updates: the smoking quitter, the daily gifts, and more

Here are four updates from people who had their letters answered here this year.

1. My employee quit smoking and is being a pain (#2 at the link)

I mentioned in the comments of the article that by the time my letter was posted, Joy was already doing much better. She was still being rude/short to customers and team members occasionally, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as when I wrote. I ended up buying a bag of sugar free dumdums at the suggestion of a reader- she loves sweets, and she was really pleased when I told her they were in my desk, and that she could help herself anytime she felt like she needed to take a quick breather. She also shared with me that walking has been a big help to her as well, so I built in some breaks for her to walk for 10-15 minutes, oftentimes with a dumdum in hand. Now on top of quitting smoking, she’s also lost some weight too!

On a different note, quite a few people said they felt like my company was pretty toxic- while I still stand by my letter/concerns being pretty typical in the retail world, for completely unrelated reason I can confidently say yes, my company was incredibly toxic and awful, and it really effected my mental health. I’m really excited to tell everyone that I started a new job at the beginning of November, and it’s been such a wonderful change. I’m now out of retail, and am a leader for an entertainment venue- think laser tag but much cooler and more high tech. The last couple of months have been insane getting my venue off the ground, but even with all of the extra hours put in, (I’m not salaried anymore, so OT!!) I’m happier than I have been in years. I now work for a company that respects me and treats me well, and a boss who is absolutely wonderful and supportive. And I have a product that I’m incredibly proud to represent, which was definitely not the case at my last job!

2. My coworkers keep pressuring me to take vacation — but I need to save up time for a chronic illness

I wanted to send in an update as I’ve been enjoying reading through others’ on your website. I wrote in because I wanted to stop being pressured to take time off, since I needed to save it for my chronic illness. A few things really helped get my coworkers to back off on the well-intentioned, but frustrating questions about my (non-)use of vacation time. The most obvious thing was that I eventually started needing to use sick time, and as I got comfortable with the job, started using it at least once a month. My boss felt this was unsustainable and finally asked me about it/paid attention to me when I tried to mention it, which meant I was able to negotiate more flexibility with working from home when I don’t feel well. (I am allowed to stay home around 20 days/year, with minimal advance notice, as long as I email him in the morning telling him what I’ll be working on. It’s very helpful!)

I also bought a house earlier this year, which meant I had to take time off for inspections, closing, and repairs. More than anything though, I think getting to know my coworkers a little better helped. I am private and usually deflect personal questions. I know I’m the grumpy one in the office, and this works for me, without holding me back too much. (I’m never grumpy about collaborative work, and I’m not the cruel kind of rude, just sometimes the quiet kind when it comes to social chatting.) Once my coworkers figured out where my boundaries were, they mostly stopped telling me what I should do in my personal life. They still talk to each other all the time about their vacations, but it’s no longer a surprise when I stay quiet. I have tried to ask occasional personal questions to make it clear that I don’t dislike anyone, and I think we’re all working pretty well together now.

Thanks for responding to my letter!

3. Coworker is bringing daily gifts to our team lead

Not a very exciting update actually. Some of the commenters on the initial post wondered if there was a romantic or stalker type situation going on. In short, no not that we could tell. Mary tried to bring gifts to other team leads or managers and was quickly shot down by them. My co-worker and I did approach our manager about the iPad situation- we told her that we didn’t know all the details for sure but here’s what’s going on and you might want to look into it.

When Julie returned to work the manager pulled her aside to talk it over- we were friendly with Julie so she willingly shared the details without any prompting. She was uncomfortable with the increasingly expensive gifts, but didn’t know how to effectively shut it down. If she refused Mary would leave the item in a desk drawer and get angry if Julie tried to give it back. The iPad was given right before she was taking some time off and she had fully intended to go to the manager about it when she returned. About a week after this meeting Julie actually left the company.

Not too long after that Mary was let go. She didn’t meet all of the expectations set in her PIP and without Julie there, had no team lead that would cover for her. So, both were gone from the company less than a month after my first letter.

The company has a gift policy that is recirculated every year around the holidays- our location made sure that everyone was clear on the rules and that it didn’t apply only to the month of December.

Thank you — and the commenters! — for taking the time to give me (us) advice.

4. What are the expectations when you have a work phone? (#2 at the link)

I received a work phone at the beginning of the calendar year. The original intent with the work phone was so I could take meetings with our overseas team from home. (There’s a 12/13 hour difference between us.) I asked my manager a couple of days after receiving the phone if there were any expectations around my checking the phone outside of work, and she told me, based on my current role, she didn’t expect for me to use the phone in a support sense for our team members. It was meant to be a convenience in case I needed to take business calls from somewhere other than work, which was also meant to help her. She felt bad leaving me in the office late at night to take calls from my desk phone, but she didn’t want to have to take those calls from the office since she already had a work phone. She’s stuck true to her word. The only reason I’ve used the phone outside of late-night work calls is to follow-up with her on random office things (“What are you bringing to the office party tomorrow?”, “Do you need me to run the routine data audit for Eddard this week since you’re out of office today?”, etc.) which mostly take place during normal business hours. She’s also been explicit with me when she does expect me to check my phone/email outside of work, for which I can think of only two instances.

All in all, I believe I have one of the best bosses I will ever have, and she’s been very straightforward about what she expects of me in and outside of the office. The work phone has also been a blessing in that it’s given me a way to separate my work life from my personal life. I only use my work phone for work-related items, and I’m free to put it away when I leave the office. It also gives me a way to contact colleagues outside of work while still keeping that contact separate from my personal phone.

Thank you so much for your advice! If there’s anything this situation has taught me, it’s to be open and honest when asking about expectations from my manager. I’ll definitely continue to use this method of communication throughout the rest of my career.

{ 16 comments… read them below }

  1. Observer*

    #3 – Interesting update. So it really was a straight up attempt at bribery. Really, really stupid.

    On the other hand, it’s a perfect example of why it’s so important to be careful about things like gifting upward. From what you say, despite being uncomfortable with the gifts, Julie WAS affected enough to cut Mar more slack than she should have. It’s a good thing she left – for the company and for her, and it’s probably the only way she can leave that lapse behind her and start over.

  2. Steve*

    I like going up to people I know and saying “dumdum”. When they give me a quiz able look, I will hold out a dumdum in my hand, offering it to them, saying “dumdum again.”

    1. Augusta Sugarbean*

      Oh you should totally get a top hat and monocle and go up to people and say dum…dum…duuuummmm! like the dramatic chipmuck (or whatever that was) and then hand them three dumdums. (Or would that be six?)

    1. Smoking OP*

      I’m the OP from that comment…she was already getting extra breaks in the form of smoke breaks back when she was smoking. The walking breaks only happened usually once a day or so, when her cravings were hitting her extra hard- and almost certainly equaled less time than those original smoke breaks did overall. And as for the candy…eh, what’s a little compassion if it helps?

      I do find it kind of funny…when I posted originally, I had plenty of commenters up in arms that I wasn’t being understanding/patient enough considering how tough it is to quit smoking. But now I’m apparently TOO nice haha. Just goes to show, you can’t please everyone :P

    2. Drew*

      I’m pretty sure the OP would make the candy available to anyone who asked, so that seems like a nonissue. As for the walking breaks, it doesn’t sound like they’re getting in the way of work, so what’s the harm?

      1. Smoking OP*

        Yes, you are correct, the dumdums were available to anyone that wanted them- that bag was massive, there wasn’t even a dent in it by the time I left that job lol

  3. Catarina*

    LW #2 I was also getting a lot of comments about not taking any PTO…I had to hoard it due to a rigorous work/grad school schedule on top of caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s.

    I ended up having to use it all now, since it couldn’t be carried over, and the Venn diagram of “people who nagged me to take off” and “people who are aggravated that I’m not there to handle their problems immediately” is just one circle. (Note that my job is not the kind with real, actual urgent issues.)

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