updates: we’re supposed to share our mental health needs at every meeting, 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. My boss wants us to all share our mental health needs – at every meeting

Thanks so much for your thoughtful advice and response to my letter, and to that of the commenters. It was really validating to know that so many others would be uncomfortable being asked to share so much at work, especially because I feel like the party pooper at my office if I don’t want to share personal info.

I didn’t end up having to put your advice into effect–our work is seasonal, so right after my letter was published our schedules completely changed to accommodate our summer projects and my boss canceled our weekly staff meetings, and hence our mental-health check-ins. I was responsible for running most of the meetings over the summer and I kept them short and focused on work. By the time we resumed our weekly staff meetings, my boss had forgotten all about his mental-health check-in kick, thankfully. As our summer work was winding down, I took a few weeks off to recover. When I came back, two of the most negative and cliquey staff members had actually chosen to leave. The people who have been hired to replace them are much more pleasant and very competent. Along with the fact that I’ve managed to have one of my most stressful tasks taken off my plate, I’ve been a lot less stressed at work. I’m using the increased mental space I have to take online courses and apply to retraining programs with the goal of switching fields.

I’m still extremely grateful that you answered my letter, and to all the commenters. Knowing my boss, it’s only a matter of time before he circles back to asking for some type of personal sharing, since it had happened a few times previously (though never as bad as with the mental-health check-ins). I feel better knowing that my feelings are valid and that I’m more prepared.

2. How do you know you want to be a manager?

I wrote in last year asking how you know you want to be a manager. It was published as an ask the readers question, so let me first say: Thank you for publishing my question, and thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who commented! A lot of the advice was affirming; it made me excited about wanting to be a manager and I felt reassured that I was thinking about the right things (i.e. not getting to do the work I liked as much, having to be responsible for others’ work, etc.). There were two questions (asked by a few different people each) that stuck with me in a convicting way. They were: (1) Do you really want to stop practicing law? and (2) Do you want to be a manager at your current organization?

These questions lived in the back of my head; I realized when I read through all of the comments that I had been avoiding asking them of myself. Did I want to stop practicing law? Maybe/yes/no. I didn’t intend to go that route, but I would have been comfortable with it, I think. Did I want to be a manager at my organization? More specifically, did I want to be a first time manager under my…not…great… boss?

My question was published in December and after a very ROUGH winter, I gave notice at my job in March. I am now working as in house counsel at a Fortune 50 company! I don’t love the hours and I miss feeling invested in my work. On the other hand, I have a fantastic boss, I had a very positive 6 month review and am working with some of the smartest attorneys I have ever met; it’s kind of intimidating actually! Also, my company has opportunities for promotion both as a manager as well as an individual contributor so there is plenty of room to grow in the future.

Right after I left, Former Boss had multiple complaints filed against her and after an investigation, suddenly retired without notice. I’ve since met with Former Grand Boss to discuss the possibility of coming back. I’m considering it; aside from FB, I really did love my job there. However, I like my new job a lot too and I think I’ll have more opportunities to grow long-term. For now, I’m happy to have many opportunities to develop professionally, and I’m looking forward to new challenges in 2019!

3. My manager wants to keep trainees “hermetically sealed off” from other staff (#3 at the link)

I ended up talking with the off-site designer (who is best friends with the manager) citing my concerns that the idea was infantilizing, and anyone with options would leave. I figured she was safer to talk to because she wouldn’t take it personally, and I was right. She talked with our manager about it and the rule was abandoned the next day.

I also found out during that conversation with the offsite designer that I was correct in thinking that the whole “hermetically sealed” crap was disingenuous and really about my manager disliking a particular designer, Bob, and it was because she was accused of sexually harassing him. A few months later, she told the training team in great detail and with a disturbing amount of glee how and why Bob was formally reprimanded Bob for giving advice to a trainee. There was loads of other drama, and then Bob got a very nice new job (and my manager tried to get Legal involved because he shared design samples). After Bob left, things got even worse so I ramped up my job search, and eventually left for a much better position.

I never really realized how much the craziness of that job weighed on me non-stop, and I am so much happier even though now I’m on a team that doesn’t have any other designers. At least I don’t have to train anyone! Thank you again for your advice (and thanks to the commenters as well); it was really validating to see that I wasn’t crazy and my manager was being ridiculous. I held that with me during the craziness that followed. :)

4. My manager refused to send a dying coworker flowers

Soon after this incident, it was announced that our team was moving into a different group, under a new manager. I’m assuming my request was denied because everything relating to budget was being picked over with a fine-tooth comb. We were just told our team is being moved again into a new group, with a new manager, in February. There are some other indications that our team may be disbanded soon. Needless to say, I’m updating my resume.

5. How should I handle this post-pregnancy policy that will ask about past drug use(#4 at the link)

I was not selected to interview for this position, so this dilemma never really came up. (My state did pass a pro-marijuana initiative this month though!) However, during my performance evaluation a year after my letter, my manager told me how impressed she was with the work I’d been doing (in no small part by using the advice on AAM to navigate some difficult relationships) and started the process of moving me into a training and development role, which was completed last month. I now make more than I would have in the job I wrote in about, and no polygraph was necessary. Thank you, Alison and AAM readers!

{ 23 comments… read them below }

  1. Jules the 3rd*

    OP3: Congrats on getting out of there! Abusers spoil everything.

    OP5: Sweet! That sounds like it worked out great. Keep in mind that even if the state makes it legal, some employers will still frown on it. Anyone federal especially, since it’s not legal at that level. I think honesty is the best option – I’d be more likely to hire someone who said ‘I tried it twice, it doesn’t appeal’ than someone who said ‘I never have’ and I figured out later that wasn’t true. But ymmv…

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Re #5 was concerning a job with the highway patrol. So they’re hard on digging into your background extensively, until it’s off the federal “no-no” list, the police are going to continue to not hire folks who can be traced back to even a casual experience. You have to pass the polygraph with a strong “no. Never ever broke laws, even minor dunb ones.”

      A few other government jobs require that too. My friend refuses to ingest THC because it’s legal here but she’s got ambitions to be in one of those kinds of positions. She doesn’t want to goof on a polygraph.

      1. BradC*

        I’m sure different departments have their own individual policies, but I have heard Alison’s point before, that (generally speaking) honesty about long-ago use might not be disqualifying in and of itself, but them finding out you lied about it would be. Of course, recent or ongoing use is probably disqualifying, as would some prior convictions.

        For example, see this about the FBI’s policy: https://www.quora.com/Is-it-true-you-cant-be-an-FBI-agent-if-you-smoked-weed-more-than-3-times-in-your-life

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          It certainly depends on the department location as well as the applicant pool.

          If you’re in an area with little interest things loosen up as well.

      2. Fabrica*

        I don’t know about this. I have heard from plenty LEO and clerical staff at LE departments who have had past usage, and the determining factors seem to be if you tried marijuana but didn’t have a habit, and it was years ago, and nothing recent, they may let it slide. Especially now that its becoming more rare to find someone who hasn’t tried in the past. I also wonder if medical usage gets a pass. For anyone interested in a government job, I would tell them “don’t do it so you won’t ever have to worry”, but I wouldn’t tell a candidate not to apply if that’s in their background, I would just emphasize that they need to be HONEST and upfront about it, no matter what hot water they are in, before or after they get the job. Government jobs should be about integrity, IMHO, first and foremost.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          If someone is interested, I always suggest they apply, that’s for sure.

          The application process is long and tedious. I’m used to the frustration and disappointment after people pour themselves into the paperwork. I’ve had them get so far as to need upwards of 8-10 personal references to fill out a stack of questions that include extensive questions about social demeanor and drug use.

          It’s one of those things that if you’re throwing your hat in the ring as a “sure, let’s try at least!” it’s certainly not going to hurt to try the cards.

      3. Jasnah*

        I also really hope these places stop using a polygraph test to determine whether someone is lying. It doesn’t prove anything and can be tricked by anyone just using certain techniques, or someone could fail it if they’re just incredibly nervous. It’s no more a test of integrity than asking someone to sign a sworn statement–liars gonna lie.

      4. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        It seems really short sighted and foolish to insist on never hiring people with a very casual drug use history. For one thing, I’d think that having at least a little bit of an idea of what it’s like to be stoned might be helpful in dealing with the public. Obviously if the person was a heavy user who got in a lot of trouble they are probably not a good fit for this kind of job, but even smoking weed a few times a week as an undergraduate (for ex.) seems like a really common experience that most people grow out of.

    2. TardyTardis*

      My ExCorporation said when pot became legal in our state, “Marijuana is legal. Don’t use it here.” (though I did have a chat with my boss about if my husband would need to use it (lymphoma), I wanted it on record. Given our status as the only people from the 60’s who haven’t used it, we would probably have tried edibles first, but if I had to choose between ExJob and him, well hey. It didn’t happen, but it could have.

  2. Cassandra*

    OP2: I always like to hear about “I have more than one option, and each of them is pretty sweet” situations. Thanks for updating, and I wish you the best!

  3. Jaybeetee*

    Between the conversation regarding the employee in an abusive relationship, and LW1, it really drives home how important “the village” can be if you’re in a situation that’s even a little hinky. It’s also come up with a few other updates, the LWs saying that AAM and the commenters confirmed their suspicions or validated their thinking or just jolted them that their working situations were NOT normal/okay. It really drives home how much bad situations can cause you to question your instincts and make you unsure how to proceed (or if you’re the one with the problem), and how important it is to have some kind of external sanity-check.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      That’s why abusers alienate and isolate their victims. It’s also why growing up in an isolated small community with a bad culture and life view can be dangerous to the minds ability to widen and accept differences, etc.

      So yes, you’re right. It’s critical to get outside opinions on a lot of things dealing with our psychological well being.

  4. Lily Rowan*

    I cannot get over how many updates we are getting!! Thanks to all OPs and LWs for sending them in!!

  5. Myrin*

    I always find it really interesting to see how many situations people write in about get solved through… something else coming up and the original thing simply being forgotten about or resolving itself (“dissolving in the sand”, as you’d say in my language, an imagery I’ve always liked a lot because it’s so very descriptive). Really dramatic stuff, too, sometimes, where people became emotional in the comments and the OP was distressed and whatnot and then the update ends up being “meh, no one ever talked about it again”. I don’t know why, but I find this really fascinating!

  6. First time commenter*

    #5 – Tell the truth. A polygraph will catch you in the lie and then you may to disclose to other future employers that you failed a polygraph. The person who said that you have to say you have never broken any laws is totally wrong! Check the agency’s drug policy on their website, most LE agencies have it spelled out and as long as you are within the guidelines (not within so many years, not over so many times, etc) you will be fine. Lying about it is an integrity issue, which is a much larger issue.

    1. Shark Whisperer*

      Not to derail, but a polygraph will not necessarily catch you in the lie. Polygraphs aren’t actually that good at detecting lies and whether you pass or fail is pretty much determined by how the examiner chooses to interpret your results rather than any sort of hard science.

      I’m not saying the person should lie! I agree with you that they should tell the truth because that’s the right thing to do. I just don’t agree that they should tell the truth because if they lie they will get caught.

  7. CandyCorn*

    Polygraphs aren’t even admissible in court anymore because they are notoriously unreliable and unscientific. How are they still being used to determine eligibility for employment??

    1. WellRed*

      Lots if things are permissible in the workplace than in a court of law. It’s a much lower bar (no pun intended).

      1. CandyCorn*

        I know it’s legal, I just think it’s pointless because the results don’t actually tell you whether a person is lying. Just seems like a waste of time.

    2. Bryce*

      They’re still used because the people selling the polygraph services have connections. And once you have an in with one person it’s “[important successful company] uses our polygraphs, do you want to be left with people they weeded out?”

      I agree, absolute snake oil.

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