updates: the juvenile boss, the smelly essential oils, and more

Here are updates from three people whose letters were answered here this year.

1. My boss wants constant chit-chat and makes fun of us if we try to focus on work

Thank you so much for featuring my question and providing solid advice, along with all the readers who were able to commiserate, offered solutions, and brought some levity to the situation. To the many readers who asked, no, my boss is not Michael Scott.

The best way to handle it would have been to bring it up during our check-in, but I never felt confident enough to do so. In such a small department, the thought of my boss bringing more attention to me for speaking up rather than toning it down at notice of my discomfort was anxiety-inducing. The advice I took and tried was to address it in the moment by letting him know that I’m immersed in a project that needed to be completed, and reminding him that I was working on something he had asked me to do. Neither worked very well–he’s just chatty! Even worse, the chair-related antics did not end even when I disclosed to him that I was 5 months pregnant. I really don’t know what he was thinking!

I wish I had a great update to share, but just one month after you answered my question, our department was dissolved. We had a short time to continue working together, and after hearing the news about our department, we were all fairly distracted and disconnected from our work.

It does feel good to know that I’m not out of line thinking I was in a ridiculous work environment. Thanks, Alison!

2. Smelly essential oils at work

In short, the coworker in question was difficult to work with, but also apparently not great at her job – my understanding is that she wasn’t fired, exactly, but is no longer being sent out on jobs (which, in our business, is tantamount to being fired). The unspoken understanding in my business is that you can be difficult to work with, or you can be incompetent, but not both. It’s not a great way to operate, but it’s how things generally are.

I didn’t actually get a chance to use the advice – shortly after writing, I was moved to another posting (and I didn’t have any more migraines). On my newest posting, an all-hands email was sent very early on reminding everyone that it was a scent-free workplace, and that if anyone had a concern, they would need to have a conversation with leadership. I really appreciated it being set up like that – the onus is on people who need to violate the policy, for some reason, rather than on the employees who suffer adverse reactions to others’ scents. Still, my field involves working with new assemblages of people on every new posting, so I’m sure the advice won’t go to waste!

3. I get bored with all my jobs after six months

So I did go on the interview for the job I referenced in the message. It was awful and I knew it wasn’t the right place for me. I hung on in my current job for several more months. My boss ended up leaving and I was encouraged to go for her job. Just last week, I got word that I was chosen for it. Oddly, all of my prior experience became relevant: the social work to help students in need, the finance to manage the huge budget I’m now in charge of, and all of the university experience in different departments helped me for the new role, which oversees multiple university departments. It’s really weird to me how all the job hopping helped me in the end. I also have to say this community of readers was so generous. I was almost in tears with the kind comments from other job hoppers and other creatives: truly a cathartic experience. I don’t think I’ll be looking for another job for a while because this job is so big. Also, the higher-ups who interviewed me mentioned that they, too, get very restless in jobs and it’s helped them move on to the next level.

{ 48 comments… read them below }

  1. Antilles*

    #1: Part of me wonders if the department wouldn’t have needed to get dissolved if the boss spent more time on his own jobs and less time distracting employees from their jobs. I mean, it’s not necessarily connected, it’s entirely possible it’s unrelated, but…
    #2: The unspoken understanding in my business is that you can be difficult to work with, or you can be incompetent, but not both. It’s not a great way to operate, but it’s how things generally are.
    In fairness, it seems like a lot (most?) companies do this to some extent – superstars get more leeway even if they’re jerks and/or great people get more chances even if they’re struggling with competency….but in neither case should it be unlimited.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I had the same thought re: #1.

      OP, I don’t know if you lost your job or were transitioned elsewhere in the company, but either way, I hope you’re doing well!

    2. JulieBulie*

      I too thought the dissolution of the department in #1 probably had a lot to do with the boss… though I would also have expected the boss to be let go or demoted (which may have happened for all we know – OP doesn’t say). It’s pretty sad if a clown like that gets to keep his job when he not only doesn’t get anything done, but interferes with others’ work as well.

      Maybe the company thought the department was dysfunctional as a group, and disbanded them in the hope that each person would perform better within a new group. If that was their thinking, though, it would have been easier to try them with a new boss first. Any boss. I mean, even Michael Scott got around to doing his job once in a while.

    3. Say what, now?*

      Just chiming in that I think the department in #1 was definitely picked because of boss-induced unproductivity. Fingers crossed you don’t end up in a similar situation in your next job. Also good luck with your job search. I know that it can be scary to do while you’re visibly pregnant. :(

  2. Barney Barnaby*

    The third update makes me very happy. I think there’s many ways to be successful, and what is a negative in some situations can be a strength in others.

    1. Candi*

      It’s interesting how some people are unfocused, twitchy and restless -until they get a big challenge dropped on them. Then something kicks into gear and they become Awesome Megastar. A fascinating aspect of the human psyche.

      1. Taggett Strange*

        That’s me. I suck at work if I don’t have enough to do. I get lazy and grumpy and don’t want to be there, call out more. I need to have a pile in my inbox to get in my “New York Groove.”

  3. College Career Counselor*

    #3–that’s great news about the new position! It sounds like instead of changing industries, you’ve moved up within an organization, which brings new challenges, duties, and opportunities for learning. Sounds like for you the challenge was finding the position that integrates your previous experience, skills and knowledge. Best of luck!

  4. Falling Diphthong*

    #3–I think it’s true very often that people who are, say, happy and successful in their 40s can look back and point to how they drew useful things from a lot of disparate experiences that may not have looked like a path at the time.

    Loosely connected to the idea that a college admissions officer will be more impressed by your ability to coherently explain what you got from your minimum wage service job, over pointing to a list of official classes taken and camps attended that show you have prepared unstintingly for the path of Llama Grooming.

  5. Jules the Third*

    #3: Congrats, and yeah, it’s funny how that works. Nothing you learn is ever really wasted.

    At least, that’s what I tell myself as my kid explains why hyena poop is white…

      1. hushlander*

        I looked it up, and it’s because they eat so many bones that it effectively dyes their poop a chalky white color. HOW COOL IS THAT?!?

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      In all seriousness, I think a huge aspect of what we call intelligence is the ability to make connections–“This new thing is like this other thing I already know.” And to do that, you need a lot of “thing I already know” filed away–the fact that theoretically the internet has All of the Facts and all you have to do is look them up isn’t enough if you don’t have a lot of the software in your brain that knows what patterns to look for, and where to look.

      1. RVA Cat*

        This – plus the wisdom to know that even though A) hyena poop is white (seriously?) and B) bird poop is white, that does NOT mean C) a hyena is a bird.

        1. Observer*

          Right. That’s the thing that often gets overlooked. As important as the ability to make connections is, the ability to draw distinctions is just as important. What’s interesting about that is that even with that, you’ll be better at it if you know a lot of things.

          And even better is if part of learning all of those things is having put into a context from the get go. That’s why unit studies are so valuable when they are well done.

      2. Candi*

        Bookworm, love the weird facts, but read all over, and my brain makes the connections SO SO MUCH. Some really odd ones too.

        A positive effect is I’ve read about many a scam before actually running into them.

        On the weird facts note, did you know that the Booming Dunes in Africa actually sing? That the tree octopus was an experiment in what people will believe, even with presented with evidence of fakery? The only known poisonous bird in the world is the hooded pitohui of Papua, New Guinea?

        Maybe I should apologize for the rabbit holes…

      1. SebbyGrrl*

        Thank you in advance for an afternoon pinging off various sites about wombats and their excrement!

    1. The Pretty One*

      OP here. Well, I prepared ahead of time and brainstormed the most logical skills I could pull out of each position. That way it sounded very intentional (!) and purposeful, rather than scattered.

  6. Janey*

    I do wonder how people with health problems being treated by scent therapy are affected by scent free offices. I have C-PTSD from being kidnapped and without scent therapy I cannot function outside the house. I have a friend who gets greyouts due to POTS and scent is her one locator tool.

    1. Manders*

      I would assume if it’s an accommodation that needs to be in place, there are some potential workarounds like having the person who needs scent therapy work in their closed-off office or their own home. But it’s also one of those weird issues where two people can have competing accommodations and the office has to do what they reasonably can do–if one person’s having an adverse reaction to a scent, and the other needs to use the scent as as an accommodation, then there may not be a perfect solution available.

    2. Jaydee*

      If no one in the office has an adverse reaction to the scent that the person uses for their therapy, then it should constitute a reasonable accommodation of the “change in or exception to a policy” variety. If there are competing health issues it may be more challenging to accommodate both, but the employer still has to engage in an interactive process – we can’t give you your 100% most preferred accommodation, but we can do X or Y or Z, or do you have other suggestions?

      1. sap*

        POTS is a rare-ish condition that’s usually secondary to an underlying issue (can be autoimmune, hormonal/thyroid/adrenal, cardiac, neurological, autonomic, hematologic, or a combination thereof) that causes affected individuals’ heart rates to go up by 30 beats or more upon standing. People can have heartrate that race into the 200s at the severe ends, and in the 110s at the lower ends.

        It is often paired with other forms of intolerance of orthostasis (standing or sitting upright), such as hypotension (low blood pressure when standing up), hypertension (high blood pressure) or narrowing of the pulse pressure (your x/y ratio becomes close to 1). All forms typically result in improper blood circulating to the brain, which can cause fainting, dizziness, vision impairment, cognitive impairment, etc. when upright.

  7. TootsNYC*

    #2: The unspoken understanding in my business is that you can be difficult to work with, or you can be incompetent, but not both. It’s not a great way to operate, but it’s how things generally are.

    Actually, I think it’s a reasonable way to operate–especially the “not both” part.

    Ideally nobody would be either, but…

      1. hbc*

        I literally could have used this 3 hours before you posted it, because you put succinctly what I spent 30 minutes trying to explain to someone yesterday about my office’s Missing Stair.

  8. OverboilingTeapot*

    #1–Have you at least been able to explain to him that suddenly lowering a pregnant woman’s office chair is…kind of a horrifying thing to do?

    1. Observer*

      It’s a pretty horrific thing to do for a lot of people – and it’s not always obvious from the outside.

  9. Observer*

    #1 I hope that part of the reorganization was that your boss was let go.

    The guy was a walking liability.

  10. Stephanie*

    For #2, I know how annoying a strong scent can be. It also gives me migraines and closes up my lungs. I worked in a call center where someone sat right under the intake duct on the floor (and not in our department) and would douse herself in Victoria’s Secret Love Spell perfume. It made me seriously ill.

    When I complained, they said they couldn’t do anything because it was her right to wear perfume, and that would be stepping on her rights. I should have just let the problem build up to an asthma attack, but I was young and naive and afraid to lose my job. They fired me later for being sick (with a doctor’s not excusing it), so I guess I was better off.

    At the next job, some guy put on way too much Axe in the bathroom just off our training room, and sent someone to the hospital. She ended up okay, and he earned the nickname Axe Murderer and was no longer allowed to wear it, but it all worked out.

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