updates: the small lies, the boundary violator, and more

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

1. My employee tells small lies but is otherwise good at her job

Thanks again for your advice on this issue. As usual, it was incredibly helpful. As a side note, I was hired to manage two clinics with no formal management experience. I felt completely lost trying to manage a group of people who had been my peers until recently. Even small decisions felt difficult because I didn’t have any confidence and had no clue when and where to draw the line. The fact that I look quite young (and am young to be in this position) didn’t help either.

Today, I feel comfortable in my position and my abilities as a manager and I feel respected and valued by the team I lead. I credit your blog for transforming me into the manager I am today. Thank you for your wisdom and advice – there are no words to express how thankful I am. I tell everyone about your blog and will be first in line to purchase your book!

As for the update: I ultimately decided that I wanted to give the employee one last chance. While I have talked to her about performance issues in the past, I did feel that most of the conversations happened when I was a new manager and hadn’t yet developed my abilities for effectively communicating my expectations. We ended up having a conversation that was a lot more frank and detailed than what I would’ve been capable of in the past. It ended up actually helping me to understand the reasoning behind some of her actions. In the time since the meeting, she has been an absolute model employee and was invaluable early in the year when the clinic faced an unexpected setback. It remains to be seen if this change is a permanent one but I am glad I made the choice to give her another shot.

2. How do I get a boundary-violating dude at work to back off?

Thanks for publishing my letter and the follow up. I wrote the letter at a particularly strained time in my life (divorce negotiations were coming to a head) and in the interactions with Fergus By the time you published the letter (some months later), things had settled down and we seemed to return, somewhat, to the established “friend” boundary of before. He stopped visiting my office as much and we rarely ran into each other on public transit after that. There were a few office visits after I wrote that I managed to shut down with a clear “I need to get back to work now” and they petered off after that. Maybe he got the hint. Maybe the obvious and increasing social media posts of me and my now boyfriend helped. I’m not sure. I never really had a clear conversation with him, but I wasn’t being bothered so I didn’t push it.

I’ve since moved on to a new role at another institution (a good step in my career, not because of Fergus or the environment) and I’m pretty happy. I will add that I found the reaction in the comments to be intense – so much so that I basically stopped reading them after the first day. Trying to reconcile Fergus the real person with the version the readers gleaned from my letter (less awkward and more predatory) was difficult.

3. Is it weird that I asked my employee to have his emails forward to me while he’s on vacation?

I wrote in a while ago about having my employee forward his emails when he went on his honeymoon to Bali (#1 at the link). I have a reasonably happy update: He mentioned to me last week that he started reading AAM, and how funny are some of the letters, and can you believe some of these people, it’s crazy! My employees were laughing over some of your wilder letters, and they asked me if I had ever written to you. I admitted that I had. They asked what I wrote about, and I found the letter and sent it around.

We ended up having a good conversation about it. The employee in question said that he had no issues at the time with my request–he agreed with the commenters who felt that corporate email is 100% the property of the company, and it was a reasonable request given the circumstances. A few of my employees said that they sometimes send personal-ish things on their company email, but they try hard to keep it non-personal–and never anything too private.

Regardless, none of them had a real issue with my request. Glad to know everything went well!

{ 96 comments… read them below }

  1. Observer

    #3 I’m glad it worked out.

    Something that you might want to talk to your HR, if you have one, or just do if you don’t have an HR department: Send out an email periodically reminding people that email is not personal and that someone might have to read their email for whatever reason. As you can see, this is not about suspecting people of anything or anything nefarious. But, you do need to be able to access people’s work emails on occasion and you don’t want them to be blind sided.

    It’s much easier than it used to be, because email is so ubiquitous that there is generally no real reason for people not to have personal email. And, the fact that you don’t block sites makes it even easier to have a separate email.

    1. Kimberly

      I agree at my old job they would remind of this and the fact our e-mails
      1. Beginning of the school year when you signed the AUP for the year.
      2. Around Primaries and general elections along with a reminder that promoting a political position using state resources is illegal. (Very fine line because discussing things like legislation about the curriculum is allowed and teachers in subjects being updated might even testify. Given this is Texas this might involve pointing out that intelligent design is NOT science and that Juan Seguin was a hero of the Alamo fighting on the Texas side not an enemy as one member of the legislature claimed. )
      3. End of each grading period an e-mail went out reminding us that our e-mail was not private and even subject to Freedom of Information Requests so never never never discuss student information subject to privacy laws over e-mail. (This was more for us to forward to parents demanding we discuss private info over e-mail than remind actual teacher of privacy laws. )

  2. Close Bracket

    Op3, It’s difficult for a lot of women to come to terms with the idea that someone they see as awkward or not that bad isn’t awkward and really is that bad. It can be a huge blow to what one thought of as a good friendship, and also a blow to one’s own judgment. “How could I have been so wrong about someone!?” I’m glad things settled down for you. May the Ferguses of the world collectively experience persistent underwear ride up.

      1. Runner

        This. The comments section often is aggressively harsh, actually, even on paper. I cannot imagine how disconnected it must sometimes seem to the writer.

        1. Steve

          The comment writers often have their own agenda they push regardless of the actual situation the letter writer describes. Anyone who sees different is seen as horrible. I wish allison would tell comm enters to not assume they know what others think regardless of what they say. Though I think Allison is guilty of that as well.

            1. Say what, now?

              I think it would be unfair to expect her to moderate on that level. Aside form that, there is a request at the top of the comment box when you click to comment or reply asking people to be kind, on topic (this one I’m guilty of) and within guidelines in general. She’s being responsible. We just go off the handle worrying about the OPs and worst case scenarios.

          1. Anion

            Yeah, I tend to agree with you re agendas, but I honestly think Allison does the best she can, and is pretty good at telling people that speculation isn’t a good thing and can be harmful. Short of deleting comments that even veer slightly into that territory (which would stifle conversation, though she does delete egregious violations), there’s not much else she can do; we’re all adults and should be able to express opinions politely and respectfully.

          2. Erin

            A blog as popular as this, generating hundreds and hundreds of comments for each post, is bound to attract a wide variety of people. Some will be helpful, others not. A small percentage will be trolls, which I think Alison does a pretty good job of shutting down.

            “I wish allison would tell comm enters to not assume they know what others think regardless of what they say.” – This is such an odd comment. I read it several times and still don’t understand it.

            We all as readers and commenters present our thoughts based on the information given here. I think most of us take everything with a grain of salt, knowing that we’re inevitably only getting one part of the story, and understanding that things can be misconstrued online. But for the most part I think the system works very well and people are generally respectful.

          3. Specialk9

            Steve, “agenda” is a really loaded term. It’s dismissive of the fact that all of us being perspective based on our experience, for people to discern how it applies to their unique situation. (Ie all advice ever)

            I’m one of the people who learned the hard way the red flags for abuse, so now I call them out. For me, someone calling it out let me put a name to the pattern. If there hadn’t been a pattern, I would have dismissed it. Like this LW did, because she knew the situation on a way we couldn’t, at this remove. But I’m not going to stop saying, ‘oh hey, that’s a red flag, maybe check in on whether this is a problem’ because not all red flags apply in all situations.

            It seems like you have a goal – note I didn’t say agenda – of getting people not to share concerns about potential abuse. Why is that?

            1. Gurkan

              The goal seems more to be to stop accusing everyone of abuse where it does not exist when there is no evidence to suggest it. You have just proved the point that I made in my previous comment. If someone disagrees then insinuate they are something.

              1. Specialk9

                Gurkan, I’m asking why Steve seems so invested in stopping this discussion, as they are very emotional and combative throughout this thread.

                You also seem to have a strong belief* that there is a swarm of harpy viragos descending on any man here for, what, kicks? But… That’s just not the reality, and it says more about you than us.

                *”Unfortunately par for the course here. A man is involved, commenters with no basis whatsoever label them as abusers, predators or misogynists. Someone points out that they have no basis for the claim and is then accused of being an abuser/predator/ misogynist.”

                1. Gurkan

                  Thanks, my point proved. I disagree with you so you then say “says more about you than us”. You might try to do it slyly but you are constantly throwing insults and aspersions at anyone who disagrees with you.

      2. Lissa

        Yeah, that’s how I took it too. The comment section very often jumps to the worst conclusion, or else kind of “picks” a conclusion about who the “bad” one is and there’s something of a domino effect, where people kinda pick up on other people’s thoughts and stories about their own experiences and blend it in with their response to the OP. I also really liked the observation a few months ago about some letters being Rorschach tests where we all “see” it differently based on our experiences. But I imagine it can be like a game of Telephone for the OP who suddenly sees people running with a wrong conclusion.

        Sometimes somebody is just awkward or annoying without anyone being a bad guy, but there’s not as much to jump on in discussion when that’s the case.

        1. Kathleen

          That’s my reaction too – and it was at the time the original letter ran. Yes, yes, I know there are predators out there. Believe me, I know. I’ve met some of them. But some of the commenters went waaaaaaay overboard in attacking this guy who, at least as presented by the OP, didn’t do anything bad or creepy or anything. It just took him a little longer than some to see that his social/romantic interest wasn’t reciprocated. We all – all – misread social cues from time to time. It doesn’t automatically make us predators.

          It’s important to recognize predators when we see them. But it’s *just as important* to not label someone as a predator when he or she is not.

          1. The Supreme Troll

            I absolutely agree here. This person does appear to be extremely annoying (maybe unintentionally though, I’m not sure-perhaps very clueless)…but, please, let’s not make him out to be some Satanic being or a devil in the flesh!

    1. jd

      I don’t think “awkward” automatically means “not that bad”. I’ve met guys who did things like the Fergus described and were genuinely awkward and not predatory (rather, they had been trained by a predatory culture that this was the correct and normal way to go about meeting people romantically), and it didn’t make them less harmful or potentially damaging, but it DID mean that other tactics were more effective for dealing with them than if they were consciously predatory. A guy can be a predatory kind of “that bad” or an awkward kind of “that bad” and it’s still bad. Awkward isn’t an excuse, it’s just another pathway to the same kind of crappy result.

      I have also been the awkward person doing things I thought were correct and okay based on everything I’d picked up from peers, parents, and media (who it turns out were mostly pretty bad at boundaries/consent/good communication training, especially parents and media) who was later horrified when I understood the real implications of my actions. (And as a nonbinary person have experienced these things from multiple angles, which has been weird and fascinating.) Mercifully I got clued in during my later teen years, but still. In cultures that normalize and promote predatory social interactions, you don’t have to BE a boundary-pushing predator to learn how to act like one.

      1. Steve

        Awkward is an excuse. No one is guaranteed a perfect world. You’re not perfect, others arent. People have to deal with your less then perfect self. No one would choose to be deliberately awkward. Dealing with that is just part of life. I understand it isn’t fun to deal with them. How you can suggest it is just as bad as dealing with a predator is beyond me. Have you been prey before?

        1. jd

          I literally said in my comment that I’ve been on both sides of uncomfortable behaviour. And, yes, I’ve been the victim of predatory behaviour.

          Awkwardness is NOT an excuse for bad behaviour. It’s not. I’m an awkward person, my awkwardness does not mean that my uncomfortable behaviour toward other people in the past is excused by virtue of it stemming from my awkwardness rather than from predatory behaviour.

          I did not say in my comment that awkwardness = predatory. I said that BOTH awkwardness AND predatory behaviour can lead to similar negative impacts on others, but that because they are DIFFERENT in where they come from, different strategies can apply in how to deal with them.

          Example: When I was an awkward teenager, I thought it was okay to grab my friends’ body parts because I meant it as a funny joke (and had lots of internalized beliefs about why this was okay, etc.). It was not okay and when a friend finally spoke up and said it was making her uncomfortable, I stopped. The fact that I did not intend to make her feel unsafe in her body didn’t change the fact that it did make her uncomfortable and that it was shitty behaviour. But because I genuinely wasn’t trying to violate her boundaries but was trying to be funny and well-liked, when I was challenged on what I was doing, I stopped.

          Example 2: A few years later I was accosted and sexually harassed by an ex-friend at a party (similar levels of grabbing but with forcible kissing added). I have reason to believe he was acting in a predatory way, but I can’t confirm. I know some people who would excuse his behaviour as “It was a joke, he just wanted to show he was into you, he didn’t mean it like that, he’s just awkward”. Didn’t change how awful it made me feel. (And when he was challenged on what he was doing, he turned it into an excuse to try again, hence my suspicion that this was more than awkwardness.)

          Being awkward is NOT an excuse for violating someone’s boundaries, pressuring them, and making them uncomfortable, and I’m comfortable with that assertion as a lifelong awkward person.

          So what’s the reason for your investment in defending shitty behaviour? Have you been a predator?

          1. Steve

            That’s anot odd acausation coming from from some one who has a history of sexually preying on others or at least the equivalence of sexual ly preying on others.

            You are what some people here are talking about. You disagree with me so you accuse me of some horrible thing based on nothing but disagreement with my view. Ignorance is entirely different in motive then sexually preying on someone. To conflate the 2 is to ignore the damage that can come from sexual abuse. Flirting that come across poorly is just going to happen in society unless you outlaw flirting.

            1. Jesca

              You know why “intent” never matters in sexual harassment cases? Because of the bumbling male logic. This logic here doesn’t excuse it in the eyes of the law and it doesn’t excuse it in day to day interactions. And here is the rub, Steve. For the most part, women do not want to be flirted with in specific contexts. At work is one of those contexts. If you want to develop a relationship with someone at work, there are appropriate ways to broach that – ie “do you want to meet for coffee sometime”. If the answer is no, then leave it. If you continue, no matter your “intent”, it is sexual harassment. It can also be sexual harassment if you ask in a rude, derogatory, or predatory way the first time. But at the end of the day, women (and some men too!) by in large are telling you right now in this county “please stop flirting with me in the work place and treat me as a colleague” and it would benefit everyone if people listened. Ere on the side of assuming she is not interested.

            2. Gurkan

              Unfortunately par for the course here. A man is involved, commenters with no basis whatsoever label them as abusers, predators or misogynists. Someone points out that they have no basis for the claim and is then accused of being an abuser/predator/misogynist. The result in this case is that the letter writer stopped reading comments so who is helped by this extremism? Alison sets a very low bar for what is acceptable – as long as you don’t say someone definitely is something then it is ok.

              1. Anion

                Steve, man, I tend to sympathize quite a bit with your viewpoint here, but it wouldn’t hurt to be a bit less abrasive, okay? I understand this is a big issue for you–it’s an issue for me as well, honestly–and I understand your frustration, but I think you’ll find people (not just here, but in general) are a lot more willing to engage and consider your points if you make them in a more gentle and friendly manner. Being abrasive and accusatory doesn’t help anyone, and it doesn’t help people to see the logic and/or truthfulness of what you’re saying; it just makes people feel attacked and makes you and your points easy to dismiss.

                I’m sure you don’t *mean* to be so aggressive–or to border on unpleasantness–but your comments tend to come off that way, and that’s coming (again) from someone who tends to agree with you. Please, try to be a little easier on everyone, okay? Have a little fun; it’s what we’re all (ultimately) here to do, however much we’re also here to learn.

                It’s Christmastime, Steve. Let’s show some holiday cheer and goodwill! :-)

        2. jd

          I left another longer comment but for some reason it’s not posting.

          Short recap: Read my comment again. I didn’t say what you’re accusing me of (I said they were two different things that can have the same impact on another person regardless). Yes, I have been victimized as well as been the awkward person whose behaviour was inexcuseable.

            1. Specialk9

              Jd, I thought your comment was really good, and I understood the points you were making. But I have no horse in this race, so I’m not looking to twist your comment for my ends.

        3. hbc

          Awkward is a reason. It’s an excuse only to a point. How obtuse have you been, how many pretty obvious signals have you ridden right past, how many times have you seen “mixed signals” and chosen to read that as a “yes” rather than “better not risk it.” It certainly loses its excusing power when you’ve been told an explicit no and you try to rules lawyer your way around it. “She said she wanted to keep it professional but sometimes colleagues are friends and sometimes friend put their arms around each other’s shoulders, right?”

          And as far as the person on the receiving end feels, it doesn’t really matter what the motivation is. If some coworker starts rubbing your back, you are just as violated if he intended to cop a feel from an unwilling victim, if he thought you were making bedroom eyes, or he was high as a kite on dental surgery meds and thought he was petting a dog.

          1. Gurkan

            And as far as the person on the receiving end feels, it doesn’t really matter what the motivation is. If some coworker starts rubbing your back, you are just as violated if he intended to cop a feel from an unwilling victim, if he thought you were making bedroom eyes, or he was high as a kite on dental surgery meds and thought he was petting a dog.

            Really? Someone tripped and grabbed my arm to save themselves. I do not feel violated as I might do if they just grabbed my arm. Someone stepped on my foot. It hurts the same but it matters to how I feel if it was an accident or deliberate

        4. Snark

          It’s my observation that genuinely awkward people are almost hyper-sensitively aware of their own awkwardness and tend to overcorrect in the other direction when given the slightest pushback. We don’t double down and keep acting predatory – even if that’s how we inadvertently came off – we retreat going “oh god oh god oh god what did I do stupid stupid stupid.” If someone keeps acting in a way that makes you uncomfortable after you make it clear that’s not okay, they’re probably not just awkward.

          1. Specialk9

            And 15 years later we lie awake until 3 am, beating ourselves up over it. Socially awkward learns, and then fixates on not repeating the mistake. Predatory doesn’t.

        5. Julia the Survivor

          You can’t always tell if the person is awkward or a predator. Waiting to see what happens could get you hurt! It’s best to be cautious with people who are behaving like predators, even if it may be unintentional.

        6. Specialk9

          Oh hey, Steve, what’s going on with you? This is clearly hitting a nerve and you’re being pretty rude and personal.

          1. Steve

            I was accused, by jd, of maybe being a sexual predator when i agreed with letter writer. Why do you not say she is “being pretty rude and personal”?

      2. Jennifer Thneed

        > In cultures that normalize and promote predatory social interactions, you don’t have to BE a boundary-pushing predator to learn how to act like one

        bingo. And I think this speaks to the man who was afraid that by simply existing in an office setting, he was going to unknowingly offend someone and be accused of sexual impropriety and lose his job etc. (Was that AAM? I’ve lost track. Maybe it was Amy Dickinson?)

        Because if men are following the rules of their culture, surely they’re not doing wrong things, right? (Spoiler: they are doing wrong things.) It’s going to be very hard for some people to learn that the rules of our culture are actually wrong… and that’s why they have been wrong.

        I think a lot of people need to learn that “willing to” isn’t the same thing as “wanting to”. And that applies in so many kinds of interactions. (I’m certainly willing to listen to my step-father bloviate about politics, but it doesn’t mean I want to listen to that.)

    2. Anion

      …or maybe we can trust the OP’s judgment here, instead of telling her she’s wrong and just not seeing it clearly even though we don’t know her or Fergus, and she does. Isn’t this exactly what she was talking about re reading the comments and being stunned by the disconnect? Can we pay her the respect of assuming that disconnect wasn’t because she’s naive and cowardly, but because some of the comments here were overreacting? I’d like to think most grown women are perfectly capable of judging when someone is really bad and when someone is just well-meaning but awkward; if we’re not, then what does that say about us?

      “Isn’t awkward/really is that bad” are not concrete issues, or questions with only one right answer. What’s okay to one person might not be to another; people are different, and that’s a good thing. The idea that if we don’t all judge X according to the exact same standard there’s something wrong with us, or if we don’t see X’s behavior exactly the way another person does we’re not only incorrect but blind and foolish, is frankly scary and unhealthy to me, sorry.

      1. Anion

        ETA: I don’t mean that *you* are unhealthy or scary, Close Bracket, just to be clear, and I don’t mean to be harsh. I’m more just ruminating on the comments in general.

      2. Julia the Survivor

        The big question when trying to determine if inappropriate behavior is predatory or just awkward:
        What if I’m wrong?
        We’ve all made that mistake of thinking someone means well when he’s actually a predator.
        It was possible the OP was making this mistake, and we shouldn’t ignore the possibility.
        Thankfully it seems she was correct because the man backed off. Yay! :)

        1. Anion

          And as I say below, we absolutely shouldn’t ignore that possibility; you’re right there, and I appreciate your “What if I’m wrong?” litmus test. It’s a good idea, and it’s good to express concern or offer other ways of looking at things.

          I just think that when the OP says, “Wait, no, that’s not the case here,” we should accept it, rather than telling her she’s wrong, like we know her situation better than she does and/or she’s incapable of seeing the truth. That’s all.

      3. Specialk9

        I am one of the people who was worried about the situation. I am fine with trusting the OP – I’m not sure what other course we have available, since literally that is the only person who is reading this for advice for that exact situation – but I believe that others have the same general knowledge gaps and blind spots that I do. It’s about being human. So my goal in pointing out a concern is to give someone a perspective, from hard won lessons in my life, that the OP can consider. That’s it. She decides if it lines up with that undefined something that didn’t make it into the letter, or is totally of base and inapplicable.

        The fact that the possibility of predation was considered and rejected by the OP is fine. That’s how advice works.

        1. Anion

          And FTR, I have absolutely zero problem with you or anyone else expressing concern (not that I’m the arbiter of what’s right, of course), and agree with you that that’s how advice–and comments on advice columns–works. My issue was specifically with the idea that if the OP disagrees that there’s reason for concern, it must be because the OP is a woman and so can’t see/understand that the concern is warranted, rather than it simply being that the OP is right and the commenters wrong.

          Concern is a good thing. Expressing that concern makes you a good and decent person–at least, that’s how I see you personally and the commenters here in general, even when I disagree (even when I disagree strongly, even when I feel the commenters are overstepping). But when the OP says, “Whoah, that’s not the case here,” we should (IMO) accept that, instead of telling them–rather condescendingly, IMO– that they just don’t see it and it’s probably because they’re a woman. That was what my issue was with; it wasn’t with people expressing concern in the first place (although I do sometimes feel people are too quick to jump on the “abusive predatory man” bandwagon, but again, that’s what happens when lots of people get together to talk about stuff, and that’s ultimately a good thing. Diverse opinions and viewpoints are valuable, which was another point I was trying to make in my comment: there’s usually not one “correct” viewpoint and all others are wrong, not when it comes to interpersonal relations).

          1. Specialk9

            Oh! I had missed that sentiment, I think due to disconnected threading of messages, so misunderstood your comment. Thanks for clarifying.

            1. Anion

              No worries, friend.

              And goodness, if you thought I was saying I found it insulting and/or scary for people to express concern to any letters to begin with, then your response was very restrained! Thanks for assuming goodwill–and, again, thanks for being a person who tries to help and look out for others.

  3. Triplestep

    #1: I read the original letter and the update, and I’m going to have to assume that the transgressions NOT mentioned were pretty bad; the ones given as examples seemed like simple indications that this employee needed more flexibility than her job (which she was otherwise good at) allowed.

    If I’ve proven myself to a manager over time with the big things, I’d hope that she’d let the small things (like personal calls) slide. Or if that’s not possible because punctuality and coverage are important parts of the job, then I’d hope my manager would value me enough to build in more desk coverage throughout the day. Perhaps allow me to take small breaks instead of one long one at lunch. (Seems like this receptionist needed that before things in her personal life became known at work.)

    I see that she is now a model employee, but it remains to be seen if this change is permanent. I wonder if all the employees at these clinics need to be model employees, or is it just the receptionist, traditionally low one on the totem pole? Perhaps the receptionist should have looked for a job where punctuality and coverage aren’t essentials, but that might have left the OP with a new receptionist who also needed to make occasional personal phone calls (don’t we all at some point?) but who may not have been as good at the other parts of the job.

    1. sin nombre

      I don’t think the concern ever was primarily about those small examples like personal calls and punctuality; the real concern was about lying and sneakiness indicating a lack of integrity, which would be a much bigger and more fundamental issue. And that would be the case for just about any employee in any role — I don’t think this has anything to do with the receptionist being low in the office hierarchy.

      1. Triplestep

        I don’t think we can really know if the receptionist was being sneaky, or if the “pushing boundaries” had more to do with her inability to ask for some accommodation to deal with something that required her attention outside work. The update indicates their subsequent conversations helped OP understand the reasoning behind some of her actions. Sometimes we are not as approachable as we think we are, and people we would want to be direct with us just … can’t. I don’t think it always speaks to integrity.

        1. JulieBulie

          I don’t see how this applies to her telling people that something has been approved when it wasn’t. That was the transgression that caught my eye. That was sneaky lying, and it showed a lack of integrity.

          1. Marcy Marketer

            Maybe the letter writer told her receptionist that she could do something once, and then the receptionist told other employees when they questioned her about doing that thing more than once that her boss had okayed it. That’s not necessarily sneaky it could just be the receptionist though she had more leeway/independence than the letter writer intended to give with a single permission. I thought the letters were pretty vague so it was hard to tell.

    2. Lindsay J

      Okay, I’ve typed my message two times and my computer has crapped out towards the end two times, so this might be shorter and a little terse just because I’m trying to get it typed out and sent before my browser crashes again. I don’t intend my tone to be harsh here.

      But flexibility is not always a given at a job, especially in a position like a receptionist or a cashier.

      Building in more desk coverage throughout the day is probably not possible or a realistic expectation. The job is specifically noted as being a receptionist at a small medical clinic. Most of them have just one receptionist. Many of them close for an hour in the middle of the day for lunch each day during which the receptionist and the clinicians all go for lunch at the same time. Days off are covered by temps or by moving a receptionist from another clinic owned and operated by the same people. Nobody else in the clinic is trained or has time to handle receptionist duties. Hiring someone at $20,000-$40,ooo a year (plus benefits package), when the volume of the clinic does not require it, to provide extra so the employed receptionist can be late to their job and make personal phone calls on the clock is not something that is going to happen.

      There is also no indication that the receptionist ever went to the boss and asked about flexibility. Most people, if approached with, “Hey boss, I have [a small child at home alone after school/a parent in the hospital/a spouse with a dangerous job] and occasionally need to be able to answer emergency phone calls. How would you like me to handle this when it comes up?” will have a reasonable response, whether it’s that the receptionist can take the personal calls quietly at the front desk, they can handle the issues via text or email but not by phone, they can grab a clinician to cover briefly, they can step out as long as they tell the clinicians where they are going, etc.

      I would also hesitate to classify these as emergency calls as they are happening on a regular basis, (as were the absences, which were weekly). If you are encountering emergencies that often and have a job where you cannot field personal calls at work, you probably do need to make an effort to change the way things are being handled, whether it’s redirecting those calls to email or text or to a time when you’re off work or on break, designating a different person to be the point of contact during the work day, changing the care arrangements, or finding a job with more flexibility.

      Some rules for receptionists, cashiers, etc may seem draconian if they were implemented in an office (like needing to request coverage to go to the bathroom or to take a personal call) but you have different responsibilities and are being paid for different things. As a receptionist, you cannot complete the majority of your job if you are not at the front desk – you can’t greet clients, take co-pays, or answer the phone if you are in the bathroom, and you are being paid to be present at the front desk and to do those things during your assigned shift. On the other hand, in many other positions you are being paid for your production – in my job I am paid to ensure that all our packages are received in and shipped out as normal. If I can take a 2 hour lunch break and still do that, I am allowed to. On the other hand, if I am in the warehouse the entire shift but don’t get everything handled, I still haven’t done my job.

      Taking issue with the OP indicating that the receptionist is being a model employee right now seems odd. There is no indication that the OP holds the other employees to a different standard than she does the receptionist and to assume otherwise seems hostile. I want all of my employees to be model employees, from the lowest to the highest paid, and if they stray too far from that they all get the same approach of discussions, retraining, coaching, and ultimately analyzing whether they are in the correct job.

      It was also indicated in the original letter that this is a recurring issue – that after the receptionist is spoken to they are on their best behavior for a time until they begin slacking again – so the OP is indicating that they don’t know if the receptionist has made a permanent change or if they are just in the “good” part of this cycle again.

      Also, no lack of flexibility justifies lying.
      “Did boss say that this is okay?”
      “No, but based on my experience with similar things A, B, and C that she was okay with I assumed that D was okay as well.”
      “No, but I didn’t think it would be a problem, I can check in with her about it if you’d like.”
      “You know, I didn’t think to ask since it seems like such a little thing and she usually trusts my judgment. Do you think I should?”
      “Actually, my personal accommodations are really none of your business. If you have a concern you are welcome to bring it up to her.”
      “Is there a reason you’re asking?”
      “This is really my area of responsibility and I wasn’t aware you were asked to oversee any of it. Was there a change that I wasn’t aware of?”

      There are so many ways to answer or deflect without outright lying that I would be concerned about someone that did jump right to lying.

      Also, the OP has indicated multiple times that she respects and appreciates the receptionist’s level of competence at the other parts of her job and I didn’t see anything from the OP that showed that she wanted to push her out. But really, when someone is a receptionist and is regularly late and away from the desk doing non-work-related tasks, it can become a huge issue and it may not matter how great they are at other parts of the job if they are not doing the main part of it. And you’re presenting a false dichotomy here. It’s not a choice between someone who is competent but not taking personal calls, or someone who is incompetent and doesn’t take personal calls. There are plenty of people out there who will both be competent (whether initially or after a short training period) and who also will not need to take personal calls on a regular basis to the point that it is disrupting their ability to do their job to the point that other workers are complaining about them. Why do those people not deserve a chance at this job?

      1. Lindsay J

        *It’s not a choice between someone who is competent but always taking personal calls or someone who is incompetent and doesn’t take personal calls.

    3. Observer

      The others gave some good responses.

      The bottom line is that the issues in this letter are not minor in a receptionist position, nor is it simple to create flexibility in this kind of position. But, the biggest and most fundamental issue is that the employee is lying about the issue.

    1. a1

      Yes! I was surprised to see this on a Sunday. I came to the site for a “Surprise Me” read and was surprised with Sunday posts. Thank you.

  4. KimberlyR

    #2: I can see how commenters would take their own experiences and baggage to a question like this and possibly see more than there was, or add to the molehill to make it seem like a mountain. I think it’s important to read Alison’s answer and internalize it (being serious doesn’t equal rude, you are allowed to tell someone to go about their business, etc.) for the future, whether or not it helped that OP in that moment. I am glad OP moved on but I am worried about other women in that building/friend group. Hopefully there’s no reason to be, and the guy is just weird and awkward but not predatory.

    #3: I have worked in a medical place where I HAD to be at my desk (or find coverage, even to the bathroom.) I know some people are giving flak for that but it makes complete sense to me.

  5. Noel

    I have mixed thoughts about #2. On the one hand, I definitely agree that she knows Fergus better than the commenters. On the other hand, I’ve been reading AMA for a while, and I’ve learned you have to take the good (Alison’s advice) with the bad (the comments).

    I don’t think I’ll ever write in for advice, but if I did, I would try to accept that the comments are inevitable, and that the quality of AMA comments match YouTube comments, for the most part. This isn’t a new thing, so I hope that it doesn’t stop people from writing in.

      1. voyager1

        I don’t know if I would say the comments are as bad as YouTube. That being said there have been times on here that the comments have gotten a little out of control; where things get too personal. The Salvation Army thread is the most recent example that comes to mind also the Loud Hotel Sex letter comes to mind too. Most times the comments go off the rails, it is because the topic is controversial OR a commenter does a drive by comment to inflame.

        Like all social media, if you feel your temper going up, step away from the keyboard. We are all strangers on here. And yes that is advice for the Internet as a whole :)

    1. attie

      “the quality of AAM comments match YouTube comments, for the most part” — Wow, no. Commenters may read too much into the letters and occasionally go off on an unhelpful tangent, but there’s a decided lack of profanity and threats of violence (sexual or otherwise) in the comments here. It’s even possible to have an actual conversation!

    2. Alli525

      Wow, really? You encounter racially, sexually, and physically hostile comments here at Ask A Manager? You might be reading the wrong website…

    3. STG

      I’ve definitely seen hostile comments and a group of commenters gang up on someone who disagrees. However, they are nowhere near the level of YouTube and it’s not all commenters.

      1. serenity

        Sorry, no I think we need to be much more precise than this. There are occasional cranky or maybe borderline rude comments on AAM; at their very, very worst, they come nowhere near the racist, threatening, and insulting comments found elsewhere on the internet. Let’s be very, very clear about that and not open this up to become a false equivalency.

          1. The Supreme Troll

            And Serenity is absolutely correct in his/her assessment of the comments that are posted here, which I have hardly ever seen personal attacks or insults launched on a letter writer nor a fellow commenter.

              1. voyager1

                STG,
                I have seen what you describe on here about people ganging up on folks, you are not alone in observing that behavior on here.

  6. Say what, now?

    OP #2, I’m sorry. We do tend to work each other up in the comments. One person will see a detail and point out that it’s “weird behavior” and the next person will say “oh, yes VERY weird behavior!” A few comments down, “weird behavior” becomes “psychologically unbalanced behavior” then “DANGER ALERT behavior.” It’s like stress telephone.

    I’m sure you have a better handle on what Fergus is really like. And if you can still be friendly with him, all the easier for your working situation since employers hate having to separate employees. Congrats on moving up.

    1. CM

      OP#2’s comment about commenters jumping to conclusions about Fergus being a predator reminded me of an email conversation I had with friends. A guy at work was creeping me out a little bit. I thought probably he was just socially awkward, but my radar was softly pinging based on a couple of weird interactions. My friends — all women in the same industry, several of whom have experienced harassment and assault — reacted in the range of “He’s definitely being creepy, watch out” to “GO TO HR NOW.” A year later, the guy is a friendly acquaintance and I no longer think of him as a potential threat, although I do set very firm boundaries with him. But I think it was useful to hear that reaction — they were trying to protect me and often when you’re in a situation, an outside perspective saying “You should worry about this” can be useful. That said, I agree that the comments here can jump straight to “This person is a predator” and people saying “Hold on, maybe he would back off if he knew the OP was uncomfortable” are sometimes criticized for excusing predatory behavior. I think it’s good to hear a range of perspectives and let the OP decide what sounds right to them.

      1. Specialk9

        Exactly. After my abusive relationship, my therapist told me she thought it was abusive. My reaction was strong and hard and negative… Because of my mental image of myself, and assumptions about abused partners (which were largely incorrect). My reaction was about me, not about my ex.

        But then I researched, and some of the things I read I knew instantly weren’t applicable, and I put them aside. Others fit like a glove, a terrible painful uncomfortable glove that nonetheless fit perfectly, and made sense of the chaos.

        So I both believe that an initial reaction can be about something other than the situation at hand, AND that upon reflection the OP knows best about what fits. Because humans are complex.

      2. Say what, now?

        I get what you’re saying CM, but we she’s saying that we skewed the way she now views her coworker in a way she dislikes. The concern is real and valuable but when we pile one and get more and more extreme we aren’t being helpful and I think it was good that she reminded us of that.

        1. Specialk9

          It’s a good point. I heard the OP’s message loud and clear and made a mental note to try to be more careful in my phrasing.

  7. Tuesday Next

    OP2, I’m glad you got this sorted out and congrats on the new job.

    I also sometimes find the comments here extremely harsh. Often very thoughtful and helpful as well, but frequently there is no balance and reactions are extreme. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt is seen as foolish naivete.

  8. Marthooh

    OP#2: Thank you for the update! And thank you to whoever picked the stock photo for the original article; that was The Best Ever.

  9. CM

    OP#1: It’s great to hear an update that ends with someone changing their behavior for the better (although in your original letter, you said you’d often see an improvement for a few months… hopefully this is more permanent).

    I have to admit that this letter, and especially the comments from people saying they learned to be sneaky/evasive because of childhood stuff, made me examine my own behavior. I have gotten better over the years, but every once in a while I would still catch myself saying something like, “We’ve gotten a lot of complaints, so we should change this” when it was actually just 2 people who complained really loudly, or other things that weren’t necessarily lies but also wouldn’t hold up to scrutiny. After that letter I became more aware of that and noticed that I’d feel a little panicky when I said something that I felt I couldn’t justify. I made an effort to start scrupulously telling the truth and saying things like, “We’ve gotten 2 complaints, 2 people said that they liked this, and we haven’t heard from most people. We could take no action and it’s likely that people would be satisfied with that. But I feel it’s important to address the complaints because…”

    1. Super Anon for This

      This is something I will need to work on in my next job. At this one you are punished for making mistakes and for other people’s mistakes, so you learn to lie a lot to survive.

  10. Erin

    #2 – That’s frustrating about the readers not understanding awkwardness vs predatory. It can be hard to tell sometimes from the letters. With yours, even though you were very detailed and clear about the awkwardness (with him misreading situations, etc.) I could see how some could draw a different conclusion.

    Anywho. I’m pleasantly surprised to see that you got him to back off without having a direct conversation. I wouldn’t have thought hints and etc would work with that guy, but glad everything worked out for you!

    1. Specialk9

      Just because this one person thinks that this guy wasn’t being predatory after all doesn’t mean it’s some universal thing, that no awkward person is ever also predatory. It’s not a spectrum with awkward over here and predator over here – it’s more like a Venn diagram… but also with a lot of the predators pretending to just be awkward because it helps them get away with it.

      (And frankly, I’m going to guess she still wouldn’t let him drive her home drunk.)

      1. Gurkan

        Why are you so invested in calling the guy a predator despite the letter writers discomfort with that?

        1. Specialk9

          Gurkan, I don’t think I actually have made that statement. (And I don’t think you are engaging with me on the level, since you said way upthread that women here attack all men, and I’ve criticised your statement.)

          But to be clear, I have said that advice givers can point out red flags and the OP can analyze how well they fit to their visit situation. I am rejecting the idea that the advice was universally wrong – lots of us deal with a variation on this theme, and the conversation is helpful in teasing out what is ok behavior and what’s not. Our culture teaches us that some very harmful behavior is normal. So I both believe the OP can analyze the cautions for fit to their situation, and also believe this discussion is worthwhile for others.

          1. Gurkan

            I keep all my comments gender neutral except where it is necessary to indicate a particular gender. Your claim that I said “WOMEN here attack all men” is either an accidental or deliberate misrepresentation of what I said. My problem with the attitude and comments about potential abuse seen everywhere and that it is fine to point it out with no real evidence just in case it happens is that the same mindset also seems to apply to Muslims and terrorism. It is not a difficult logical leap to see the prejudice and thinking applied here also applied in other situations. No evidence required, it might be the case so it is fair to accuse someone.

      2. Liz T

        It’s also worth noting (in general, not necessarily in regard to this or any other Fergus) that you don’t have to be A Predator to…predate? Prey? Whatever the verb is. Awkward people who are good friends and citizens in 95% of their lives are still capable of crossing a line, even into Very Bad behavior.

        I wish generally we spoke more in terms of verbs than nouns with this kind of thing. We don’t need to say, “This person I’ve never met is This Immutable Creature,” but we can say, “This behavior is not okay, and brings up broader concerns.”

        (Most people aren’t Harvey Weinstein. Most people are, however, doing something on a regular basis that they need to knock the eff off, whatever the goodness in their hearts.)

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