updates: the mirror gazer, the sick day lie, and more

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

1. My assistant is constantly gazing at herself in the mirror

I never got the chance to have that “professional” discussion with her. A few days after I wrote that letter, another employee came into the office. As my assistant was speaking to this employee, my assistant must have noticed that some of her was hair out of place. She had long hair so when she glanced down and noticed it, she took a pair of scissors and started snipping away at her hair.

So in a very unprofessional way, I yelled out, “Assistant, what the hell are you thinking?” After the employee left the office, I told her that her personal grooming at her desk was over. I had other employees tell me that she still behaved that way when I wasn’t in the office. At the same time, I started to notice that there were many job performance problems starting to emerge. I felt like these problems came up as retribution for taking away her office grooming. I was all set to put her on an action plan when she handed in her resignation.

I now have a wonderful assistant who is actually older than me.

2. I got caught lying about a sick day (first update here)

I wrote the letter of apology to my boss and the company. I never got a reply but I am glad I sent them. I did find another job. I owe it to my father. He knew some people at one of the places I applied for having worked in the industry his whole life. He got me an interview, which went well and turned into an offer. The pay is slightly lower than my previous job but I was grateful for another chance.

I am working harder than ever to prove myself. No shortcuts and no excuses. I am in the probationary period now as is standard in the industry. I will not stop working hard once it is over. I have learned my lesson over from what happened at my last job and will never repeat my mistake. I will not ever call in sick again unless I am actually sick.

As I said in my original update, taking an unpaid day, changing my hours, or working from home or on a weekend to make up the time was not an option. I had no vacation time or days off because I was on probation, though my sick day was paid. Even if I did have vacation time, I would not have been given the day off as others with more seniority had been granted the day already. I knew I had a deadline and I decided to call in sick. It was my idea and no one else’s. I told my friends I had managed to swing the day off and didn’t tell my father or family anything, they had no idea I stayed back and didn’t go to work.

My coworker had booked the day off eight months prior. She had to come in to complete my work because of the deadline. Her boyfriend had planned to propose during the eclipse and had a whole plan laid out. She wasn’t there to watch it with him and because of the deadline was not able to go on the roof with every other person and manager who works here to watch the eclipse either. I also sent her a letter of apology but she didn’t respond either.

3. How can I push back on being forced to ask for donations? (#3 at the link)

Thank you again for answering my letter! The meeting took an interesting turn: before Sheila, the person who was supposed to make us give up our contacts, showed up, my boss, Lucy, basically said, “This feels weird; I don’t expect you all to do it given the circumstances; let’s just listen politely and leave it at that.” (I was the only one of the folks being laid off who had a new position lined up, and we were less than two weeks out from our final paychecks. One person even joked, “Yeah, if I ask friends and family for money, it’s going to be to cover my rent.”)

I thought it was pretty bold of Lucy to say, but then Sheila didn’t even show up! She called in at the last moment with vague reasons for why she couldn’t attend in person, but the awkwardness of her spiel gave me the impression that the pressure tactics were coming from someone above her (and I found out later Sheila’d given some pretty blunt feedback to the leadership team that cited her previous fundraising experience and boiled down to “this cannot be how we do things”).

So, I didn’t end up having to use your script to push back. In even better news, a few weeks later I started my current job, which is a significant step up in title, pay, and responsibilities. I really enjoy the work and my team, and I credit your amazing advice with helping me be successful in my first management role. In retrospect, your advice also helped me realize how dysfunctional certain aspects of my old company were and to disentangle my emotions. I believe in the mission and still work in the field (now even more directly), but with 100% more work-life balance. Thank you so much!

{ 230 comments… read them below }

  1. Bea*

    Huh. Sounds like the first letter writer didnt take the “please don’t fall into the trap of thinking that behavior you see from one person is representative of an entire age group” to heart! Does it matter that the new assistant is older?

    1. GG Two shoes*

      Yeah, both letters feel real judge-y. I got the feeling that the boss was looking for reasons to fire her. I mean, I don’t like vain people like the rest of us but, as a manager, I wouldn’t be so mean about it.

      1. L.*

        “So in a very unprofessional way, I yelled out, “Assistant, what the hell are you thinking?”” This was the part that clinched it for me. In what office setting is it ever okay to come out with that to someone you supervise? Not saying Assistant was doing anything right, but this is bad boss behaviour in my books too.

        1. Observer*

          I don’t know – that’s such startling behavior that I’m having a hard time coming down too hard on the OP. And she does realize that it was unprofessional.

          1. GG Two shoes*

            I have trimmed a stray bang at my desk on occasion and I’m the manager. I wouldn’t do it while talking to someone but also wouldn’t get bent out of shape about it. I would probably make a joke about the assistant checking herself out all day but I guess I’m not as formal as some.
            The reaction just seemed overly harsh to me.

              1. GG Two shoes*

                I don’t have an office… it’s all right there in the open, next to my direct reports. A missed stray hair after a haircut shouldn’t have to be a Big Thing.

                1. CM*

                  I think that’s way out of the norm in most workplaces. I would think it was really weird and off-putting if I saw someone trimming their hair in the workplace (unless it was a hair salon). If it’s in the bathroom, OK, but nowhere else. Your direct reports probably don’t say anything because you’re the manager.

                2. Thlayli*

                  To clarify, I think it would be rude to do during a conversation with someone else. I just think doing it yourself at your own desk is not a problem coz it’s not hurting anyone even if it is unusual to see.

                3. Susanne*

                  I think that’s kind of unusual. Wouldn’t you at least go into the bathroom to cut your hair?

                4. GG Two shoes*

                  I guess I’m just of the opinion that clipping a stray hair on occasion is akin to pulling out a hair or dusting your glasses. I don’t clip ALL my hair and don’t do stray ends, just one hair if it’s bugging me. I can’t believe this is such a big deal to some people. Maybe it’s a pet peeve I’m not picking up on.

                5. Justme*

                  Not if you’re at home or in the bathroom. I would have been squicked out if you had done that next to my desk.

                6. New Window*

                  “It’s not hurting anyone.”

                  Neither is clipping fingernails at work, but that’s still kinda gross, and I would be relieved when a coworker engaged in either activity finally finished.

                  Also, it’s one thing if someone is snipping away at a single strand of hair. OP wrote, “My assistant must have noticed that some of her was hair out of place. She had long hair so when she glanced down and noticed it, she took a pair of scissors and started snipping away at her hair,” which to me sounds like Assistant was trimming many hairs. Leaving a bunch of hair trimmings around the office is weird and also kinda gross.

            1. Huntington*

              Your experience definitely is not universal. I think it is perfectly fair to say it is far outside most professional bounds for an employee to clip his nails at his desk or for another to whip out a pair of scissors and begin trimming her hair in the middle of a conversation with a coworker while her boss looks on.

          2. L.*

            I think it was BOTH that and claiming she “never got a chance” to have the professionalism talk. Like. That was her chance! (And also an in to the conversation – “As you can tell, nobody’s perfect at professionalism. However, these are the expectations that I need you to follow…”) Like, it is startling, but she wasn’t HARMING anyone or doing anything obscene. It’s weird, but it would take a lot more than that to disconcert me enough for that reaction.

            1. RB*

              Yes, perfect opportunity missed! And was the yelling really necessary? No, no it wasn’t. I think there are very few office situations that warrant yelling, aside from the ones involving personal safety (things on the level of someone about to get their tie caught in the paper shredder).

            2. LeRainDrop*

              I agree that this was the perfect opportunity for the professional conversation but the manager blew it.

          3. Not The Droid You Are Looking For*

            I would hope I could keep myself composed, but honestly if one of my staff was doing that — and had decided that cutting her hair was appropriate in the middle of a conversation with a colleague — I probably would have had the exact same WTF reaction.

            1. Oxford Comma*

              Same. I am trying and failing to imagine a place of work outside of maybe a hair salon where that would not be entirely out of the realm of acceptable behavior.

              1. Clare*

                But if the LW was so bothered by her assistant’s behavior that she was one straw sway from yelling at her, the LW should have made time to address the bdgavior before it came to that.

            2. Koko*

              Totally not trying to “not everyone can eat sandwiches” this because I know I’m the oddball out here, but I have a psychological disorder that involves compulsive grooming. I don’t have split ends these days, but when I did, I frequently trimmed them at my desk at work (not in a conversation, which I think is rude mostly because it’s a sign that you’re not paying attention to the other person, but in an open floor plan).

              My barometer for what types of personal grooming are accepting in public is not very good, because I have a mental obsession with grooming so all of it seems normal to me and none of it grosses me out in the slightest. Over my lifetime I have learned through trial and error which behaviors squick other people out and try to avoid performing those ones in public, although sometimes it is very hard to resist the urge to try to do something discreetly and hope no one sees rather than interrupting my work to go do it in private in the bathroom. It’s part of the illness. After 30+ years I’ve mostly figured out where the boundaries are, but I still get it wrong occasionally.

              I would much rather my manager spoke to me about it calmly and explained that this behavior was a no-no instead of screaming “what the hell are you thinking?” at me while I’m engaging in a compulsive behavior (which has a mental state associated with it that’s hard to describe to someone who doesn’t have compulsions, but is not unlike craving a drug you’re addicted to).

              Most likely, Assistant does not have my compulsions, although grooming is one of the most common areas of focus for obsessive-compulsive behavior. But part of being a manager is keeping your cool so when it is that 5% of the time scenario where someone deserves a little bit of empathy and patience, you’ve given it to them already by default instead of belatedly realizing you should have done it earlier.

          1. Specialk9*

            I dunno, trimming off split ends is a common thing for women with long hair to do. I could see someone missing that it’s Not Done at one’s desk. It’s one of those rules of professionalism that are not written down and a newbie especially could miss it.

            The manager should have said, once, in a low key and private way, that all grooming and mirror gazing is to be done in the bathroom. I simultaneously agree with the manager that the behavior is a problem, and would also have resigned after the boss snapped at me like that out of the blue.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              I have long hair, and to me this would rise to the level of “This week on weird reality stunts, we’ve replaced Falling’s usual office with a hair salon. Will she notice the difference?”

              1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

                I have very long hair. And I work in academia, where being a bit outre is fine. And the *most* I’ll do is leave my hair down when I teach; I would *never* be grooming myself in public.

                1. Oxford Comma*

                  I have NEVER seen another woman trim her hair at work outside of a hair salon. Or in social circumstances. Not since high school.

                2. Anna*

                  Same here. In fact, we just had students start to cut another student’s hair where I work where they are NOT being trained to be stylists and their instructor had to have a talk with them about it.

                  It’s weird, people, and unprofessional.

                3. XtinaS*

                  I’m trying to think of a time when I’ve seen anybody, ever, even once, trimming their hair at their desk, and I’m coming up blank. In the bathroom, probably; I don’t remember that sort of thing unless it’s dramatically unusual. But at their desk?

                4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Same. I have super long hair and have never seen a woman trim her split ends in public. In the restroom? in her office with the door closed? Maybe. But not in a meeting while conversing with others. That’s pretty odd, imo.

            2. Susanne*

              Don’t most women with long hair and resulting split ends do that at home, just like other personal grooming (clipping toenails, painting fingernails, etc.)?

              But I agree with you the snapping was inappropriate. You could express that this needs to be done in a bathroom without yelling.

              1. Justme*

                I had a co-worker that would touch up her manis and pedis at her desk during work hours. That was interesting.

                1. Snargulfuss*

                  Pedi?! I admit, I’ve touched up a nail at my desk when the polish has chipped off to the point of looking unprofessional, but I always do it as quickly as possible and with my back turned to my office door so that it’s not visible to others. I absolutely cannot imagine touching up the polish on my toes at work!

                2. Wendy Darling*

                  At one job my best work friend and I sat on opposite sides of a guy who was a repeat-offender at-work toenail trimmer. She could see it, but I could hear it. Sometimes I’d tune out the sound and my friend would IM me HE’S DOING IT AGAIN and I’d realize… yes, yes he was. Snip. Snip. Snip.

                  I mean it’s one thing to trim a hangnail at the office, but… toenails??? Do that at home! (And preferably not, as my neighbor does, on your balcony directly across the breezeway 10 feet from my balcony!)

                3. Julia*

                  I had a co-worker paint her nails in our shared office. She would also not allow me to open any windows. I hated her guts. (Weirdly, she also hated me. I guess because I spoke up against her rude habits?)

            3. Elizabeth H.*

              I actually feel like trimming off split ends at your desk is LESS WEIRD than looking at yourself in a hand mirror 20-30 times a day. If I got something stuck in the end of my hair or if I noticed a really awful split end I can totally see snipping it off quickly. I couldn’t tell from the description if it was like a quick touch up on one area or if she was going around and trimming all the ends. The latter would be very weird, but the first one doesn’t seem more egregious than other things people might do at their desk, to me. Then again I microwave fish.

              1. Wendy Darling*

                But do you burn the microwave popcorn? We had two Offensive Food Smell people at the last office I was in — Serial Fish Microwaver, and someone from my team whose favorite snack was microwave popcorn and who burned it EVERY TIME.

                1. Candi*

                  I need to send my daughter around to all these offices where people burn popcorn. She never does. Ever.

                  Although one thing she pointed out to me that she learned from watching other people (who, me? nah) O:) burn popcorn is, knock the time down by a minute when using the same microwave. Forget the pops.

            4. Specialk9*

              Others are pointing out that the weird part is trimming split ends in front of someone, during a conversation. Ok, yeah, I totally grant that. Wee-yud.

            5. teclatrans*


              I have long hair, and it would never occur to me to just snip a few split ends at my desk. Then again, when I was young I used to brush my hair at my desk and learned the hard way that grooming was not acceptable office practice. (And also, that office managers who listen to lawyer complaints about performance but then never pass them along are assholes, but that’s a different story.)

              1. Turtle Candle*

                Yes, I have long hair and yeah, sometimes I notice split ends while at work but I don’t trim them there! And if I did, I’d kind of expect a gut-level “WTF are you doing?” from my boss.

        2. Lissa*

          I’m sorry, I really disagree that this makes her a bad boss in any way. Cutting your own hair at your desk is bizarre, and reacting like this would be pretty normal. LW acknowledges that she was unprofessional to yell like that but considering the situation it really doesn’t seem that odd to me.

          I understand that we’re all trying to give the assistant the benefit of the doubt in part not to play into believing stereotypes, but sometimes someone is just out of line, regardless of the reasons.

          1. Specialk9*

            Yeah, weird behavior. But good bosses tell their subordinates, professionally, about problem behavior. They don’t snap out of the blue, with profanity, in front of another person.

          2. L.*

            I didn’t say she was a bad boss, I said it was bad boss behaviour, which to me is an important difference – everyone’s got professional skills they need to work on and I don’t think OP can’t use this to react better in the future. If I were the employee (and I did not say she was doing anything right, but she still works there), this would feel super aggressive and out of the blue without that professionalism convo that OP1 never had with her. “Whoa – Catherine, what are you doing?” is exactly the same message without crossing any lines.

            1. Anna*

              Well, hopefully in the future she won’t manage someone who thinks it’s all right to cut their hair at their desk while engaged in conversation with a colleague. That would be a pretty weird coincidence.

              1. L.*

                I mean, if this is the weirdest thing that OP ever deals with in the office, lucky her! But I don’t think it has to be the same exact situation to evoke that kind of response, and avoiding that kind of response is pretty important in most offices.

              2. Koko*

                She will definitely manage people with weird quirks in the future. They probably won’t be the same ones, but there are a lot more weird people out there than normal ones, IMO. OP should learn to react to surprises in a way that doesn’t involve yelling or profanity if she wants to be a good manager. Emotional regulation is an important part of a manager’s job. A challenging part, but a part none the less.

          3. Katherine*

            Hard disagree. It’s kind of like how Alison says nothing in an annual review should be a surprise. Your first indication that your employee is doing something wrong shouldn’t involve a) profanity b) a raised voice c) a dressing-down in front of someone else. OP was probably annoyed and saw it as the last straw, but that’s on her- she didn’t address the behavior that she herself said was happening 20-30 times per day in any kind of constructive or polite manner. Just let it rip all at once.

            1. Woah*

              Yup. Super surprised this is being brushed off as okay. It doesn’t matter how ridiculous assistant was being- superiors do not curse at their assistants, and deliver reprimands and constructive criticism in as private a situation as possible, lest it is a safety issue “watch your tie! everyone, remember, please, I don’t want you decapitated when using the industrial shredder!”

              The cursing and yelling could have put the employer is an awkward situation if assistant tried to file for unemployment.

            2. Tiny Soprano*

              Exactly. She had at least 6 months in which to raise the issue calmly and simply before it got to the hair-clipping at the desk stage!

        3. Nervous Accountant*

          In what office is cutting your hair at your desk ok??? I mean I’m pretty vain but hair cutting/grooming of that sort is just weird.

      2. New-ish Manager*

        I read the comment to mean that she cut someone else’s hair at first! Once I realized it was her own hair, I thought the reaction seemed a bit dramatic. Glad you are happy with the outcome, OP!

        1. CM*

          It sounded to me like a last straw… OP was trying to figure out how to bring up the mirror-gazing, which is a little out there but somewhat understandable. Then seeing her actually take out scissors and start cutting her hair WHILE having a work conversation would escalate it from “This behavior is perceived as unprofessional” to “Who DOES that?” It seems like the OP just blurted it out.

          1. k.k*

            ” start cutting her hair WHILE having a work conversation”
            That’s the part that really got me. Quietly snipping a stray hair at your desk is one thing. But when someone is standing there talking to you??? It’s so rude and just clueless. When you’re in a conversation with someone you should be engaged in that conversation. Suddenly picking up some random task, let alone personal grooming, shouldn’t be anyone’s idea of normal.

            1. Not The Droid You Are Looking For*

              This! It wasn’t snipping a random hair while sitting at your desk, it was letting yourself be so distracted in a conversation with a coworker that you start grooming yourself while they are talking.

              1. tigerlily*

                Still, I can’t imagine having a reaction like the OPs (yelling profanity across the room in front of another coworker) if what I was reacting to was anything less than the assistant taking her pants off to trim *that* hair or doing something that was clearly about to result in major physical harm to the other employee.

                1. Anna*

                  I can. Because humans have human reactions and not every moment of every day are we composed and calm. The OP even said it wasn’t the best response, so I’m not sure why we’re going over and over it to talk about what a bad response it was.

                2. KR*

                  People seem really stuck on the profanity here and I have to be honest, I feel like hell is barely a curse word. It’s not like OP is dropping F bombs here.

                3. tigerlily*

                  I don’t expect people to be composed and calm every second of every day, but I do think OP’s response was wildly inappropriate. Good on her for recognizing it was a bad response, I guess, but to me her reaction was more than something she should be a little sheepish over. Truthfully, were I the third employee in that situation, I would have found OP’s behavior to be much more alarming than the assistant trimming her hair.

                4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  The yelling is weird, to me. Stopping and staring and saying, “What are you doing?” in a dread-voice would be normal. But yelling seems disproportionate.

                5. Koko*

                  Even without the profanity, “What are you thinking?!” reads more aggressively/dressing down than, “What are you doing?!” It’s subtle, but he latter communicates, “Your behavior is bizarre and has shocked me!” The former communicates, “You are willfully doing something awful, and you have no excuse!” We ask people what they’re thinking when we think they’re acting in bad faith.

  2. SushiRoll*

    Wow #2 was worse than I thought, but he couldnt have known he was messing up that much for someone. At least he learned from his mistake and apologized. That totally sucks though. My company let everyone go outside and provided glasses for as many people as possible (pretty much everyone) because we were in the path of totality. I was actually OOO on vacation elsewhere in the country but I saw tons of pics – looks like everyone who wanted got to go view it. I mean, it was only a couple minutes lost time for good morale/PR. Why not?

    1. Observer*

      Yeah, this is not something you can undo, but taking responsibility and learning a good lesson is as good as it gets.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      “Why not?” depends on the field, but like I wrote below, there are lots of businesses that need to be staffed at all times or during certain hours — call centers, dispatchers, hotlines, plenty of things related to health care or child care, security, anything open to physical visits from the public, etc.

      1. SushiRoll*

        I think the people who work in those fields tend to USUALLY understand they probably won’t get to do things like this. Like 911 dispatchers. Or ER nurses. Not every job is flexible with stuff like this but usually you know what kind of job you have – the kind that is or the kind that isn’t. Like when you work at a big gas station – you’re gonna be open on Christmas, etc.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Sure. But there are also jobs that aren’t like that all the time but where sometimes something really has to be done RIGHT NOW. The OP said the coworker was on deadline, and it’s possible that she really couldn’t take time away from that. (Just to give you one example: If you have to have a grant proposal postmarked by a certain date and that means it’s got to be in the mail in one hour or you won’t get funded, you’re not going up to the roof to watch the eclipse.)

          1. Turtle Candle*

            Yep. Or if you’re in a 24/7 cloud computing environment. 15 minutes of additional downtime can meal hundreds of thousands of dollars of fees. Or worse, if it’s a security issue and not just an uptime issue.

            1. Oceans*

              I work for a cloud service provider.

              It is absolutely not a “if one person leaves everything falls apart” operation. If that were the case, we’d fail nearly every security audit.

          1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

            I really wonder why someone else who hadn’t requested that day so far in advance couldn’t have filled in. This update makes the whole thing suck even more. I mean, good for the OP that they apologized & took responsibility but I still feel bad for the coworker.

            1. Candi*

              I’m guessing it wasn’t a position that couldn’t be just swapped out. Someone had to have training/licenses/etc or something to officially do the job -especially since the deadline was a legal mandate, indicating a higher level of persnickety.

        2. H.C.*

          I think there’s a lot more grey area between the two, just like this one – from the first update, the LW said this was a customer support role and there’s a task with a legally mandated deadline.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      He couldn’t know the degree of messing up it would cause–who would be called in to cover for him, what other plans they had–but sounds like he could have reasoned “If I am out, someone who requested the day off will be called in to cover,” and that not doing that was just the spur of the moment going with the fun option without working through the details. It was a serious screw-up.

      I sympathize with OP because he realizes he screwed up and takes responsibility for it, and is following a plan to not repeat the error. All the things you are supposed to do after screwing up. But one aspect of mistakes is that you can’t always wipe out all the consequences of them because you feel sorry and want that to happen. (That is, OP is doing a good job of grasping that “Okay, but my intent was pure and non malicious, and that should be the only thing that matters in assigning consequences” doesn’t fly for good reason.)

      1. Bryce*

        Yup, accepting the consequences doesn’t nullify the consequences, and the OP seems to realize that. It can be a hard lesson to learn.

      2. RB*

        Yeah, don’t be too hard on yourself #2. You did all the right things to make amends, that were within your power. We all have a story like that from when we were new to the work force.

    4. Foreign Octopus*

      At the very least, #2 has learnt from this experience. They’ve recognised that they did wrong (at every stage) and they’re working hard to improve. It’s a difficult lesson and I’m so sorry that the woman didn’t get her planned proposal. Hopefully she got her proposal in the end though.

      1. Jaintenn*

        This update is sort of comical, in the way it really all just piled on that poor woman. OP obviously could not have foreseen the whole comedy of errors that was about to befall his coworker, and feels terribly for being the cause. Good on OP for learning and growing from this experience, and for totally owning all the blame, which is really all that can be done.

        I have an eclipse story- We are near the path of totality. I took the day off and we drove a couple hours to (probably) the best spot anywhere to view the eclipse (big open field + owner decided very late to make it a viewing area so very few knew about it = not at all crowded and great view). During the totality, the group next to us had a proposal.

        My inner reaction was this: WTAF?!?!?! There are 23.97 other hours in this day when you could have done that. Rather than experiencing the eclipse, he was concentrating on the ring and kneeling without falling over and how he was going to ask her and was he going to screw up and would she say yes. She was looking down at him and at the ring and listening to him and getting excited and nervous. They both totally missed it. A total solar eclipse feels like being on another world, and they were caught up in something so totally of this world. I really did feel sorry for them.

        Of course my outer reaction was to offer my very best wishes to the happy couple, but he screwed it up for them.

        1. Bostonian*

          Now I feel like less of a jerk for thinking the silver lining is that he saved her from having an eclipse proposal. (Yes, I recognize that she may have really enjoyed that… God, I hate how I have to hedge everything I say here…)

            1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

              Yeah I guess I’d be pretty annoyed at missing the actual main event, but it would have been a very memorable thing to propose on the same day, perhaps as the totality was ebbing away?

              Then again I’m a bit bitter that we came all the way from England and it rained all day where we were. We could catch glimpses through the clouds but not enough to see it properly. Sigh.

        2. Annonymouse*

          This makes me even more upset for that poor co-worker.

          Booked 8 months in advance and forced to come in because the new guy called in sick? Then finding out the new guy wasn’t sick but gamed the system to get a day off he wasn’t entitled to that I’d booked? Yeah, nah brah.

          I’d be mad not only at the new guy but my bosses. Could they not call someone else in?

          I’m glad you’ve learned this lesson early in your career that your actions impact your whole team and that sometimes work has to come first over holidays or time off.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Same I was actually hoping I wouldn’t find a job until the eclipse was over–especially since I had friends from Europe coming to watch it with us, people I might see once every few years because they’re in Europe. I would have been extremely angry if I’d had to cover for someone and not only missed totality, but missed my friends.

        3. Bryce*

          I had a book about eclipses that gave tips for photographing the total eclipse: don’t. Even if it comes out well your photo’s gonna look the same as the ones everywhere else, and you’ll miss the wonder of actually seeing it with the naked eye due to fiddling with your settings.

          We had a neat experience, my parents live half an hour south of the totality path so Dad scouted out a spot in advance, the parking lot of a warehouse. Right by the highway and open space, but not accessed directly from the highway. Across the way was another lot that was absolutely packed, while we had our private VIP area.

          1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

            I didn’t intend to photograph much of it for this reason, but I did take a few photos as the totality approached.

            My extended family lives right in the path of totality so we had a party at my uncle’s house. Was a great spot but the weather didn’t cooperate!

        1. Candi*

          No, no, that’s not as good as an excuse as it once was, in the US.

          But, such a shame she left an energy-hungry app open while it was in her pocket/purse and the battery got drained down to 2%, so she turned it off completely when she plugged it in so it would charge faster. (Doesn’t matter if it charges faster or not, as long as the person believes it will.)

          (And it was 7% and Gems of War.) :P

    5. New-ish Manager*

      #2 OP: It sounds like you’ve had to learn a really intense and important lesson very early in your career. I’m glad that you recognize the gravity of what you did – taking responsibility isn’t an easy thing for lots of people. Cheers to success in your career! It sounds like everything that happened will soon be a distant memory.

    6. Deep Thoughts*

      If I recall correctly, to see the eclipse he actually had to drive several hours, so just allowing people to go outside for a few minutes wouldn’t have helped.

      1. Temperance*

        It’s because his friends were taking a trip for it. He could have gone outside at work (in theory).

        1. Triceratops*

          Not to defend his actions, but! It sounds like the trip was to go to the path of totality — where the eclipse is total — vs what might have been a partial eclipse where their workplace was located. Total vs partial eclipse is totally (heh) different.

          1. Anna*

            Yeah. People moaned about not wanting to get stuck in traffic heading back and “99% is good enough” and on some level I get that. But I took the day off, I drove out to the middle of the state and I saw totality and it was amazing. Sure, the traffic jam back into the city sucked, but it was also an adventure and not the part I remember the most about the experience.

              1. SouthernLadybug*

                I live in a city that was in the path of totality – it’s definitely a different experience that the moments just before and after. I can’t say I’d drive 6 hours for it – but I definitely understand why some people chase that experience. It was surreal.

          2. Turtle Candle*

            Right. But the “surely this company could spare people for the time of the eclipse itself”–well, yeah, probably! Most people can be let out for ten minutes to see the eclipse. But if people want to be in the path of totality, which might require a full day or more, yeah, many businesses that could spare ten minutes for everyone to see the eclipes but couldn’t spare a full day for everyone to see the eclipse.

            And that being the case, yeah. Someone’s going to miss it. One way or another.

  3. Mustache Cat*

    Sometimes what I appreciate the letters here for most is not the advice, but the window they offer into other people’s lives…

  4. Comms Girl*

    I had not read the first one yet but wow. No, just no. It’s a good thing to looked groomed and put together at all times but there is a time and a place for fixing your make-up (or cut your hair for that matter) – and that place isn’t a shared office, especially when other people come over to discuss work stuff. I’m glad to know you have a better assistant now, OP #1.

    OP #2, I’m happy that you managed to bounce back and wish you all the best. Living and learning, as they say, and it’s clear you’ve learned something from your experience :)

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I just can’t grasp starting to cut your own hair in the middle of a conversation.

      I mean, I can’t even grasp cutting one’s own hair in private, with a mirror and good scissors, but while discussing the Bumbershootles Fourth Quarter estimates is extra weird.

      1. Specialk9*

        I think she was trimming split ends. It’s still weird, but it’s not giving oneself an actual full haircut weird. I could see myself doing this when young, because in high school people did it all the time, sometimes to each other. Sub cultures sometimes have funny rules on what’s ok.

        1. Hc600*

          Right. I taught HS and had students try to groom their hair all the time, despite no-grooming rules.

          (I’m white and all my students were Black so forgive any mistakes in terminology) I had some girls who would start pulling out extensions that had been braided into their hair during class, resulting in a pile of hair on their desks. I also had a student remove her entire weave/wig during class. Those were outliers but rebraiding, brushing (guys trying to get waves) and combing were all attempted often and enforcing the rule was met with indignation.

          1. Connie-Lynne*

            Yep, as kids in school we would fix our own and our friends’ hair all the time. I still have a habit of braiding and rebraiding my hair when I’m on calls or in meetings. Mostly I think people see it for what it is; a focus fidget, but it’s unconscious enough that when I know have to appear professional, I wear haor style that involves no loose parts, like braids or buns.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I mean, we certainly did that when I was in high school, but we all knew it wasn’t really appropriate once we got to college.

        2. teclatrans*

          Right, but this is high school behavior. You don’t bring that into the office.

          I do have sympathy for the groomer if she was never told she needed to change inappropriate behavior, especially if young. When I was about 20, I worked as a legal secretary. I would shower before leaving the house, and brush my hair when it dried hours later, just like in school. Apparently one attorney HATED this, and went to the office manager over it. She never brought it to me, and attorney eventually reached the BEC stage with me, eventually amassing an impressive list of petty complaints and insisting I be fired. Thankfully I just got transferred away from him, but, damn, i would have really appreciated the hads-up that my behavior was not approproate on the office, y’know?

          So, I can understand this woman not knowing it was inappropriate, but I think it is very wrong to say that it’s no big deal just because it is done in some settings.

      2. Tuesday Next*

        Trimming your hair in the office while you’re actually having a conversation with a colleague is the red flag for me, because who is more focused on their split ends than on the conversation they are supposedly taking part in? Trimming a few split ends in a discrete way (without any of the other problematic behaviour) would be far less of a concern. But please, keep personal grooming for the bathroom.

    2. Lynn Whitehat*

      I guess I’m in the minority with #1. I consider yelling at someone with profanity in front of a third person to be much more unprofessional than trimming split ends. I mean, the latter isn’t *great*, but at least it isn’t hostile or threatening.

      1. Amber T*

        Yeah, if I started talking to someone and they started trimming their hair, my reaction would be “uh, okay then, let me figure out how to bow out of this conversation then.” But if I heard “what the hell are you doing?” my actual reaction would vary depending on my status compared to the yeller, but I’ll let you guess who I’m likely to think less of.

      2. Managed Chaos*

        Yelling at someone when you’re the boss – bad
        Yelling at someone when you’re the boss and using profanity – really bad
        Yelling at someone when you’re the boss, using profanity, and someone else is around – inexcusable

        Cutting hair while talking to a peer- weird, but nowhere near the letter writer’s behavior

      3. Anna*

        I don’t think it was at all threatening and I think since the OP acknowledges it wasn’t the best way of handling it, we can probably move on from it.

      4. Tuesday Next*

        The OP said that she had reacted in an unprofessional way and it didn’t sound to me as though she was being hostile or threatening. More startled / shocked.

      5. Lara*

        I’m genuinely surprised at how many people are excusing the assistant’s behaviour. Perhaps I’ve worked in some very strict offices, but I would expect to be yelled at or pulled aside if I started cutting my hair at my desk, *especially* during a conversation with a co-worker.

        Best case scenario would be utterly aghast looks from all my coworkers and my boss pulling me out of the office to ask if everything was ok at home.

    3. Green*

      I’m going give this one a big shrug. I have minor anxious tics that often come across as grooming behavior, and, while it would be weird to do while actually talking to people, I would have no issue doing this at my shared desk in an open office plan. If you take away everyone’s office, you’re going to get people behaving like people during the day — reapplying lipstick, blowing their noses, picking at their nails, scratching their head, picking lint off their sweaters, combing their hair with their hands, looking at split ends, whatever. Cutting your hair may be the outer bounds of this but it doesn’t hurt anyone, so who cares?

      1. Elizabeth H.*

        I feel the same kind of. I think more the issue is not paying attention (or at least LOOKING like you weren’t paying attention) to the other employee, and how very distracting it is to look at yourself in the mirror constantly, her behavior as described seems excessive by anyone’s standards.

        1. Jesca*

          I agree. Maybe in a super conservative place this would be A Thing that would be considered abhorrent (weird personal tic, sure). I hate to bring up the pearl clutching, but that seems to be the case with a lot in regards to the hair cutting. People, especially coworkers I am on a more friendly basis with, have done some really weird things while I was talking to them. And I am sure if people thought about it, they can come up with times where they were doing something pretty weird in the office at their desk and even while speaking to coworkers. Nothing about anything this woman was doing warranty being screamed at. That is what I find so bizarre. And honestly if this happened where I worked, most people would find the manager extremely bizarre and inappropriate.

          Sometimes we react to things in ways that kind of trump the offense that triggered us. That is what is happening here. If she didn’t want her employee doing all of these things, then its not hard to say hey stop that opposed to waiting until your nerves were totally worked!

          1. Comms Girl*

            I agree with you all that shouting at the assistant wasn’t great either (and the OP seems to acknowledge that in her update), nor is waiting until the last second to address the assistant’s behaviour. I also know, however, that if someone came to my intern to discuss work matters and he’d start, idk, spraying deodorant on himself while talking to said person, I would consider that beyond unprofessional and would have to address it (I agree that I probably wouldn’t shout, though).

            As someone with anxiety, I know what it’s like to have ticks and triggers. We all have them to a certain extent. I also know they might not be fully within one’s control – but while I would possibly be able to have some of them in front of my boss (who is in the loop regarding this matter), I’d think twice (again, within reason and with the knowledge some stuff is out of one’s control) about that in front of a third party. Anyway, without more information, it’s hard to reason why the assistant thought it was OK to behave like that.

        2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

          This. Taking a quick snip of a hair that is bothering you wouldn’t really be a problem for me, but not if you’re in the middle of a conversation with someone else (and it sounds like this was a more involved trim than just snipping off one strand that kept getting in your eye). Just like it wouldn’t really bother me if someone took out a nail file and quickly smoothed off a snag or a broken nail, or pulled their hair back with a hair tie, or applied lipstick or hand lotion. But constantly checking the mirror is rather strange, and if I noticed that my bangs were really uneven and required a trim I’d do that in the bathroom for sure.

  5. Coffee Cup*

    I am still confused about this deadline that was so vital that whoever was working on it couldn’t go up to the roof for a few minutes to see a rare natural occurance that comes once in a blue moon (eh). Well done on the lesson learned though!

    1. Meh*

      Seriously. Was she expected to not use the bathroom either? I mean there’s no way that OP#2 could have known all of that in advance and if I was being honest, I’d probably do something similar if I was in his shoes. I’m glad he’s learned his lesson and was able to find more work.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t know what the business is, but there are lots of businesses that need to be staffed at all times or during certain hours — call centers, dispatchers, hotlines, plenty of things related to health care or child care, security, anything open to physical visits from the public, etc.

      1. Meh*

        But literally *every* other person went up to the roof to watch it except her. If it was a coverage issue she shouldn’t be stuck by herself (or if so, the manager should have taken one for the team and covered for her since she requested that day off). It just seems bizarre to me.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Hard to say without knowing the context. There are businesses where you do need one person to stay behind for coverage (or where a deadline is so crucial that you can’t go with everyone else because it’s due in an hour).

          1. PiggyStardust*

            I work in a very small medical unit with two staff nurses, and ONE of us needs to be on the floor AT ALL TIMES, so we take turns going to lunch, etc. It’s very possible to work in a place where one employee must remain.

            It’s very possible that as the covering employee, something came up that required immediate attention and she wasn’t able to make it up to the roof. I’m not sure why anybody thinks this is such an unlikely scenario.

            1. AndersonDarling*

              Agree. I have regulatory reports that have to be transmitted by a certain time, and there are also board meetings and high level meetings that have concrete deadlines. I don’t think it is unusual to have deadlines where you can’t step away from your desk for 15 minutes. Once the task is complete, then you have your freedom back.

          2. teclatrans*

            Yeah, the government does not change their deadlines so you can go see the eclipse. In my experience of these sorts of deadlines, you often trying to get, say, 10 hours of work into a 5-hour window. Stopping to go to the bathroom might actually make you miss deadline. Taking 10 minutes to get to/from the roof plus maybe 10 minutes of eclipse? You still haven’t gone to the bathroom, and you may have blown your deadline. Also, there’d be no proposal up on that roof…

        2. Antilles*

          the manager should have taken one for the team and covered for her since she requested that day off
          That’s not always feasible though.
          Maybe the manager didn’t know the task in detail – there’s definitely aspects of my job that my boss doesn’t know as well as me and my coworkers so if there’s a really tight deadline, it doesn’t make sense to transfer it even if I’m running around like a headless chicken.
          Or maybe the task was one that couldn’t easily be transferred. Anybody can review my laboratory data and check for values about a certain limit…but once someone starts it, you can’t easily transfer that task without duplicating effort or missing things.

          1. Tuesday Next*

            Yeah, in our environment my manager (and peers) have the skills to do my job but wouldn’t be able to jump in and deliver good work on short notice. We all work on different products / projects where context and subject matter expertise is key.

        3. Forrest*

          The the OP should have taken one for the team and not taken a sick day.

          I feel like it’s unfair to try to shift responsibility for all this on anyone but the OP.

          1. Jen S. 2.0*

            **ding ding ding** This. If OP had done what he was supposed to do, none of this would have been an issue.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      I want to push back hard on the recurring suggestion that surely anyone would have assumed that the eclipse could be as easily viewed by someone covering OP’s shift. If this were true, then OP would have come in and worked the shift, easily viewing the eclipse, and there would be no letter. Staying some distance away with friends in a rented cottage was because the view was different there–more likely that they were in driving distance of totality, but the person who filled in had to bail on their plans to drive out, than that the eclipse was partial at all the locations implied in the letter (office, cottage) and no biggie between the two positions.

        1. krysb*

          Unless you were in downtown Nashville, where you couldn’t see it because of clouds. I might still be upset about this.

            1. Footiepjs*

              Oh, that’s disappointing. I was in central Idaho, and while it smelled smoky at times, we had pretty good visibility, thank goodness.

              1. ThursdaysGeek*

                I was in central Idaho too, very near Cascade. But I don’t recall a smoky smell, so we probably weren’t that close to each other.

            2. Bryce*

              We were really lucky, the winds blew the fire smoke right on top of my parents’ house which meant that while it meant we spent most of my visit indoors or wearing masks, it wound up clearing up just south of the totality area north of us. If Prinneville had been covered in smoke I think there would’ve been riots.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Aww. That sucks.
            I went to Arnold, MO and no clouds. We lucked out because there were some hanging about, but they were light and poofed out when the temperature changed.

            1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

              We went to NW MO and it rained on and off all effing day. The day before and after it was beautiful sunshine. I am definitely still bitter about this and have been planning to go to Texas next year and Spain in a few years so I can see a full eclipse.

              There were various reasons why it wasn’t really practical to go elsewhere but we probably should have gone camping in Wyoming instead.

    4. Steve*

      It may well have gone like this:

      Boss: you’ve been working hard on that all day. I appreiciate you coming in on short notice to finish it up, but you can certainly take a ten minute break to come up to the roof with the rest of us.
      Employee: No, I’d better keep my nose to the grindstone and get this done if we want to be sure to get it i on time.
      Employee’s Heart (aside): Today was supposed to be the most romantic day of my life, and to see that eclipse now, with my boss and coworkers, instead of the love of my life, might be more than I can bear…

      1. JulieBulie*

        That’s what I thought of. If I were stuck doing someone else’s job and chasing a deadline when I was supposed to be getting engaged, I would be SO not into looking at an eclipse on the roof with my coworkers. In fact, I’d be pretty happy that the rest of them would be out of the office for a little while.

        1. Julia*

          To be fair, she probably didn’t know her boyfriend had planned to propose. Not that that makes it any better.

          1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

            She probably still knew it was supposed to be a nice romantic event together, though.

  6. Anita*

    Can we please get confirmation that Assistant was cutting her *own* hair? For some reason I read this and thought she was cutting the other employee’s hair

    1. Justme*

      The wording is very ambiguous and it can totally be read that way. Which would make it super not okay.

      1. Murphy*

        Ha, cutting somebody else’s hair would definitely warrant a “What the hell are you doing?!”

        1. Jackie*

          Ha yes! I don’t think snipping off her own split ends is all that weird, but cutting off someone else’s hair sure is!

            1. Jackie*

              Honestly, that is still not that weird to me. Seems to be a minority opinion on the board today, but I think OP’s reaction is way worse than some distracted hair cutting.

    2. k.k*

      I read it that way at first, but I’m thinking if it was the other person then there would be a lot more to the story (other person rightly freaking out, going to HR, etc).

    3. Delta Delta*

      I initially read it as cutting the other employee’s hair, but then when I read the comments now I’m not sure.

    4. JD*

      He said it was her and him in the office when someone walked in to speak to him. That would give the indication that she was trimming her own hair.

  7. Observer*

    #2, You sound like someone who wants to do the right thing. I admire the fact that you are taking responsibility for what you did and that you are trying to learn lessons. I do have another thought for you. Another lesson here is to consider the impact your behavior will have on others around you. You couldn’t have known about the proposal, but you did know about the deadline, so you knew that there would be a negative outcome for others. If you keep the smaller, but still significant, impact on others in mind, you are a lot less likely to hit the big issues. And, if you do wind up inadvertently stepping on someone, you will be in a much better position to recover.

  8. Lynca*

    “As my assistant was speaking to this employee, my assistant must have noticed that some of her was hair out of place. She had long hair so when she glanced down and noticed it, she took a pair of scissors and started snipping away at her hair.”

    This is beyond weird. I would be horrified as the employee she was speaking to.

      1. Specialk9*

        I’m pretty sure split ends trimming. I don’t often remember, but with this reminder, I just closed my door, grabbed scissors, and am on the hunt for split ends.

    1. ScoutFinch*

      I wouldn’t call it “worse” – the OP has owned their actions and is striving to not repeat them. OP has tried to apologize to everyone affected. How is that worse?

      1. Juli G.*

        Maybe the mess it made for others seems worse? I mean, we found out it screwed up some poor guy’s proposal, which made me cringe.

        But I do appreciate the OPs ownership and that while he faced consequences, he gets to bounce back.

      2. PiggyStardust*

        I meant now that the bigger picture of the consequences has come to light; the bit about his coworker and the potential engagement wasn’t in the original update, IIRC. It was just a shitty situation for all involved parties.

        I’m glad the OP was given another chance at a different company; a learning experience like that can be a real punch in the gut.

        1. ScoutFinch*

          OK. Yes. I agree that the affected party pool seems to be growing. Thank you for explaining your line of thinking.

        1. Rainy*

          My fiancé proposed to me just after totality. It was absolutely magical and perfect in every way.

          We booked our days off for the eclipse in February, and as far as I knew we were not planning to get engaged that day–we both just enjoy stuff like that, but the ring came just in time (I designed it and we found a jeweller to commission it from), and he thought it was the perfect moment.

          I feel horrible for #2’s coworker.

      3. Willis*

        I think Piggy meant the impact of the sick day keeps getting worse with every update. First we learned about the co-worker who had to come in to cover, and now that she missed the planned engagement proposal!

        But, good on the OP for writing the apology letters and adjusting his attitude in the new job. Hope things turn out well for him there!

      4. Temperance*

        Jean Louise, every update just makes me sadder. LW 2 is doing everything he can to make amends, but knowing what his colleague missed out on breaks my heart.

      5. Talia*

        That and I’m struck by the privilege involved in their father being the one to get them the job– most people have to recover from such screwups (and that’s a pretty serious screwup!) on their own, while OP seems not to be experiencing the lasting sort of consequence, as their father has now gotten them another job.

        1. RVA Cat*

          This. It also sounds like the OP didn’t tell his father the whole story, either.
          Plus ruining his co-worker’s proposal should have more consequences than this. I really, really hope his co-worker gets a promotion.

          1. RVA Cat*

            Perfect karma would actually be for OP#2 to be applying for Dream Job in a few years and find out his former co-worker is the hiring manager.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            I don’t see anything to indicate he didn’t tell his father the whole story. Why lie, at this point? Just as pure tactics, his father’s connections at the first company would probably torpedo any “Golly, this fell out of a clear blue sky for no reason” hand-waving. (And if one of my kids really screwed up like this, I would be a lot more inclined to help if, like OP, they recognized where they had screwed up, took responsibility, and were actively taking steps to not repeat the same mistake.)

        2. Woah*

          I worry about that- on one hand I’m glad OP is landing on their feet and knows better, on the other hand, for many many people this would have been the kind of move that decimated references and had a BIG impact on their ability to find work in their field in that area for quite a while…

          I guess it is just seeing privilege and nepotism in such blunt terms that rubs me the wrong way a little, but I do understand it is currently how the world works.

          1. Lissa*

            Eh, when I see “privilege” like this, i.e. somebody screwing up badly once but showing major report, I think “I wish that could be true of everyone” not “since it can’t, I wish OP could’ve got screwed over on their ability to find work in their field too!”

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              Yeah, this is the way of the world–your connections matter. OP, unlike a lot of privileged young people, is at least explicitly aware of the connections and their role in his success, rather than waving off all the family help as barely a thing. (The “born on third base, thought he hit a triple” fallacy.)

            2. Observer*

              Especially that it seems that his father didn’t get him the job, but an interview. Yes, it’s more than others get, but it would be nice if more people got a second chance like this.

              I also think that as bad as what the OP did is, some of the reaction is a bit much. I get that missing out on a “perfect” proposal that had been carefully planned is a big deal. But it didn’t wreck her life, or even come close to it!

              1. Anion*

                My husband’s proposal to me was “ruined” in a somewhat similar way; he didn’t have anything that elaborate planned, but he certainly hadn’t intended to do it the way he was weirdly pressured into doing it, on the spot, immediately after buying the ring (long story, pushy friends).

                It was a bit disappointing. It’s still a little disappointing sometimes, when I think about it or am asked about it. My heart breaks for that poor coworker; such a special event, so carefully planned, ruined like that. I imagine her having to tell her kids the story of her engagement and how it will always seem like a “less-than” story and there will always be that twinge of unhappiness that someone else spoiled the original plan out of pure selfishness and thoughtlessness.

                But geez, I was still thrilled to get that ring and thrilled to get married, and we’re still thrilled to be married almost eighteen years later. That’s the thing that actually *matters,* far more than where and when the ring was given. This desire to see the OP pay and pay and pay and hopefully never have a moment’s happiness or success for the rest of her life seems really excessive to me, however much it’s intended to show sympathy for the coworker who lost out.

                The OP already feels awful. The OP lost a job and has a black mark on her reputation that could possibly still follow her for years. I don’t remember people being this desperate for revenge when we had the woman who set up another coworker and made her look like an embezzler in order to talk to the police, and I think that was waaaay worse than this. (It’s possible some people were, yes, I just don’t remember that being the overwhelming sentiment in the comments.)

              2. Woah*

                I’m not sure why you feel my balanced comment about being happy for OP but also having some reservations is a “bit much,” but okay.

            3. Candi*

              When someone puts themselves in the mental road like this, taking what’s coming, accepts what’s already hit, and accepts they hurt someone and they can’t EVER fix it, instead of jumping through mental hoops justifying why what they did wasn’t that bad, no, I don’t want to see them punished more. It serves no purpose.

              Discipline should be proportionate both to the initial action, and the reaction to the initial round of discipline. This kid GETS IT. He understands what he did, its impact, and that it, or actions like it, can not happen again. He’s chosen to learn and grow.

              Now ghosting boyfriend? Graduation boss? Dress code intern? They never showed a sign they got it -and boyfriend doubled down. They refused to learn and grow.

  9. CityMouse*

    I really feel for OP3’s coworker. Spouse and I booked our hotel and travel for the eclipse about a year in advance. I would have been very angry if that experience had been taken from me.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Also booked a year out (and that took effort, because apparently 18 months is when you might want to start), and while a lot of my daughter’s comrades missed the first couple of days of classes (they are all physics majors), she was running a university training and had to get permission to leave early, or choose to let someone else do the training. (Running said training is a coveted job a lot of people apply for.)

      I agree with the consensus that seeing the eclipse is really cool–which is why taking an action that was going to blow up someone else’s long-laid viewing plans was such a big deal.

  10. Delphine*

    Glad you found a better assistant, LW#2, but I do wonder what thoughts went into your first assistant’s resignation. How you handled the situation seems…less than ideal. But that may be because the update isn’t very detailed.

    A bit off-topic, but boy did Letter #2 give me flashbacks to my friend’s mirror addiction when she was struggling most with her BDD. She had a hair cutting problem too, but it was with body hair.

  11. Goya*

    #2, hats off to you for owning up to your mistake and recognizing the effect it had on not just you, but others as well.

  12. Falling Diphthong*

    #3, it’s always good to hear updates from people who realized their old office was bonkers and that the key was to move themselves to a new office. Rather than trying to find the One Cool Trick to make your coworkers be not bonkers.

    The original letter is like a massive volcano of NOPE.

    1. OP #3*

      That’s a great way to put it. Funny enough, the coworker I was most worried about (chronic condition and really couldn’t afford to be without health insurance) ended up in a fairytale romance and moved out of the country, so all’s well that ends well I guess.

  13. Alienor*

    The assistant in #1 wasn’t just vain, she wasn’t very bright either. All she had to do was get one of those rearview monitor mirrors, and she could have checked herself out all day long without anyone being the wiser. (I have one to keep people from sneaking up on me while I’m wearing headphones, not to look at myself, but I totally could use it for that if I wanted to.)

    1. Don't sneak up on me!*

      I have one of those, too! It’s fantastic for keeping up with the foot traffic behind my desk, and yes, I sometimes use it to discreetly check my hair. ;)

  14. Karo*

    I re-read the original letter for #3, but not the comments – Did we previously know that the group that they were soliciting donations from had been laid off?! That adds a whole new layer of WTF to the situation.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      It’s in the letter.

      It’s like upper management engaged in a series of dares.
      “Okay, I’m going to make people call everyone they know–while I monitor them–and demand donations.”
      “I’M going to follow up for weeks, until these random people connected to our employees make it rain.”
      “Oh yeah? I’m going to do this with the SAME EMPLOYEES I’M LAYING OFF IN 2 WEEKS.”

    2. OP #3*

      I think I put more details about the layoff in the update, and I’ve still left out some identifying details that are even more bonkers.

  15. Anonymous for This*

    I know we are not supposed to diagnose here, but I have OCD (the type of OCD that takes up 15 years of your life unable to work at a full-time professional job) and checking my face in the mirror was one of the things I did. So, the behavior of the assistant in the first letter rang true to me. Doesn’t mean she should have been fired, just if it sounds bizarre to you, it may be so, but it is not unique.

    1. Avery*

      Me too. I have an anxiety disorder and, at my most unwell, the thought of having a hair out of place would send me spiraling. I was obsessed with the idea that if I looked remotely disheveled, my colleagues would think I was a slob and despise me accordingly. Not that there’s anything in the letter to suggest that’s the case here, but the behavior rings a couple of shameful bells for me. Even the hair-cutting. You never know what’s going on behind the scenes.

    2. Half-Caf Latte*

      The original advice on this letter did instruct the OP to ask if everything was okay, which would be the opening for the employee to say “I have OCD/anxiety/X”.

      And, I think many people who do have these struggles, even if they weren’t comfortable disclosing in the moment, wouldn’t respond with all-around slacking. The people in my life with anxiety work so very hard to mitigate the impacts of it.

  16. Temperance*

    The update from LW2 just made me so sad. That poor coworker. Yikes. At least, LW2 won’t ever make that kind of selfish choice again.

    I also guess that it’s a good reminder that there are some actions that you can’t really atone for, regardless of how sorry you might be. You can’t always make people whole, but you can try to do better.

      1. tigerlily*

        Agreed. Like, I feel bad for the coworker and I agree that sometimes an apology doesn’t erase what’s been done, but c’mon. It’s a bummer that she missed her vacation and her fiancee’s proposal didn’t work out. But nobody died. She’ll still get a proposal, which in my opinion as long as the person who loves you is asking you to spend a lifetime with them is romantic enough all on its own. She’ll still get to marry this person and spend a lifetime with them. She doesn’t need to be made whole, she already is.

        1. Casper Lives*

          But she missed the eclipse. Aside from everything else, that experience can’t be given back to her. The next total eclipse in the US will be in 2024 in the northeast US.

          1. SallytooShort*

            The fact that her work couldn’t spare her for a few minutes to go to the roof is not on the LW.

            1. Helena*

              OP has acknowledged that he knew he had a legal deadline (read: non-negotiable) and he chose to play hooky. While I think it is great that he has learned his lesson and is working to be better, it is on him. It is not the fault of the company that he skipped work knowing he had a legal deadline that could not be moved/changed. If the company had spared her they might have missed the deadline which would have led to further consequences for the company and possibly the employees. It is on the OP.

              1. WeevilWobble*

                Totally disagree. He did something wrong. But he isn’t responsible for the employee wasn’t allowed to go to the roof. That was the company’s choice.

                At some point there are too many intervening events to put all the blame on one dude.

            2. Max from St. Mary's*

              It absolutely was his fault, if he hadn’t chosen to take the day off the co-worker would have seen the eclipse. I’m glad the LW realizes his mistake, but it was his mistake.

    1. Luna*

      Agree this is a good reminder, too often people think they can just say sorry and be immediately forgiven, but…things just don’t always work that way.

  17. hiptobesquared*

    I read that first one that assistant was trimming someone else’s hair. I am so glad I was mistaken. BUT STILL.

  18. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #3 – I was once challenged – I work one day per year for a major charity in the Boston area (anyone would recognize it) and some of my co-workers got on my case because I didn’t support the director’s favorite cause – which was good, I will not deny that, but highly obscure (think of the “Rabies Awareness Week” from “The Office” – similar).

    I just kept on going.

  19. Phoenix Programmer*

    #2 Who tells a fiance – I had planned this other Grand gesture but it fell through cause you went to work????

    I find that utterly unbelievable like they are somehow trying to make OP feel worse.

    1. SallytooShort*

      Honestly, telling people why you couldn’t go through with that grand gesture is a way better story than the story of the grand gesture.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Well, if they are a normal couple who communicate about things, he probably told her his original plan when carrying out the backup plan. Or she guessed from the timing what Plan A was, and he confirmed it. Or like someone upthread described, they had talked about getting married and picked out a ring.

      Telling her honestly what Plan A was doesn’t mean it came with “But then you chose work over me.”

      1. Julia*

        This. Imagine:

        Woman: I loved your proposal!
        Man: Thank you! I wish I could have done it during the eclipse like I had planned, but I’m really just glad we’re engaged now.

  20. SallytooShort*

    LW2 Obviously you made the wrong choice. But you have to stop beating yourself up about this. You did something most people have done once in their lives. It doesn’t make it OK but it also isn’t the crime of the century.

    The fact that there was so much fallout was bad luck and much of it you couldn’t predict.

    You wrote your apology letters. You don’t need them to forgive you. It’s time to forgive yourself.

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      Agreed. It’s unfortunate that things snowballed the way they did, but OP has learned the lesson. They’ve apologised and have committed to doing better in the future. There’s not much more they can do.

      OP, much respect to you. We all mess up, but I’ve known very few people willing to make things right and be honest about their need to change a particular behaviour. I’m impressed.

  21. WeevilWobble*

    A policy where new employees can’t use PTO for five months is begging for people calling out. That’s a ridiculous policy and that the company isn’t doing any introspection on that is absurd.

    1. Observer*

      Come on – even if the OP were eligible for time off, they STILL would not probably not have gotten the day off. Someone with much more seniority had already booked the day eight months prior. Even without the deadline, that would have meant no day off. Adding the deadline just made it more immovable.

      If the OP had at least left the work done and just needing to be filed, it would have been one thing. But they created a situation where someone lost a planned day of so they could play hooky. That’s a problem all on its own, even without all of the additional details.

      Fortunately, the OP seems to understand this.

  22. SS Express*

    I have a lot of sympathy for the assistant in #1. The first letter struck me as pretty judgy, and whether she had some genuine need to check her appearance frequently (as some commenters suggested) or was just a bit vain and easily distracted, the fact is nobody ever gave her any feedback about this until out of the blue, her boss yelled at her IN FRONT OF A COLLEAGUE, and once that colleague was gone, just doubled down instead of apologising for the outburst. No wonder her work started slipping afterwards – I don’t think she was retaliating, I think she was a) feeling pretty demoralised and unmotivated and b) distracted with her job search.

    1. small jar of fireflies*

      Especially if it’s an anxiety-based habit, it’s very hard to just swap out your “normal” for someone else’s. “Personal grooming is over” isn’t necessarily clear, either. So does that ban refreshing of lipstick, a quick lint check from coat or scarf in the morning, what? It’s very hard to break 5 habits at once (mirror check, hair, nails, makeup, hem check, etc.)

      I’m also not surprised the behavior resumed when the boss wasn’t around. Without guidelines for what was accepted by everyone in that office, and a clear breakdown of norms, she probably just figured her boss didn’t like seeing it and would yell again.

      I have some sympathy for the letter writer, but I wish she’d made it more clear to the worker that reading and matching office norms was important.

      1. First time commentor*

        People will always do something that irks you at one point or another, they will also do something that they may see as normal behaviour because they don’t know better or sometimes just have a blip.

        It is never ok to shout at the person in question in a professional environment. Ever. Full stop. It’s amazing how humiliating it can feel to have this happen to you.

        Be a grown up and talk to them about it so it’s less likely to happen again.

        1. small jar of fireflies*

          I’m not even touching the shouting. Other comments have made it clear they’d find the assistant’s behavior gross or uncomfortable, and OP mentions other coworkers talked about it, so I’m guessing that was seen as odd. Since assistant clearly cared about her image and its perception, she should have gotten feedback on how to manage the impression she gave.

          It’s also not clear what the employee came in to discuss. If he was being social, she might have checked out or been informal, but if it was work related she did need to realize she had to seem respectfully attentive.

          Context and communication really matter in this letter.

  23. Ladycrim*

    Every time I read an update about the sick day lie, I feel worse and worse for the poor co-worker who had to cover for the LW. She had to cancel a booked-months-in-advance vacation day? At the last minute? And missed her own proposal? And the LW KNEW there was a super-pressing work deadline that absolutely had to be done that day? Wow. I’ve always said a proposal doesn’t need to be big and elaborate, but I do hope the co-worker and her boyfriend were able to find a way to propose/be proposed to that was still meaningful and special.

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