updates: the disruptively cheerful coworker, the work cruise, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are five updates from past letter-writers.

1. Our disruptively cheerful new coworker treats us like toddlers

My story ends with a unique twist. It turns out several people in my office, including someone in a position to speak with the employee in question, are AAM readers. Of course, they recognized the situation. Pretty much immediately after my letter was published, my distracting colleague toned it way down. She is still very much herself, for example decorating the heck out of her desk area for the holidays, but she has stopped trying to involve the whole office in her activities. We can appreciate her cheer rather than be distracted by it now. She doesn’t seem to have any hard feelings, and her work is great. So while I didn’t end up needing to follow your advice, AAM directly fixed the issue! We’re all back to enjoying our collegial office culture and being able to concentrate on our work.

Thanks, and happy holidays!

2. My boss invited our whole office on a 10-day cruise at his expense

My update isn’t particularly thrilling – I told the VP that it wouldn’t be possible for me to go on the cruise and that it just didn’t work with my vacation and financial plans. I used some of the language you and the community provided. It was somewhat awkward because he called a meeting with our small office and asked us to give him our answers (in a circle!). He said that I could change my mind at any time. I learned later that my other managers didn’t want to go on the cruise either and had similar reservations about cost and our department closing for 10 days as I, and some of the AAM community, did. I also spoke with my direct manager who confirmed that it would have been impossible for him to “gift” me vacation time.

I really appreciated the advice of you and the community and I read through the comments section several times. It really helped reinforce how I was feeling and helped me to bolster my confidence and be able to give a firm “no, thank you.”

3. How do I resign when my boss is a horrible person who will yell and insult me?

Over the last four months, my boss’s treatment of me has only gotten worse, with an uptick when she found out (not from me) that I was looking for a new job. That said, I put in my two weeks notice last Friday! She had a tantrum, of course, expressing extreme sarcasm and just general unpleasantness (as always) – not even a perfunctory ‘thank you for your time here’. I’ve been in contact with HR pretty steadily over the last few months, and they’ve let me know that they’ll be doing their best to make sure she no longer gets a full time executive assistant – maybe a temp, maybe no one. Who knows if that will stick, but the attempt at least makes me feel a little better. Until I leave, my HR rep has asked me to forward her any evidence of my boss’s abuse/wrongdoing/disrespect/etc – while my boss didn’t put much in writing, I’m happy to at least be adding to a file and giving evidence for a future case.

In happier news, I was offered another position at a great company in a “rockstar” department. It’ll be a tough gig, but everyone I’ve spoken to has said that my new boss is exceedingly nice and looking to mentor someone. This is exactly the kind of position I wanted, and I’ve never been more excited! The news came last week, the morning after a particularly hard day with my boss where she made me cry three times. I told my boss nothing about this new position, though of course she has her suspicions, because she has a history of sabotage – she asked me point blank if I had another job lined up, and if I don’t why I can’t stay until she hires someone new and train them in January when she returns from her month-long vacation. I told her no, I don’t have anything lined up (a white lie endorsed by my HR rep, who knows about her history of sabotage), but unfortunately I can’t stay until January. These next two weeks will undoubtedly be terrible, but how could this get much worse? She’s going to yell at me and call me stupid and not tell me what she wants? Sounds like a Tuesday to me.

Thanks again to your advice as well as the very kind commenters. Thank you for confirming I’m not crazy!! So many people at work, especially other executives, have let me know that they’re ecstatic for me for getting out of here. It’s great to know that they’ve recognized what I’ve been doing despite my working conditions – but also, more than a little dispiriting to know that so many people saw what happened to me and made no effort to stop it.

Update to the update:

After all this, plus a hellish week one of my two-week ending, I asked my HR rep if I could use my sick time and leave a week early. She said yes, and she said she would also tell my boss for me come Monday morning. I ghosted my abuser, and am spending this extra week of paid vacation relaxing and getting a head start on PTSD coping techniques. My HR rep is firmly on my side and has said she’ll escalate my issues and documentation to as high a power as necessary. I’m still doubtful anything will happen (as is she, we’re at a huge corporation), but I’m happy it’s finally over and I never have to see my ex-boss again.

4. HR wants our personal cell numbers in our out-of-office messages so we can always be contacted

There were two eye-openers when you shared my letter.

I talked to my boss, who was noncommittal–she was surprised by the email too and was waiting to see how it shook out. Most people took your first option–ignore it–and it didn’t come up again. As someone who always takes the bull by the horns, I hadn’t even considered a wait-and-see approach, and I should probably try it more often.

But pointing out that HR doesn’t usually set this sort of policy made me realize that the situation was abnormal. The VP HR exerted influence in areas of the company that would never have been considered an HR function anywhere else.

She left of her own accord, with an offhand insult to everyone on her way out, and is missed by no one. Because she had gotten involved in so many areas, there were vacuums everywhere, even though she hadn’t been adding anything positive. (Everyone was also relieved because she was very touchy-feely, and no one wants to tell the head of HR to please stop rubbing my back.)

5. My intern is constantly apologizing

Thanks for your help, Alison. I’m proud to say that our intern became much more confident over the course of her time here with us, and seemed to figure out that she didn’t need to apologize for all the small things on her own. We offered her a full-time position, but she ended up deciding to spend some more time in school. No hard feelings, and our facility manager is definitely going to give her a great recommendation. I have to say that your advice came in handy for me, personally. Not long after I sent this in, I got a promotion, moved to another plant and realized I was now the one apologizing too much for things. I started re-framing my responses and I’m feeling great about my new position!

{ 83 comments… read them below }

  1. Coffee with cream

    #3. Is your new boss going to be your mentor as well? Just curious because where I work mentors can’t be your boss – and it’s preferred to be someone not on your team.

    1. Shark Whisperer

      I’m not the letter writer, but at my old job, we had a formal mentorship program for entry level positions and your mentor was usually your boss and always on your team. I was a manager and in practice it usually just meant I have specific coaching sessions with my reports (usually about 3-4 times a month) as well as managerial check-ins (about once a month).

      I will also add that my old job was a non-profit without a lot of room for upward mobility internally, but we worked with a lot of partner organizations that had more opportunities. My org actively liked people getting hired by partner orgs that continued to work with us. I realize this is kind of a unique situation because I imagine more managers wouldn’t have a strong incentive to foster an employees growth to the point that they would be looking to leave, as opposed to an outside mentor that would only be concerned with the mentees growth.

      1. Ilikeyoualatte

        Interesting, good to know. At my work mentors are someone senior but not your boss. Unbiased third party to provide feedback, guidance and support through various situations. My mentor is a senior director in a different department.

  2. Falling Diphthong

    Most people took your first option–ignore it–and it didn’t come up again.

    OP4, this explains many things in the world.

    More often it comes up when that didn’t work BUT someone didn’t spot the exact perfect moment to speak up before it became weird that they never said anything earlier.

  3. Fibchopkin

    OP #1: I remember reading your initial letter and thinking, “Omg, the OP is working with the woman version of Buddy the Elf!” Imagining her gave me a chuckle, but I’m very glad for your sake that AAM solved the issue!

    1. Elizabeth West

      Hahah! I missed that letter entirely so I went back and read it. I’m glad the situation resolved itself (guessing one of the folks who reads AAM at the OP’s job had a little chat with Buddy, haha).

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch

      It’s apparently Answer The Phone Like Buddy The Elf Day…

      I’m not kidding they mentioned it on the radio.

      What’s your favorite color?!

    3. Pomona Sprout

      I would still love to know what was going on in that person’s mind that made her think any of that stuff was remotely okay or appropriate, as well as what made her seem to think cheering up other people by giving then fun activities to do when they were supposed to be working was part of her job.

      I can’t help thinking that if I could take the top of her head off and peer in, it would be full of unicorns, rainbows, cotton candy and glotter!

    4. Alice

      I personally imagined Jess Day from “New Girl”. OP #1, if this hadn’t been resolved, the office may have ended up with its own theme song!

  4. Clarice Fitzpatrick

    (Everyone was also relieved because she was very touchy-feely, and no one wants to tell the head of HR to please stop rubbing my back.)

    Ohhhhhhhhhh noooooooooooooo.

    1. Julia

      At my last job, the person who touched me the most was our HR person/kind of vice president – so when people ask why I didn’t complain to anyone, I had to explain that there wasn’t anyone to complain to, as my boss hated having to deal with my “personal” issues.

      1. WellRed

        Always, always say something to the toucher! It may not always work, but there’s a good chance of it.

        1. tangerineRose

          Or cringe. I’m not wild about unexpected touch (and sometimes about touch in general), and I tend to pull away/cringe.

    2. Martin

      So this where my old HR director moved on to. Finger in every pie, hand on every back. Yeah, she was fired, but it took a decade too long. Bitter? Nah, I’m not bitter.

      1. Liz T

        Agreed. I’m glad there was one person there willing to take care of OP even a little. That week off sounds amazing after that horror show.

      2. Solidus Pilcrow

        Maybe this one HR person is good on this one issue, but I’m really not impressed with the OP’s former employer as a whole. Seems like the whole company knows about this boss and allowed it to go on way too long (and *still* allowing it – finding work-arounds like not giving her an assistant instead of just getting rid of her). It should have never have gotten to the point where the OP was crying 3x a day in the first place.

        1. hbc

          Seriously. “We’ll make sure we have rotating temps here so that no one gets yelled at long enough to get PTSD again, or we won’t fill the position and pretend like someone this awful won’t intimidate random people into unofficially taking over that work.”

          Not. Good.

          1. Jadelyn

            Yes – this struck me as “I don’t have the power to actually do anything about her, but at the very least I can try to help and protect her victim to the extent of what power I do have.”

    1. Seeking Second Childhood

      “Sounds like a Tuesday to me” might just need to be calligraphed and posted on my bulletin board.
      Congrats on the new gig and thanks for the updates!

  5. Not All

    Oh hell to the no….I have NO problem being the one to tell the head of HR (or anyone else) to keep their hands to themselves. I’ve had that exchange with important donors, managers, and coworkers. I do not care how kindly you meant it, touch me once & I will kindly ask you never to do that again. Touch me a second time and all hell breaks loose. (I have an invisible health condition that makes being touched very painful so I go no holds barred on this one once I have *politely* made it known the first incident)

    NO TOUCHING AT WORK!!! Gah!!!

    1. Jennifer Thneed

      And I was imaging that HR head’s reaction if the massage recipient vocally enjoyed it, and said things like, “Oh, just a little to the left, oh that’s the spot that’s been bothering me, oh please just keep rubbing right there”. And when the HR head stops, the recipient can complain that it was too soon. And then chase down the HR head anytime they come by with requests for more shoulder rubbing. More! MOAR! WHY WON’T YOU RUB MY SHOULDERS ANYMORE???? (sobbing ensues)

  6. Detective Amy Santiago

    OP #2 – I think it’s great that you were able to use Alison’s scripts and confidently say no.

    But I’m desperately curious if anyone actually said yes/has the cruise happened?

    1. ContentWrangler

      Yeah I want more information! From OP’s update it sounds like the other managers felt pressured to say yes. They all apparently had to answer yes or no to the cruise in a public meeting, but OP didn’t find out until later that the other managers didn’t want to go. So, that sounds like the other managers agreed to go.

    2. Michio Pa

      Also I’d like to hear from OP a few months from now to see how things shook out afterwards. Not only to see if anything weird happened on the cruise (because it definitely did!) but also because that VP sounds difficult to work for and I’m curious how it affects OP’s perspective. Specifically, VP has this “great idea” and then offers to “gift 10 days PTO” without knowing/checking if that’s possible?? I have a feeling this VP is going to need reining in elsewhere too.

      1. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw

        I think Glomarization is talking about the Abilene paradox, where despite NO ONE wanting a certain thing (in the original example, a trip to Abilene), they all enthusiastically agree to it because they don’t want to go against what they think the group wants. Therefore, despite everyone not wanting X, they all end up agreeing to X anyway.

  7. EPLawyer

    #1, well looks like everyone is happy. Co-worker gets to be Buddy the Elf without involving others and you can enjoy a happy co-worker without being forced to have “play time.”

    #3 Good Luck on your new job. Yeah, how bad could your last two weeks have been given her normal behavior. Well clearly worse (how is that POSSIBLE?) given you asked to not show up the last week. Sorry about that.

    #4 who let HR have this much power in this first place. And what IS IT with HR folks being all handsy and boundary crossing? Shouldn’t they know better?

    1. Just Employed Here

      Re #4: No one writes letters to Alison going “Our HR team is wonderful and all is splendid here”. :-) So we never hear about those offices.

      1. Michio Pa

        True. Once in a while there is a thread about “what does it look like to have a good boss” that brings these stories to light. Maybe “what does it look like to have a good HR” would be a good topic for the open thread.

      2. SarahTheEntwife

        We do sometimes hear about HR effectively intervening in toxic situations. Good HR departments kind of have it rough on the PR front, since unless there’s something bad or at least unusual happening — or you’re heavily involved in hiring or something like that — most people aren’t going to interact with HR much.

  8. Jeff

    I kind of wish more problems were solved because other office mates read AAM. I try to encourage everyone I know who I think would benefit to read this blog. Thank you Alison and the AAM community for one of the best web sites in existance (IMHO).

    1. Shark Whisperer

      It works for me? Maybe its gone wonky for you because it’s a podcast episode not a written letter?

    2. yomikoma

      Yeah, it’s linked as “ttps” instead of “https”. Just add the h to the url in your location bar and it should come right up.

  9. Lana Kane

    OP3: I love that you were able to ghost her on paid time! And I’m also glad you got a good HR person – this could have gone so much differently for you if HR didn’t care.

    OP4: “As someone who always takes the bull by the horns, I hadn’t even considered a wait-and-see approach, and I should probably try it more often.” This is me, as well, and I’ve been gobsmacked at how well just biding my time with certain things can work (always with requests like this, that are just weird and inappropriate). It’s hard for me, but deployed wisely it’s a useful skill.

  10. Pam

    (Everyone was also relieved because she was very touchy-feely, and no one wants to tell the head of HR to please stop rubbing my back.)

    Ha! That was an example in the anti-harassment training I did yesterday.

    1. Colleague of Kindergarten teacher

      Yes, someone came by on the DL and said “This was you, right?” (in a nice way, not a repercussiony way).

  11. ContentWrangler

    OP1, do you think the overly cheerful coworker actually saw the AAM post? Or did the person sort of in charge of her just see it and actually address the problem?

    1. The Other Dawn

      That’s what I’m wondering, too! I assume the person in charge of her saw and immediately spoke to her, but it’s not completely clear to me because OP mentioned there are “no hard feelings”, which makes me think maybe she did see it.

    2. Colleague of Kindergarten teacher

      OP1 here. I don’t think she read the post herself, for a couple of reasons. First, because she doesn’t come from a corporate background or work history, I don’t imagine she reads management websites. Second, she is still Very Cheery and her feelings didn’t seem hurt at all, as I think they might have been had she come across the letter herself without some to soften it.

  12. mark132

    OP1 you need to come up with a “code word” to identify your fellow AAMers, though I wouldn’t use ‘quack’ ;-).

              1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego

                I don’t know, I had a Spanish teacher years ago who used that example, along with underwater basket weaving. And some people do in fact carve grains of rice.

  13. Observer

    #4- What IS it with HR people who don’t understand the basic concept of boundaries! When you wrote “touchy feely” I thought you meant metaphorically. Then you mentioned rubbing your back. EWWW!

  14. Environmental Compliance

    “and no one wants to tell the head of HR to please stop rubbing my back”

    ACK. ACK. ACK. AAAAAAAAAAAAACK.

  15. Goya de la Mancha

    #2 – that is one of my secret nightmare/hopes! That people I work with closely (or somewhat at least) will read AAM and see what I post.

    #3 – SO happy that you are out of that situation and props to your HR rep for stepping up like they should!

    #4 – good riddance!

  16. Uncle bob

    “My HR rep is firmly on my side”

    Oh honey. HR is simply making sure that the company doesn’t get sued. They don’t care one bit about you.

    1. Jennifer Thneed

      HR-the-department is very different from a given person working in HR. Corporations are famous for not having feelings, while people are famous for having compassion. If you gotta snark, at least do it smarter.

  17. Call Me Casper

    LW3 – congratulations for getting out of there. Also, your specific phrasing around ghosting your boss is EXACTLY why recent articles about millenials quitting without telling their bosses is tone-deaf. I don’t know how old you are, but this is so common and as someone who has been in a similar situation, ghosting was also my best option. We are human beings who deserve respect, agency, and proper compensation. Good luck in the new year and the new position!

    1. Jennifer Thneed

      And it wasn’t actually “ghosting”, given that someone in the company DID know where LW3 was.

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