updates: the job candidate who cheated and more

Here are updates from four people whose letters were answered here in the past.

1. Am I allowed to have friends at work if I work in HR?

I wrote in around this time last year about whether HR staff can be friends with colleagues outside the department. Your advice, as always, was spot on and I’m super grateful to everyone in the comments (especially Manic Pixie HR Girl, Just Another HR Pro, and neverjaunty) for their honest but supportive feedback.

As I mentioned in the original comments, I pulled back from friendships with Nancy and Carter, which included blocking them from seeing me on social media and no longer spending my lunch breaks chatting with them. I also focused on the “friendly but not friends” advice and made a point of chatting equally with employees in all departments, regardless of age or what I thought they had in common with me.

Your response actually went up at the perfect time. Right after the holidays, the company laid of 11% of the staff, including my manager. My department’s VP actually went out on a limb to save my job in particular. I learned about the layoffs a week before they happened, and I was able to keep totally silent about it at the office, since I didn’t have any work “friends” that I was spending time with (although my partner got all the news once I got home each night.)

The layoffs meant that I absorbed two people’s jobs in addition to my own. I negotiated a title change out of the deal and scored a lot more responsibilities (and more opportunities to learn!), but they were not able to give me a pay increase to reflect my new role, so I started looking for other work in the spring. Thanks to your advice, I recently started a new job at a much larger and more established organization where I’m able to learn even more and have a much bigger HR team to collaborate with. Even though I’m the most junior person on the team, I’m already treated like a peer and have learned how to navigate work relationships much more smoothly. I also rekindled some old friendships and ramped up my volunteer efforts, so I now have a solid social life outside of the office that keeps my extroverted side happy.

I’m more sure than ever that this is the right field for me and I’m planning on studying for my PHR certification in 2018. Thank you again for the advice!

2. How can I stop being so helpful to coworkers?

It’s been an interesting year: growth, stuff-ups, setbacks and more growth.

I damaged my relationship with Fergus, my boss. There were unrealistic expectations for part of the project. During the debrief, I’m ashamed to say, I lashed out at Fergus. I lost my biggest sponsor and mentor as well as a chance to join his team. The relationship has been partially repaired — I’ve helped behind the scenes with some of his projects.

That was a wake-up call. My focus in the months after was working on myself so I’d never repeat that. I started exercising, meditation and mindfulness, reading more books/listening to podcasts on work relationships, etc.

I put a lot of work into curbing my helpfulness. Sometimes I had to physically remove myself (to stop myself/reduce my discomfort). I started asking people if they’d checked the resources and what they’d tried. And I’d give praise when they’d done these things without prompting. I still slip up from time to time.

I’ve had some health problems this year which have reduced the hours I can work. People got on without me. It’s also helped me separate my sense of self from my work. I have slipped sometimes because I know my reduced hours make it hard for others. But I’m getting better at this. Funny thing is I’m now telling others to pull back on their helpfulness.

Work itself is going well. I got a pay raise and there’s talk of making me permanent. The new boss is happy with what I’m doing. She’s even mentioned that I’m good at putting the breaks on when it looks like things are getting ahead of themselves. I’m getting exposure at higher levels (scary). I’m also a lot more comfortable with my coworkers.

Tl;dr: being too helpful sapped my coping resources, which contributed to me damaging my most important work relationship. I used it as a wake-up call to really work on myself. I had setbacks on this due to ill health but am improving on all fronts. I’ve developed better working relationships within the team.

3. I know a job candidate regularly cheated on his fiancé — should I say anything?

Not a super exciting update, but a relief for me — he ended up accepting an offer at a different company before he ever got to the interview stage at my company. Now that I’ve been here for a while and gotten to know the company and my coworkers better, I doubt that he would have passed our in-person interview … but I’m glad I never had to navigate that situation to begin with!

4. My coworker constantly complains, gossips, and is generally unpleasant

First of all, I decided not to talk to my boss. The two or three times I’ve brought up personnel issues like this, he never did anything about them, and I figured nothing would be different this time.

Overall, this person’s craziness has edged downward a bit. She still complains a lot, but it doesn’t feel like it’s an every-day-most-of-the-day thing. That’s likely because, around the time I sent in my first letter, two work friends sitting near her left for new jobs. That really cut into her audience, and it appears that having an audience is the primary motivation to complain about whatever is annoying her at any given moment.

One response, by a commenter named oranges & lemons, hit at a key point to this story that I did not convey well in my first letter: “I think the letter writer would be in a better position to get the coworker to stop if she were the audience for her rants. Then at least she’d be able to train the coworker to stop by giving really unsatisfactory answers. It’s pretty tough to do anything when you’re just overhearing other people’s conversations, and this particular coworker seems pretty intense.” Because the crazy complainer merely sits near me, and not next to me, I was never the audience for her complaining, and it felt awkward to try to shut down the rants without appearing as though I were an aggressor.

I’m also just better at not caring as much, knowing that the complaining is less about perceived work slights and more about whatever’s wrong with this person’s life outside work.

However, if the problem had not mostly sorted itself out on its own, and her rate of complaining were the same as when I wrote to you, I probably wouldn’t be so generous in feeling this way …

{ 47 comments… read them below }

  1. MommaCat*

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE all these updates! Some of these stories I’d forgotten; it’s great to look them up again!

  2. Myrin*

    Yay #1, you sound awesome, keep doing you!
    And to all four of you, thanks so much for sending in an update, they’re such a pleasure to read!

    1. Augusta Sugarbean*

      Agreed. I appreciate even hearing the neutral updates. I’m job hunting and it’s easy to think OMG all workplaces are awful! So these updates are useful to hear how conflicts were negotiated successfully.

    2. Gingerblue*

      Agreed here too. I like the reminder that most work situations don’t wind up being super dramatic!

  3. Artemesia*

    #1 soooo satisfying. You handled this perfectly and then when you got the great ‘honor’ of a promotion without pay increase, you realized your worth and moved on. Excellent work.

    1. HR professional*

      I disagree that she handled this perfectly.

      She did handle the part about not having friends at work, but she completed dropped the ball by sharing news about what was going on at her workplace with her partner when she got home. Those who work in HR are held to a high standard when it comes to confidentiality and the OP showed a complete lack of professional behavior by doing this. She needs to stop talking about HR/work stuff outside of those in the HR department and hope the company she works for now never finds out about her sharing. Any company I have worked at would fire her on the spot if this came out.

      1. Aeon*

        I get the feeling that it more meant as that she vented against her SO once at home. It doesn’t necessarily mean that she revealed all the major changes that were about to happen or shared all the details of different cases with her SO.

        1. Junior Dev*

          My mom is a doctor and when I was growing up she would invent pseudonyms for the various doctors and patients she worked with so she could vent about them. I remember in particular hearing about the adventures of Dr. BlaBlaBla and Dr. BlueBlueBlue.

        2. LW #1*

          Yes, to clarify, this was much more of a “oh my god, layoffs are happening and my manager is gonna be gone in a week; I’ve never been through this before and I’m grateful that I still have a job, but I’m stressed out, please give me extra support right now.” I would never come home and give specifics, name names, etc.

      2. Close Bracket*

        I agree. This line:

        “although my partner got all the news once I got home each night,”

        is questionable to me. LW’s partner should not be hearing any news. I’m reminded entirely too much of the LW whose interviewer shared her interview w his wife who shared it w her bookclub. Please, married and partnered people, boundaries! You are not the borg!

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          To most partnered people, what was shocking about that letter was that the spouse didn’t understand her role was “Give spouse a safe person to talk to, and don’t repeat anything.” Not “make sure random people hear all about everything spouse did at work–everything.” This isn’t rocket science.

          1. Lehigh*

            Right. If your spouse lacks discretion, don’t tell them things that should be kept discrete. Otherwise…my husband is my partner in life. My company is not. My company does not get a say in what I talk to my husband about – ever. That’s like trying to control what I tell my therapist.

            1. LW #1*

              This is the way I see it too, to a point. I’m honestly a little surprised by all the backlash in the comments about the aside in my letter – I can see where they’re coming from wrt avoiding sharing all the details and personal information, but I don’t think sharing the fact that my company is about to have layoffs and I’m stressed about it is an egregious breach.

          2. Specialk9*

            I was actually very much shocked that someone would tell a spouse about interviews. I could see “oh I did an interview today and this funny thing happened” but not in detail or where it could in any way be linked to a person. I blame the hiring manager the most for his loose lips. His wife sounds like a mean piece of work too, but the blame is his for breaking privacy norms.

        2. Bea*

          I agree. My partner actually reeled me in years ago when I gave too much info in the “I am here to listen but there are things you need to remember aren’t for even my ears” kind of way. It reminded me that it’s not about me or him, it’s about holding strict confidences to a much higher level.

  4. Pollygrammer*

    #4: I have a boss like this–she complains about everything and everyone, and anybody not around her is fair game. I respond to it with an extreme dose of positivity. It’s really not my usual style, but I think of it as a performance. If she’s complaining about how she thinks someone slacking off, I’ll say something like “I’ve noticed he’s been a little less energetic than usual lately. I hope everything’s okay!”

    If she’s complaining about our network, I’ll say cheerfully “I think it’s working better today than it was yesterday! And hey, I figured this [minor workaround!]”

    I basically box her into a corner with niceness. She probably complains about how chipper I am when I’m not around, but she can’t really get toxic with me. I love it.

    1. Weekend Warrior*

      Perfect example of the power of taking the High Road. It leads to outward positive outcomes AND you get to secretly enjoy a little bit of “gotcha” at derailing the negativity. The pleasure of smiling quietly to ourselves shouldn’t be underrated!

    2. spocklady*

      So much agree. I have found that many committed complainers or otherwise persistently negative people are…really kind of stymied if you just don’t play. I love this strategy!

  5. HR professional*

    (although my partner got all the news once I got home each night.)

    I have almost a decade of experience in Human Resources, all at Fortune 500 companies. If anyone in the department is found to be sharing information or news with anyone outside of the people in HR who need to know, whether they work elsewhere in the company or are family at home, they would be immediately fired and escorted out. They would lose any references or goodwill and any certifications they have would be put at risk. They would definitely have trouble finding work at any reputable company again once word of what they did got out. OP seems to have glossed over the seriousness of this in her update. There is no way they should be sharing “news” with their partner.

    1. Ladybugger*

      I agree OP should not have shared personal situations of other employees re: their job status, but I think “oh crap they’re laying off a lot of people I hope I keep my job” is fair game with your partner. Hopefully OP wasn’t chatting all about Fergus and Wakeen’s severance packages!

      A little bit off topic of this comment in particular, but this raised an interesting point to me about how much “insider info” is appropriate to share with a spouse. There are certainly very clear cut lines around HR and insider trading scenarios, but it becomes less clear around ‘general knowledge but not public yet’. For example, I will happily tell my spouse that Not My Company is launching in My City, even though the launch hasn’t yet happened, because it’s not really a big secret, My Company is just announcing it to the press on a certain day. But I won’t talk about deals in progress or anything that hasn’t been confirmed or is really high stakes, like government relations.

        1. Former Employee*

          I have to wonder if any of you who are saying that you should not share any information with your spouse/partner would actually not tell them if your job were in jeopardy.

          If so, I think you should share that information into a marriage or partnership in the interests of full disclosure.

          1. HR professional*

            There is a big difference between telling your significant other “I might be laid off.” and telling them the “news” about what is going on in the HR department you work in (or other confidential/insider information) every day when you get home. It is not even remotely the same thing.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think we know enough to know that she shared anything inappropriate with her partner. Most people do share discreetly with a partner, especially when going through something very stressful. I assume she wasn’t giving him the layoff list or anything like that.

      1. LW #1*

        Thanks Alison. Yes, to be clear, as I said above, this was more “things are changing at work and I’m extra stressed this week so I’ll need extra support” rather than “check out all the details of this insider information that no one outside the department should know!”

        Also, for what it’s worth, this was a small local company, not a Fortune 500 or publicly traded or internationally known – but point taken either way, and I’ll definitely continue to be careful what I share outside of the department, both at work and at home.

      2. Mockingjay*

        Yes, I imagined something along the lines of, “oh honey, today was terrible. We might have to lay off some employees. They are all good people. I feel awful about it.”

  6. periwinkle*

    #1 – OP, I recommend that you look at getting the SHRM-CP certification instead of, or in addition to, the PHR. PHR is the old standard but SHRM’s own certification is (obviously) endorsed by SHRM. The SHRM exams are a combination of knowledge questions and scenario-based situational application (PHR is knowledge-only). You won’t have to wait as long for eligibility:

    PHR = bachelor’s degree + 2 years exempt-level experience, $495 total (exam fee plus application fee), pass rate 55% according to HRCI
    SHRM-CP = bachelor’s degree = 2 years exempt or non-exempt experience, $400 total ($300 for SHRM members), pass rate for the last five exam periods was about 70% according to SHRM

    The PHR advantage is that companies know it; the SHRM certification is newer and you won’t find it in as many job postings. I’m a SHRM-SCP but will probably try for the SPHR as well just to have it.

    But anyway, that was a great update! HR can be frustrating but also satisfying. You’re supporting the organization’s goals through engineering and supporting its employees. I’m a training & development specialist and love it.

    1. LW #1*

      Thank you so much for this information! I’ve heard about the SHRM-CP (and yes, I am a member) and was trying to figure out if it was on the same level as the PHR. It sounds like more companies are familiar with the PHR, so that would probably help more on my resume and in future job applications. Other than cost and pass rate, though, is there more of an advantage to the SHRM-CP?

      1. NoCalHR*

        I agree that the SHRM certifications are more accessible, and provide a solid foundation for professional development in HR. From my perspective (20+ years’ experienced in HR), the SHRM certifications are more useful. The HRCI certifications (PHR, SPHR, etc.) focus on knowledge and are fact based, while the SHRM certifications (CP, SCP, etc.) focus on applied knowledge. So the HRCI test might ask you for the year the NLRA was signed into law (1935); the SHRM tests will offer a brief scenario and then ask questions about the NRLA’s applicability to the scenario. It’s the difference between googling the NRLA and understanding how it applies in real time (yes it applies to non-represented employees).

        And for reference, I hold both the SPHR (HRCI) and the SCP (SHRM), as well as the WLCP certification from World@Work.

    1. Effie, who is worth it*

      Ditto! Especially as I may be starting a new day job soon. Congrats to #2, and may you continue to learn and grow and experience the joy of boundaries in the new year!

      1. OP #2*

        Thanks peeps. Still having to work on it particularly when it gets busy etc but I’m not beating myself up when I slip

        Is there any advice/help/support etc that a recovering helpoholic can give you?

    1. JulieBulie*

      There is a more effective way to report typos and misspellings (as well as issues with ads). The link is immediately above the comment box – I’m looking at it right now.

  7. Princess Cimorene*

    Love these updates and I’m happy seeing weekend posts! That must mean there really are A LOT of updates for the remainder of the month, which is so exciting and so satisfying lol! Love hearing how LWs put thing into practice and how things are working out for them, especially when things sound like they’re looking up.

    But even for other LW updates where things aren’t there yet, I hope it can be seen as encouraging by seeing others that things DO often get better, not always on our own timetables though.

  8. Gloucesterina*

    While I personally have zero interest in HR careers, but I love seeing professionals in a field sharing information with letter writers!

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