seen that this was a purchase of an ergonomic chair they had already expressly forbidden, and they may have gotten more irrationally angry had manager just went ahead and purchased it without permission – or worse, while being circumspect about what they were doing.

      Secondly, even if the company does allow for vague pots of money like that, they don’t sound like the kind of place that is overly concerned with employee morale and retention. Because if they were that reasonable, the entire thing would’ve been avoided in the first place since the company would’ve thought “Huh, from a business perspective it’s probably cheaper to buy the chair than lose the employee.”

      And thirdly, while relationships are important…I can’t necessarily imagine that kind of conversation in the last paragraph working with everyone. Especially if the boss is erroneously worried that this will snowball into a big expense because then everyone will ask for a new chair.

    3. AW*

      It invites less judgement and second-guessing on exactly what’s up.

      I’d argue the exact opposite. Asking for money to fix a problem with no proof the problem actually exists absolutely invites additional questions. Retention? You’re going to have to prove that you’re losing people or about to lose a good employee, which leads to them asking why, which leads right back to the chair. Morale? Same problem.

      Not to mention that having the money to buy the chair doesn’t change the fact that they aren’t allowed to actually purchase it. OP even said in their original letter that they’d have bought the chair themselves but weren’t allowed to do so.

      And while you are likely right that the issue is them not wanting to accommodate multiple body sizes, I don’t see how a “please trust my judgement instead of yours” gets around that.

  8. Kathleen Adams*

    Does anyone have any idea *why* an employee would take a perfectly good PDF and turn it into a Word document? If you do it well, it can be very time consuming, but even if you do it extremely badly, as this coworker did, it takes a little bit of time. Why wouldn’t she just send out the dang PDF? Any ideas? I have coworkers who do things nearly this pointless, but not quite this bad.

    1. Jean*

      I once spent three days drafting a consent form and got approval from the owners of the business to send it to clients, only to have a coworker go in and edit the hell out of it to make it look “more professional” (according to her) and “like it was written by a 5th-grader who just learned about fonts” (according to me). Maybe there was something in it she wanted to change, and then she sent it out without checking the rest of the formatting.

    2. strawberries and raspberries*

      Sometimes people who are bored will spend inordinate amounts of time on inconsequential things to make it look like they’re busy.

      1. Kathleen Adams*

        Her time would have been better spent in watching the clock, even though that too is a waste of time.

    3. seejay*

      It’s entirely possible she wanted to change some contents in it and couldn’t in the PDF format. Or possibly didn’t have a PDF viewer and converted it to a doc on the assumption others would be able to open it more easily.

      Dunno, I’m reaching. It baffles me too, since there’s no logical reason to convert something to a doc other than giving them the option to edit it.

    4. Solidus Pilcrow*

      Wild guessing here, the person who the employee was corresponding with asked for a Word/editable version and the fired employee didn’t think about any consequences beyond that.

      1. tigerlily*

        Yeah, I’ve corresponded with lots of smaller places that tell me they can’t open PDFs. And I realize OP says this was the end of a long line of performance issues, but this seems like such a small issue to me. But then, I work at a place where our Executive Director consistently sends out the Microsoft Publisher version of our registration form to families instead of the finished PDF.

      2. AW*

        Now I’m waiting for the AAM letter from one of the candidates going, “I applied for position X at company Y but when they sent some documents for me to look at the Word document was completely trashed. Some pages were just full of symbols instead of words! Is this a red flag? It seems off that they would ask for attention to detail and then send a completely garbled document with the company logo on it.”

    5. Optimistic Prime*

      The only thing I could think of is maybe it had fillable forms and the employee thought that it would be easier for them to complete with a Word document, especially if she didn’t understand fillable forms. Or it’s possible that the client requested a Word copy (because they were going alter it) and the employee didn’t push back.

    6. Kathleen Adams*

      Very interesting ideas, everybody – thanks. My department used to have an admin who might have tried something like this (though even she would probably have at least glanced at it before clicking on “send”), but that would have been because she was *barely* computer literate, and it would have been just like her to, for example, have some sort of trouble attaching the PDF for some reason, decide it must be because of the PDF, and then convert it to a format she was more comfortable with, such as a Word doc.

      That doesn’t sound likely to be the case here, though, although of course you never know. I’ve known computer semi-literacy to pop up even in younger people who you’d think would have grown up with a silver keyboard in their mouths.

      1. Lynne*

        It’s odd, but I think the “golden age” of computer literacy may have passed, with the popularity of smartphones and tablets. There are younger people out there who don’t know some pretty basic stuff because they just don’t have that much practice using a desktop.

        I think the idea that younger generations would grow up as “digital natives” and be inherently more competent with this stuff was always deeply flawed. There are always going to be some people who look deeper and have a better understanding of the technology they use, and some people whose “understanding” is extremely superficial. I think that growing up today, almost everyone achieves that minimal superficial level, but some aren’t inclined to go any further.

    7. Many Emails*

      I’ve done this many times, for many different reasons. One time it was because the pdf was in X language, and I needed a quick translation of it into English. You can upload an entire Word doc into Google Translate, but not a pdf. It wasn’t an official thing, just needed a quick glimpse at the contents. Another time my boss needed an easy template to use for a new document, but we only had the document in pdf form. So I saved it in Word, cleaned it up, and we used that as a template. Both of those examples, though, were with scanned pdfs. I understand everything is much, much easier if you get to work with pdfs that have been generated form Word or other formats, then you can actually get into the pdf and edit it. But no such luck for me.

      1. Kathleen Adams*

        I’ve converted PDF to Word before, too – but only if I had a really good reason. Because to do it well or even sort of OK is kind of a pain.

        1. Solidus Pilcrow*

          I’ve done PDF -> Word conversions, too. Mostly when the source file has been lost and I needed to edit something. With very few exceptions, it would have been faster to retype the content, especially if you need to do OCR from “flattened” copy.

        2. Salyan*

          This. I honestly prefer to simply retype the entire document if I have to convert it to Word – it’s usually quicker than fixing all the formatting errors in a PDF conversion!

    8. Lynn Whitehat*

      The update says she sent it to candidates. This particular employee just sounds dumb. But especially in a newer, younger employee, I could *kind of* see the thought process if an update needs to be made. A lot of teachers in school completely hate clarifying questions, and if you ask them anyway, you just get told “just… do your best, all right?” through gritted teeth. I find that a lot of young people carry that mentality of “asking for clarification == bad” into their first job.

      Ask a new grad to “update the recruiting document with our new office address” or something, and if all they have is a PDF, it would be a very new-grad thing to do to “just… do their best” with it, save as Word, and update the address. And not inspect too carefully because shouldn’t this kind of thing just work by now?

      1. Kathleen Adams*

        Yeah, but in this case, it appears she didn’t inspect it at *all* – the OP says that the employee hadn’t looked at it, that the word version was an absolute mess, and that “There were literally pages with just random symbols on them and not a single intelligible English word.”

        I get messing it up, I guess, but not even taking a quick look to make sure it kind of looks sort of OK? That there aren’t any of those Martian characters that converted documents tend to have? That just baffles me.

    9. Gee Gee*

      I have had to do this to get a document translated. That said, I have access to the good software that actually lets you strip out the text, intact.

    10. SusanIvanova*

      thedailywtf website is full of stories about people who simply cannot grasp that there are any other kinds of attachment besides Word. Ask for an image? It’s pasted into Word. Spreadsheet? Word. PDF? You betcha.

      1. Kathleen Adams*

        Wow. That is so interesting – and slightly depressing as well. I’ve run into people with this kind of…challenge, but I was not aware that they were this common. I am sorry to hear that I was wrong about that.

  9. Foreign Octopus*

    I love updates! Thanks for posting them.

    And as to #4 – congratulations! I’m so glad that it’s worked out well for you, and big up to women in academia :)

  10. Detective Amy Santiago*

    #3 – I hated being recognized at our ‘awards meetings’ because it always seemed like hollow, meaningless praise. We had one every 2-3 weeks, depending on our ‘cycle’ and they were widely mocked and derided across the floor. It really doesn’t make a difference if you get ‘honored’ and then two hours later are getting screamed at for something that is out of your control.

    I’m glad it reminded you that you’re good at your job though :)

  11. CMDRBNA*

    The chair thing was truly baffling. I herniated a disk in my neck as a result of a terrible desk set-up (hint, federal government: old writing desks from the 1950s that can’t be adjusted aren’t actually computer desks!) and being in chronic pain at work SUCKS. I ended up bringing in my own chair to one job because I was getting chronic lower back pain.

    I am SO in disbelief that the company would rather go through getting a new employee than just replacing a friggin’ chair. Seriously unbelievable.

    1. Midge*

      The other part that baffles me is it’s not like everyone else was using regular chairs and she wanted something special. The company bought non-standard larger reinforced chairs to make some of employees more comfortable. (Which is great!) But then refused to buy this employee a standard office chair when she said the large chair was causing her discomfort?

  12. Nervous Accountant*

    That’s funny, I was just thinking about the situation in #1. Someone who just started a week ago was saying “omg I can’t wait for Friday yay!”To me that’s a little weird, but I feel like I’d be in the extreme minority to feel that way.

    1. KellyK*

      Yeah, the first week is a little early for that kind of comment. But, at the same time, the first week is often super-stressful, so I completely get *feeling* that way.

      1. Stardust*

        I’ve said an offhand comment about how I can’t wait for Friday/5:00 at times, however it’s only as a small talk Thing to say and at about the same level of depth as talking about the weather when I didn’t know the other person well. I love my job 95% of the time and I’m invested in continuing to improve, helping my department to always get better. I’ve always said that type of a comment with a bit of a friendly smile or tone, so I don’t think I’m giving the impression that I’m miserable or truly counting down minutes.

  13. Manager-at-Large*

    for #2 – I just keep picturing the employee who left at interviews answering the “why did you leave” question with “it just wasn’t a good fit”. Just struck me funny.
    I took the arms off my chair at current job because there was no combination of chair height, arm height and desk height that would let me pull up to my desk and use the keyboard and mouse at a comfortable height. I have them in a drawer to replace if I leave.

    1. AMT*

      “Are you okay with making a lateral move?”

      “Trust me, I have lots of experience with lateral movement.”

      “How much downtime are you used to having at work?”

      “Are you kidding? At my old job, my arms never rested!”

  14. SusanIvanova*

    #3 “The overarching theme from comments was spot on: it might feel good in the moment but doesn’t do anything in the long run.”

    OTOH, when an entire team is always overlooked, it can be a bad sign for the long term – for historical reasons my team was under a different department than the teams we worked with. We never got recognized at department meetings, and it turned out it was because the department didn’t know what we did and eventually dropped us, to the shock of the other teams.

  15. Floundering Mander*

    The chair saga kind of reminds me of the time when my academic department was preparing to move to a different floor sometime in the next year. All the grad student offices had absolutely awful chairs — decades old, broken wheels, threadbare seats — that we complained about constantly, and one of the perks of moving everyone was supposed to be that we were going to get new chairs after the move.

    One day months before the move I noticed that a nearby department’s computer lab was being remodeled, and they had dozens of chairs out by the dumpster. They were old but a million times better than what we had in our offices. After confirming that they were indeed going to be discarded, I and several other students swapped our old broken chairs for the much newer ones in the trash.

    Fast forward to a few months after the move, and word comes down from the department in response to student queries that since we already have new chairs, they won’t actually be ordering new ones. There was a lot of arguing about it via department email lists, and it wasn’t until I told the head of department about swapping the chairs for the ones that another department was throwing away that we finally got actual new chairs. They didn’t want to be one-upped by the other department.

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