updates: the Christmas lunch, the fired boss, and more

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

1. Holding a Christmas Eve lunch (#3 at the link)

I finally bit the bullet and just quietly asked our employee about the Christmas Eve luncheon, and the employee said he actually celebrates Christmas. He further explained that in the culture he was raised in, it is their tradition to celebrate all holidays that fall within the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian calendars. So, bottom line, he’s actually very happy to participate in the luncheon we hold on Christmas Eve (or the 22nd this year, as it will be).

Thank you to all of your commenters for their input and suggestions — they are an incredible bunch!

2. My old boss was fired — can I still use her as a reference? (#4 at the link)

Although a bit delayed, I want to thank you for taking the time to give me such a thoughtful response. As soon as I read your advice, I realized it was the obvious answer, and that I should not reach out to my fired boss for a reference. I just needed to hear it from the expert!

Since then, I’ve heard they are interviewing for the position. I didn’t get so much as a phone interview request, despite exceeding the preferred qualifications on the job posting. I have no idea if this is due to my past association with my former boss or not, but maybe I just wasn’t what they were looking for or they wanted someone with more years of experience in the position.

3. My coworkers constantly share their inappropriate, bigoted, and hostile views with me (first update here)

Another update: I’ve almost completed my master’s and have finally started to feel like a real adult. At my most recent performance review, my boss gave me a fantastic review and commented that she felt I had grown and matured the most of any of her employees over the years. I had to hold back from tearing up!

The other day, some coworkers began discussing sexual assault allegations and making some awful assumptions about victims. I could tell I was getting upset. Instead of yelling or getting mad, I went to an empty office, put headphones in, and took a few minutes to pull myself together. Later, I talked to the coworker I’m closer to and explained why the conversation and her comments bothered me. It went well and the matter has been forgotten. I don’t think I could’ve done that in the past.

Your site has been fantastic in helping me figure out what’s reasonable and what’s not. It really helps me put things in perspective too. I refer a lot of people here. :)

4. I’m doing some of my coworker’s work as a favor to her and she’s interfering (#2 at the link)

It turned out that we were both at the bottom of a verrrry long management chain with huge amounts of office politics above. I assumed Fiona knew about the politics and she didn’t, which is why she was questioning my decisions (which were actually someone else’s decisions!) Happy to report it’s no longer in my role and we’ve hired two new people to cover it. The manager of that team is now leaving and I now have problems within my own team that I am dealing with instead – out of the frying pan and into the fire, as this problem is a lot worse!

{ 67 comments… read them below }

  1. Detective Amy Santiago

    LW#1 – I’m so glad that things worked out with this particular co-worker, but it might be worth pointing out this potential conflict in the new year and considering adjusting your plans for next year just in case it ever comes up again.

    1. LW No. 1

      I’ve pointed it out in email and verbally to the senior partner, so he is aware. Due to the office dynamic (I may be the office manager, but in my workplace that translates loosely to “bookkeeper, confidante, receptionist, and janitor”) my hands are somewhat tied re: policy, but I don’t hesitate to make my concerns known. If nothing else, I am keeping these issues on their collective radar.

      1. anonagain

        “If nothing else, I am keeping these issues on their collective radar.”

        Thanks for doing that. I can’t speak for anyone else, obviously. For me personally, having coworkers/a team who are aware, open to changing things, and actively asking for feedback means a lot. I care about that more than whether people say the word Christmas or celebrate on Christmas eve.

      2. Mookie

        Another thanks for doing that. Highlighting why this didn’t pose a problem in this particular circumstance — co-worker celebrates all fall and winter holiday traditions, which is unusual — doesn’t mean it won’t in future, so this is a good opportunity for the senior partner and office manager to head off any future risk by tweaking the policy.

  2. Detective Amy Santiago

    LW #2 – I wouldn’t take it personally that the didn’t interview you. It’s possible that given the circumstances of your former boss’s termination, they wanted to bring in an outsider.

    Also, it would be worth it to reach out to former boss and keep those lines of communication open in case you ever want to use her for a reference in the future with a different company.

    1. Lillie Lane

      I feel bad for OP#2 because it sounds like her work/reputation was tainted unbeknownst to her, then kept out of the loop so she didn’t even get a chance to explain. While these things happen and life isn’t fair, it still stings.

      1. Seal

        Me too. I’ve been in a similar situation where I found out after the fact that my application was an automatic no because of who people on the search committee assumed I was associated with. Like the OP, I never got a chance to explain or clarify the situation, either (not that I even knew what it was that I had to explain). Frustrating as it is, I have to chalk it up as one of the unfortunate aspects of job hunting in a relatively small field.

  3. Detective Amy Santiago

    LW #3 – Congrats on your progress both professionally and educationally!

    And I’m impressed that you feel like a “real adult” because I’m 40 and still don’t LOL.

  4. Detective Amy Santiago

    LW #4 – Office politics are the worst! Best wishes for dealing with your current issues. I hope you’re able to resolve them quickly and painlessly.

  5. Jean (just Jean)

    >At my most recent performance review, my boss gave me a fantastic review and commented that she felt I had grown and matured the most of any of her employees over the years.

    Re #3: I have not read the original letter or the first update, but this summary of personal growth and maturity on the job is enough for me to track down and read the full story. It’s useful to have in one’s personal toolbox multiple examples of mature responses to unexpected and/or amazingly difficult life challenges.

  6. Nana

    Many of these updates are just to regular letters that…kind of don’t require follow-up. These just aren’t that interesting.

    1. silvertech

      Not every problem has to be interesting for you. Those people put themselves out there, asked for advice, and then were gracious enough to let us know how their situations turned out. I wouldn’t complain.

      1. Stormfeather

        Especially since this is basically a totally extra update, and isn’t exactly “replacing” anything else. Saturdays are almost always (in my experience) just weekend discussions, and anything extra is more than welcome! (Updates are also more than welcome, even if some might find them boring.)

        Unlurking for the first time to say that.

      1. Falling Diphthong

        I like them too.

        I’d particularly note #3 (how to cope better with something about work you can’t change) and #4 (thought someone knew background, realized in follow-up they didn’t) are applicable to a wide range of problems.

        1. Mookie

          Same here. These are commonplace problems that can trip up even experienced, confident people. We need examples of how someone can successfully navigate these situations, using advice below and abovethread and letter-writers’s own confusions and mistakes to learn from and anticipate pitfalls. Entertainment and amusement are lovely, of course, but Alison’s mission statement here is pretty clear.

    2. Emily

      I feel like that isn’t a very helpful sentiment to express here – not all updates are going to be earth-shattering, and I’d rather encourage letter writers to send in updates than tell some that their situations aren’t that interesting.

      I, for one, am glad to hear from #3, since I have some strongly held views and might have to navigate similar situations at some point.

    3. The Cosmic Avenger

      I’ll agree that these updates weren’t as interesting or dramatic as many of the other updates, but I for one will agree with the others that it is still interesting to see what the LWs did and how it turned out, even if nothing changed. That happens, and it’s interesting to me to note that, and how the LWs dealt with the persistence of the problem or their willingness to accept it and work around it.

      You’re entitled to your opinion, Nana, but you can always skip over the ones you don’t find interesting, and the rest of us can read them. Win/win!

      1. Don't Blame Me

        But seriously, I’ll take any update I can get my eyes on. Even very “mundane” letters and updates can have something in them that’s useful to someone. Also it can be interesting to see how much the initial situation presented in the OP was misread, like in the cases of Tic Tacs being left on desk, or the profile photo one, or this one about the Christmas lunch. It shows how often we can get ourselves worked up about something that turns out to be no problem at all – it’s reassuring.

        1. MommyMD

          This DBM. I’m glad the person who passed out the mints did not read the letter or response. So much malice was wrongly attributed to them. I like the updates.

        2. just another day

          Agree DBM. I also like the updates regardless, because some of the less dramatic initial posts personally resonate with me (and others, I’m sure), so knowing the outcome brings the connection full circle.

    4. Detective Amy Santiago

      That’s really not nice to the LWs who took their time to let us know how their situations turned out.

      Not every update is going to involve surprise pregnancies, random office stripping, or disappearing colleagues and that’s okay. These are people’s real lives and real struggles that they’re sharing with us.

      1. LG

        Same here! I appreciate the time and thoughtfulness folks put into replying, and enjoy all updates…to dramatic problems and smaller problems that many of us are more likely to be dealing with. As a newish reader to the site, it also gives me a chance to go back and read some older original letters and then come back to the updates.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Absolutely this. It’s also amazing to hear from LWs as they take a step back, take stock, and then implement new plans. Sometimes the updates make me sad/disappointed, but I’m always grateful for them. And when they involve the OP feeling empowered or making a personal breakthrough, I love feeling happy/excited for them.

          A lot of the times the “mundane” letters are the ones that are most applicable to others’ lives (most of us don’t have a duck club), and the updates often provide guidance to others going through similarly hard times. But I generally love the updates.

    5. Triplestep

      I’m quite pleased to see the update to #1. I’m Jewish, and anything that encourages people not to change fairly benign Christmas traditions based on assumptions about what might offend someone else is OK by me!

      My new office’s Christmas get-together fell on the first night of Hanukkah, and I did not even notice until my husband pointed it out to me. (I had the night of Hanukkah wrong –
      not the party.) In previous work settings there were people I could not convince that Hanukkah is not that big a deal, and I have often forgotten when it was after my kids were no longer little. I am SO happy I didn’t have to hear “Oh … but you have Hanukkah” this year!

      1. Specialk9

        That’s nice that it doesn’t bother you. Others of us Jews do find it bothersome. Nice to remember that we are not monolithic so there’s no one answer. OP did the right thing in checking in.

        1. Lissa

          But I feel like that was the point Triplestep was making – don’t change things “based on assumptions” that everyone who falls in a particular group will be bothered They didn’t say anything that implies nobody finds it bothersome, just that sometimes the focus on this issue can lead people to make wrong assumptions, so it’s nice for them to see something that fits closer to their experience.

          I get that, personally – not with this issue but with other things, to remember that just because we tend to hear about an issue when something is wrong, it’s good to keep in mind that we should check with people on an individual basis too and not change something “for them” if they don’t want that.

        2. Pollygrammer

          And if I was new, or at the bottom of the totem pole, it might be really hard to say “actually, I kind of do prefer to keep things to ‘Generic Holiday.'”

        3. Triplestep

          Specialk9, I think you’ve misunderstood; we are in agreement that OP did the right thing in checking it rather than assuming offense. Lissa did a good job summing up what I meant.

          You are correct that we are not all the same – not only Jews, but people in general. When I hear “Oh … but you have Hanukkah” I hear an attempt to minimize our important differences. If it seems right in the moment, I welcome the opportunity to explain that Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas.

    6. Someone said this about my update the other day

      If you see that the update is about a previous letter that you’re not interested in, you can just scroll past it. You don’t have to read them all.

    7. Myrin

      Does this really need to be the first comment here? On a post where four people took the time to write to Alison and tell her and us what happened further? Upon popular request?

      Like, I hope I’m not coming across as harsh but what do you expect as a result of such negativity? There’s been so much interest in the updates that Alison won’t stop asking for them just because a handful of people don’t like them.

      So in that case, you can just, well, have that thought in your head and travel along to another site, maybe? This site regularly features letters that don’t interest me in the least but then I go read something else instead of writing a comment expressing how this particular letter isn’t to my exact personal taste, nevermind that it gets hundreds of comments by people who are interested.

        1. Jean (just Jean)

          Alison, my post was never intended to be the first response. Can you please move it to under Fuzzy Pickles’ comment at 9:30 am? (And if it doesn’t get moved, it’s no great tragedy in the larger view of life.) I promise to be more mindful of where/how I respond in the future. Thank you!

          1. Lissa

            None of these are in response to your comment, which as I can see now doesn’t have any responses – they’re to Nana’s. Unless I’m just completely confused! :)

        2. Mookie

          Wow, that’s awesome, Alison. Thank you for doing that. It’s a great way of allowing this commenter their say without insulting the LWs and drawing negative attention from the commentariat, the bulk of whom are thoughtful, constructive, and well-meaning.

    8. Ask a Manager Post author

      Wow, that feels awfully rude, both to the people who take the time to send it updates because I asked them to, and to me. I am hugely grateful to hear back from anyone whose letter I answered and really like hearing where people are now, but if they don’t interest you, please just pass them by.

    9. Bea

      I prefer to have a conclusion if possible even if it’s basic and doesn’t end in “then she flashed the exec her breasts and quit.” So that’s nice you don’t find them interesting, we all have opinions here.

    10. Love all updates

      No letters require a follow-up since obviously the person got the answer they were seeking from Alison. But we like reading the updates because we find all of them interesting, even the one you don’t. Ever heard the saying “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all”?

    11. Sarah in Boston

      I find all the updates interesting. And am very appreciate that people are willing to take the time to give them.

  7. Gaia

    I love this time of year and all the updates we get! It is really helpful to hear how things turned out since so many here contribute and give their own advice in addition to Alison’s.

  8. Collingswood

    Agreed!! I like all the updates, dramatic or not. I appreciate that people have taken the time to follow up after asking for advice. And it’s actually a really cool, unique thing about this advice column. You rarely ever hear how things turn out on other advice columns.

    If you find a particular item dull, just stop reading. It’s unreasonable to expect someone else’s blog to be curated to your particular tastes. Let others enjoy these posts.

  9. Lady Phoenix

    #3: I am still worried about your job. Considering that these people seem to revel in toxic subjects and opinions, it might badly affect you in the long run. It is one thing to put on headphones and maybe talk to your closer coworkers about their behvaior… but if the majority of the workplace is this bad, headphones just might not cut it.

    1. Fake old Converse shoes

      +1 My first job was much like this (one filmed women eating in the company’s cafeteria, other was a serial cheater that told everyone I was dating him, a creep that had access to HR database to get personal information of every woman he fancied, other creep that followed me to the toilet who was also my mentor, and my workaholic manager that enabled it all). I felt really relieved when I was fired after a year in that hell of a company.

    2. Bobismeisbob

      I came to late to ask this on the other posts about it but I’m curious if the worker could make a hostile work environment lawsuit? It’s probably too late now if most of the people involved are already gone but as I understand it if coworkers are harassing you and the bosses allow it then that’s where a hostile work environment applies.

  10. AnonAndOn

    3. From reading the previous update, it sounded like a majority of the problem people left, but this newer update sounds like some of the problem people are still there. Here’s to you finishing your Master’s program and getting the heck out of Dodge! That place sounds like a toxic cesspool of ignorance and negativity.

  11. ScoutFinch

    I am SO appreciative of each LW that offers an update. The situation any LW faces may be MY situation one day. And these LWs take the time to write Alison (and read the comments), so the circumstances are serious enough in the LWs’ mind that we need to treat each with respect.

    Most of us come to this blog to learn how to professionally grow and maneuver through the workplace.

    Not everything has to be a train wreck. Don’t read the updates if the original post was not gory enough for you.

  12. MuseMous

    I’m confused by LW #1. I want to know if the employee said his culture celebrates all those holidays, or if it’s his family. Because, as a Jewish woman, I can understand someone from an interfaith family celebrating holidays from multiple cultures… but otherwise that’s actually kind of disrespectful. Judaism has rules for membership, so to speak, and you really can’t be a practicing Jew, a practicing Muslim, and a practicing Christian all at the same time. (And many groups who try, like “Jews for Jesus/Messianic Jews,” were actually founded as evangelical groups trying to convert Jews, so we’re pretty wary about them and generally don’t count the members as Jews unless they are ethnically Jewish.) I know the Baha’i recognize the legitimacy of all monotheistic religions, but it was my understanding they don’t actually celebrate all their holidays.

    Also… how? Jews have a LOT of holidays that don’t conform to the Christian-normative calendar, and observing all of them is really hard, let alone adding in all the Christian and Muslim holidays. That’s a pretty packed schedule, and some of them are contradictory. Lent is a time of solemn contemplation but often overlaps with Passover, which mandates celebration. Fasting is forbidden on the Sabbath, but Ramadan overlaps with four Sabbaths. Not to mention the fact that celebrating Easter and Christmas is in direct violation of Jewish law…

      1. Bahai

        I’m a Baha’i and we mostly just celebrate our own holidays unless we have someone in our family (or sometimes a friend) from a different religion that is including us in their celebration. So when I was a kid my friend invited me over to share in their Hanukkah celebration and I enjoyed it and had a good time with my friend, I liked learning about their family’s traditions that they chose to share with me, but we didn’t go on to do that at home, or I had some extended family who were Christian so we sent them presents or when we lived close enough then we would visit with them but in our own home we didn’t have a Christmas tree or give each other gifts. Sometimes a friend would invite me to their Church and I would go but I wouldn’t take communion.

        If someone is including us in their thing, we’re respectful and happy to join in and accept the invitation but we don’t (usually) do their thing when we’re by ourselves, if that makes sense. We have our own things (none of which fall in December).

        So my guess is they’re either some other religion, or they have family members who belong to different religions.

        1. MuseMous

          Ah, okay, that sounds much more doable. And I realized my comment may have sounded a bit snippy; most Jews, including me, are happy to have the kind of interfaith celebrations you describe. (I’m actually hosting a Chanukah party for some friends and coworkers tomorrow, and ironically my two Jewish coworkers are the only ones who can’t attend.) But when I was in grad school I repeatedly was invited to a Passover seder at a church so that I could learn what the “true” meaning of the holiday was–i.e. Jesus–and that got pretty exhausting, and that kind of thing still gets my back up.

    1. anonagain

      I wonder if they meant that they are up for celebrating any of those holidays and have at various points rather than that they celebrate all of them every year.

      I was raised in a minority religion, don’t practice any religion now, and will happily celebrate any holiday with cool people who invite me to join them. When people are open-minded and accepting, then I truly don’t want them to feel like they have to forego their celebration for my sake. It’s not like we don’t all know that the December 15th red and green holiday party is just the re-branded Christmas party anyway.

      On the flip side, I work in an office with a LOT of very Christian religious talk, to the point that it is actually pretty uncomfortable for me. (There’s talk about spreading the word, being saved, etc.) I don’t really trust that my religious heritage and current non-belief would be truly accepted in an office where there are group prayers before meals.

      In this kind of context, I just don’t get into it. When people ask me directly, I give noncommittal answers about celebrating Christmas with friends. Cool people know that means it’s not part of my personal religious observance. Less cool people hear what they want to hear.

      Basically, I think it’s possible that there’s a lot more context that the employee didn’t want to get into about their religious belief/observance and that their statement, if relayed accurately, might not be a literal description of their situation.

      (To be clear, I think the LW sounds like they are trying really hard to create a good environment. They sound like they are in the cool/accepting category rather than the group prayer at work category. I bring it up just because think previous experience and broader societal context can sometimes make it hard to say, “Yeah, I don’t celebrate Christmas myself, but I am totally down for an office Christmas lunch.”)

    2. Millennial Lawyer

      You bring up a good point. I was wondering perhaps if the employee was saying his culture/personal way of practicing religion allows him to celebrate/acknowledge other holidays (such as participating in a luncheon) and not that he actually literally practices every tradition in every religious holiday. Like it was more of a nice way to say he had no problem with it.

    3. LW No. 1

      I can’t answer that; I can only report what the employee said, which was pretty much verbatim what I sent in. I’m not comfortable asking for clarification because, for me, that treads dangerously close to policing what others believe or practice regarding their faith.

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