I saw an email I wasn’t supposed to see

A reader writes:

I have a very strange and awkward predicament at my job. I have recently been asked to be able to send emails on behalf of my boss, and what that means is I now have access to his email account.

Today I logged in to send an email correspondence and one of the first emails in his box was about me. It was correspondence with another higher up, very vague, indicating that maybe there’s a meeting that they need to have with me in the future but not sharing much detail. And that scared me because of this vague reference to a meeting and I just really wasn’t sure how to react. And I suddenly started to cry and had to make up an excuse why, because I was shocked.

Anyway, what would you suggest that I do about this? Should I mention it? Should I just wait for this meeting to happen? Again, I have full access to his email at his request, and so it was strange to see a chain about me knowing that I would possibly be logging in and seeing it.

  • Telling coworkers not to touch me or stand so close
  • Telling employers I’m willing to take a salary cut
  • Employee is more likely to call out if I’m out of the office
  • Should I tell my colleagues I have ADHD?
  • I’m getting early-morning phone calls from my office

The show is 34 minutes long, and you can listen on

Or, if you prefer, here’s the transcript.

{ 110 comments… read them below }

  1. Oh so very anon*

    I haven’t heard the podcast yet (have to wait til I get home) but I do recall saying to a colleague once, “I don’t know if you know this, but I have a touch of ADHD.” Her response: “Ya think?!”

    They know. They may not have a name for it, but… they know.

    My advice: keep your mouth shut.

    1. MuseumChick*

      I had this happen outside of work context. I had just started dating this guy and he invited me to a party. His best friend in the world shows up and we all chat and are having a good time. Them my guy pulls me aside and says something like, “Hey, I think you should know Fergus ha-” I interrupted him and said “ADHD right?”

      Sometimes it is just so clear!

    2. Spencer Hastings*

      Do they really, though? Or are they perceiving that people fit a certain stereotype, which can sometimes be mistaken for knowledge?

      I’ve been in enough situations where someone seemed to have characteristics associated with “X people” but was not “X”, or where someone *was* “X” but didn’t display the “typical” characteristics, to be careful about that.

      If it were really that easy to tell whether someone had ADD or not – for laymen, mind! – then why did it take us as a society so long to realize that women could have it too?

      1. Margaery Moth*

        Yeahhhhh exactly. Plus, after being re-diagnosed at 36 with what I think is pretty obvious ADHD, I’ve also found the last thing people want to hear or think about is my ADHD. They take it as an excuse and look down on me. If someone’s casually throwing around that they think someone is “a little ADD,” most of the time they do not mean they think that person had a medical condition but rather a personality quirk. So we really need to stop it with the over-diagnoses of strangers based on a pop-culture knowledge of ADHD which unfairly targets women and excuses rude neurotypical men.

        1. Anonymous for This*

          I was just diagnosed with ADHD a few week ago — at age 56. For most of my life, I thought my problems with things like organization, following directions, and sometimes seeming inattentive or “daydreaming” were all due to something else. I thought those things were all just part of who I am and couldn’t be changed. And ADHD was something which was mostly found in elementary school boys, not older women.

    1. Rainy*

      Jesus Christ, it could also be a promotion, or plans for her super secret birthday happy hour, or any number of other things, including something like “we need to upgrade OP’s computer”.

      1. Cat Fan*

        It would be kind of weird to suddenly give the boss’s email access to the person he’s about to fire. It’s probably literally anything else but that.

          1. BRR*

            Definitely a great point. This is how I quell my own irrational anxieties about being fired, look at other more obvious things like giving access to my boss’ email or registering me for that conference 4 months from now.

        1. designbot*

          That’s what I was thinking too. If she was about to be fired or her performance was super questionable, they wouldn’t have just given her this new duty. If anything, that seems to me like a sign that there’s a certain amount of trust in her, and it’s more likely to be about either a promotion or just a fairly neutral shift in role.

        2. Karen from Finance*

          Yes, it’s probably not something all that important or bad or they wouldn’t have given her access to see it.

      2. AnnaBananna*

        Or just a normal everyday ‘we’re going to need more support on that vague future project that we’re not discussing officially yet’. I GUARANTEE that the boss would not give someone he was going to criticize access to his email. In fact, the opposite would happen – reduced access to boss, projects, etc.

        Everything is fine OP. Don’t let your imagination run amok. And please update us after the meeting so we can cyber hug you.

      3. Jennifer Juniper*

        In any case, the boss was super dumb to give OP access to his e-mail if he didn’t want her to see an e-mail about here!

    2. Guy Incognito*

      This is how I found out that I was in line to take over a project I’ve wanted to take over for a while.

      It can be anything OP. Best to not worry about right now. Remember, if it were THAT serious, it wouldn’t be in an email, they would have called you in already. I wouldn’t worry about it for now.

    3. Bulbasaur*

      I was once booked for a meeting a week out with my boss, his boss and his boss’s boss (the CEO) with no description or explanation.

      I did my share of worrying about that, and they did indeed want to talk about some problems, but they weren’t specific to me. They were organizational problems, and they wanted to get my perspective and talk about ways that I could help resolve them.

      1. AnnaBananna*

        Okay, I will admit that this meeting would freak me out if I was the only one not in direct line leadership scheduled for the meeting.

        1. Bulbasaur*

          They did book similar (individual) meetings with everyone at my level, which calmed me down a bit. But I had to snoop calendars to find that out.

  2. PieInTheBlueSky*

    Regarding LW1, why would the boss give her access to his email if he was going to fire her? He seems to trust her with his inbox and with sending emails out in his name. I’m hopeful that there’s some innocuous reason as Alison says.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      That was my first thought. My second thought was, well, people are stupid and/or careless.

    2. Bee Eye Ill*

      The email was TO her boss, meaning someone else sent it and maybe didn’t realize she had access.

      1. AnnaBananna*

        That doesn’t address the fact that if the boss was going to fire her he wouldn’t suddenly give her more responsibility, let alone access to something as privileged as his email account.

    3. Artemesia*

      Probably not, but people can be oddly disconnected. There is more than one Admin who learned she was being replaced when her replacement comes to interview. I would jump to the worst case; I have had a lot of anxiety in my life unnecessarily because of this. The only sensible thing is to assume he wouldn’t give her access to his mail box if he were going to fire her and to assume that it is something benign or positive. If it is driving her crazy, she could ask since handling the email was her charge. Odds are it is not going to be bad news.

  3. Jennifer*

    I’m sorry this happened, OP. I’m listening to the podcast now but I will say that sometimes we jump to the worst conclusions without a lot of information. Maybe you can ask your boss for a 1-on-1, not mentioning the email but just a general meeting getting some feedback on your performance. Please don’t stress too much.

    1. Jennifer Juniper*

      Great suggestion. That will also sidestep any possibility of OP getting in trouble for reading e-mail she wasn’t supposed to see.

  4. Krackln*

    I used to have access to my boss’s emails. He sent a lot of personal emails about fights with his son. I learned from his emails that the company had record profits the year I was hired. I also found out he hired me specifically because he knew he could get away with paying me $10k less a year than the position normally paid.

    I quit that job after less than a year. I already thought my boss was a dick before I had access to his emails, but seeing them really brought home what a jerk he was. I guess it was kind of a blessing in disguise in this case, but I’d still rather not have access to my boss’s emails again.

  5. Amber Rose*

    I haven’t read any vague emails about myself, but I hear vague whispered conversations between boss and grand boss about me from time to time. So far they’ve turned out to be: we need to train Amber on X, we should do an employee review with Amber, and see if Amber remembers Thing From Years Ago.

    This morning it was about my deer head. The cardboard one I have hanging by my desk. It’s making people jealous. xD

      1. Amber Rose*

        Just wait until I put a bow tie and some googly eyes on him. Then you’ll really be jealous.

      1. Amber Rose*

        Yep. I didn’t know there was a unicorn one, now I am the jealous one. :D
        The deer was a Christmas present.

      2. Chassity*

        Cardboard Safari is my bookkeeping client! It’s so nice to read good feedback about their products on a website that I’ve been reading for years. They are a locally owned company in Charlottesville, VA and they have really high standards for their products. They also have a wooden line out now in addition to the cardboard. My husband keeps a cardboard dragon head on his cubicle wall and his coworkers love it. It’s peeking out of a plant.

        1. MJ*

          Checked the website. Beautiful items. If they ever expand to include shipping to Asia, I’ll be buying (but the mini snowflake wreath will be long gone).

  6. Jennifer*

    Regarding sick time – he’s only using half his days per year. You really should let it go or maybe examine why it bothers you so much. As Alison suggested, maybe he feels uncomfortable talking to you when he needs to call in. Maybe look at the amount of sick time your other employees take. If they barely use any of it, it might be something to consider.

    1. BadWolf*

      And maybe their sick days do coincide? They react to colds going around the office in a similar manner/timeline. They have similar allergies? They get weather change induced migraines? When OP really needs a mental health day, employee gets a lot of the stress fallout and needs one too.

      Or is it that OP expects Employee to provide coverage on a bunch of things and now there isn’t? Then I would ask, is the coverage really needed? If it is and the Employee is avoiding with a sick day, maybe explore that.

      1. Jennifer*

        Well, she said he’s doing it on her work from home days or when she’s on vacation, not when she’s also sick. But I could see that being the case in other situations.

        Alison suggested that maybe the workload is lesser when she isn’t in and he didn’t see much reason to be there. That could be why.

      2. metronomic*

        So, I’m the one who called in (last October 2018) about my employee’s use of sick time. By the time this aired the other day, his sick time usage skyrocketed and my question about it would have been different!

        First, he either texts or emails so I’ve never spoken to him when he’s calling in and certainly have never hassled/pushed back on him (or others I supervise) about ‘texting/emailing out’ at the moment when they are saying they will be out.

        So, all that said, my concerns in early October were just the prelude, as he went on a tear using his sick time last fall into January 2019, to the point where I had to talk to him twice about his reliability and even consulted HR about it to make sure I followed our org’s norms/standards. One time he waited until 10 am to call in when our normal hours are 9-5pm. He was also having some issues at work, pushing back on tasks that were in his sphere of responsibilities and coming in later and later that I had to talk to him about what his schedule would be. I am NOT uptight about people coming in a bit late/leaving early if they are finishing their work, but when someone’s arrival norm goes from 9:15 – 9:30 am to 9:45 or 10 am on top of lots of calling in and the other issues, it becomes a problem for me and I need to know when people plan to be in. We are in development operations and stuff can break and there were a couple of days I was waiting for him to get in to help troubleshoot and fix things. Note that end of calendar year is also the busiest time of the year for fundraising, and my team books over 50,000 transactions alone in November and December each year!

        He ended up using 110 hrs (almost 3 weeks!) of sick time between 1/22/18 through 1/18/19, eight days of which were taken between mid-September 2018 and mid-January, and a bunch of those sick days were Mondays and Fridays. One time, about a week after one sick day, I heard another employee (on another team) make a joke about my employee drinking a bit too much the week before and it lined up with the night before he was out sick. After my second sick time chat with in January he (again) agreed to try to reign it in and he did…until today, a Friday, when he ’emailed out’ again. And our team has a lot going on right now. *Sigh*

        I do get that people have different thresholds for how they feel when a little run down/tired/experiencing allergies…but I have a hard time with people using up every sick day they accrue. I fall on the side of “sick days should be used as insurance” minus an odd mental health day, and they’re not meant to be all used up each year just because you accrue them. Twenty years ago I knocked out my front two teeth and had to be out of work for 2 weeks and boy was I sure grateful I had sick time accrued to cover my time out!

        1. Legal Beagle*

          Ok, it sounds like he has major issues. BUT sick days are there to be used as needed, and it’s up to the employee to determine what their need is. In my opinion, it’s overly harsh to ding him for using PTO days that the company provides as part of his compensation package. I think you are applying your own personal standard of the “right” way to use sick days, and it’s leading you to lump in something that isn’t necessarily a problem (using up allotted sick time) with stuff that is a significant problem (being consistently late, calling out sick at the last minute, pushing back on work, etc.).

    2. zeldafitz*

      Honestly with how aggressive OP is being regarding him using 4-6 days a year, I wouldn’t want to call in and tell her I’m sick. It’d be less work and stress just to come in when I’m sick.

      1. metronomic*

        See my reply today – he ended up using almost 3 weeks of time in a 12 month period, much of it after the October call to the podcast!

  7. Yvette*

    This is a general comment, not intended as a response to the podcast, or the person asking the question. I didn’t have a chance to listen to it yet. Honestly, I usually wait to read the transcripts, I can read much faster than the podcast takes to listen to.

    If someone has access to their boss’s emails, isn’t there sort of an implicit understanding that they will only read/respond to those emails that pertain to work? Someone can usually tell by the sender and subject line if an email is personal or business. Kind of like if you overheard the phone conversation of the person in the next cube you pretend that you didn’t?

    1. Elemeno P.*

      If something is about you, it’s pretty difficult not to look at it. It’s kind of like when you hear your name in someone else’s conversation. I manage my boss’ calendar, and if someone scheduled a meeting titled “Talk about Elemeno P.” you bet I’m reading the details of that meeting.

    2. Someone Else*

      Yes, but if the email in question were first when she logged in, it might’ve been up in the preview automatically without her doing anything, and once it’s in front of you with your name on it, it’s really hard to read nothing. Even if her name weren’t front and center, whatever’s first, if it’s automatically in the preview pane, it doesn’t take conscious effort to read at least part of it. It’s instant. Your eyes are there already.
      So while yes, the presumption is you have access for a specific purpose and aren’t going to be sleuthing through the inbox, it’s also generally accepted that sometimes you might see stuff just cuz it’s there and it can be hard to prevent.

  8. Zona the Great*

    As employees, we get the advice to avoid disclosing our salary from almost every workplace advice giver. However, I have never ever seen this work. If I pushback on giving it, I’m told good luck and goodbye. Has anyone ever had luck with this? I just feel like this is more of a Liz Ryan farce that this actually works. Alison, did your firms ask directly for past salary info?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think I’ve ever worked anywhere that required it (certainly not when I was the one doing the hiring) but it’s definitely very, very common and it always bugs me that a lot of the advice out there doesn’t recognize that reality. I always try to make a point of saying “you can try X but be aware they might push anyway, and at that point you have a decision to make.” (There’s a whole thing in this episode about that.)

      1. Zona the Great*

        Yes, indeed. You’ve always given the caveat that they may pushback and so far, it’s always been true of my experiences and those of my friends and colleagues. They always pushback and they don’t let it slide without it.

        1. Someone Else*

          Now that several states have made it illegal to ask, I think (or maybe it’s just that I hope) it will become easier to push back, even in states that haven’t done it yet. It’s like…this is such a bad practice you can’t even do it in large parts of the country, are you really going to push back on my declining to participate? (I realize that doesn’t help if it’s a box on a form rather than a discussion with a human)
          Some companies will still react badly. And those are companies I don’t want to work for.
          But hopefully this becomes less of a common thing, especially for national firms where they can’t do it across the board so hopefully they’ll stop it altogether.
          Even as I type it, it feels like a pipe dream.

    2. PieInTheBlueSky*

      I don’t know if this works (or if it is a good idea even if it does work), but since it came up on the podcast…when there is an online application asking for the candidate’s current salary information, and this field is mandatory, I’ve seen some people put “$0” in the field so they can continue. At my organization, I haven’t seen this affect anyone’s candidacy in a negative way, but I imagine in other companies that it would depend on the HR person or hiring manager who is doing the review of the application.

    3. Anononon*

      I was asked how much I made at the interview for my current job, and I only gave a vague response despite a little bit of push back, and I got hired. (The offer I got doubled my salary at my last job because my last salary was so awful. No way was I giving it.)

    4. Lily Rowan*

      I’ve been successful with “What are you making now?” “Well, I wouldn’t leave here for less than $X.” I think the people at that job really thought I took a paycut to go work there.

    5. Pandop*

      I am also amazed at the amount of negotiation that seems to go on around salary in the US – most jobs here, be they public or private sector, are advertised with a salary or salary range, and the assumption is that unless you are an exceptional candidate, you will be starting towards the bottom of the scale.

    6. Midwest Writer*

      I am crazy late here, but I have pushed back, once, and it worked. Context: Very small, niche media firm was looking to replace its lone reporter. Site was run by consultants/financial contributors; very well-off, sometimes quite brusque, wanted to be super influential, through targeted media coverage of a couple of issues. I was coming from a high COL area and knew, in general, that my salary would look inflated to many similar outlets in lower COL areas. We built up a good rapport during the Skype interview and when they asked, I told them I’m wasn’t ready to provide them with that information. (I based the exact comment on something I’d read on this site, prior to that interview in mid-2014.) They laughed and essentially saw it as confirmation that I had the right kind of attitude to be the kind of reporter they needed. (Except, of course, that after they offered me the job and I was negotiating, since it would be a contractor role, they hired someone else.)

  9. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks*

    The email said they need to have a meeting with you “in the future”. In my humble opinion, it sounds more like they probably want to give you more duties or discuss with you some aspect of the job. To me, that “in the future” doesn’t sound like they want to let you go.

  10. Justin*

    I have ADHD, I would never tell anyone at work. I had a coworker once tell me she had a learning disorder related to something we were working on and it came off as odd to me, like what am I supposed to do with that information? Not talk about the task with you? Not expect you to work on it?

    1. Nox*

      If I disclose my Dyscalculia to you it’s to advise that there are certain things I have to do to ensure my numbers are correct such as color coding or request you place spaces or dashes every few digits since they blur to me or become reversed if it’s too smooshed together. I’d rather be transparent and make sure we can work in ways that are compatible with my disability that aren’t a major blocker.

    2. Ella Vader*

      Reasonable accommodations for her disability when working on the project comes to mind.

    3. Aggretsuko*

      I suspect I have it but have never tried to get it officially diagnosed. I’ve debated whether or not to do it to try to get certain accommodations at work, but I think Alison is right and I won’t be saying a word.

    4. Close Bracket*

      You should ask her what she wants you to do with the information, for example, whether she needs specific accommodations for it, and be as understanding as possible when she exhibits symptoms. I say “as possible” bc sometimes a person’s symptoms preclude them from doing a certain task, and then you can be sympathetic on a personal level but need to take them off the task on a professional level. If my friend who has ADHD motormouth tells you she has ADHD, it’s so that you cut her more slack for that motormouth. If I tell you that I am on the spectrum, it’s so that you don’t write me off as an asshole.

  11. hello*

    I’ve found it helpful to disclose my ADHD to certain colleagues I had worked closely with for an extended amount of time.

    Them: We notice your work gets interrupted a lot by walk ins, is that okay?
    Me: Yes! I am happy to help the walk ins and my ADHD makes me great at multitasking, it is my preference

    Another time I was called upon to translate something in a community meeting, which was not the original plan. I translated the first part fine, but then when the second part was drastically different from what we’d be talking about, I got distracted. When the third part came, I was still thinking about that second part, and missed everything that was said. In the moment I gestured to someone else who spoke the language and had her translate. At the time it was embarrassing and obviously not ideal, but I passed it off as a language barrier. I circled back around to my colleague who had saved the day later on to thank her and explain the actual issue. I didn’t have to, but I felt like it was important for her to know that my deficit was not in the language, so when we worked together in the future she had an understanding of my skills

    1. MsChanandlerBong*

      My ADHD actually makes me perfect for the job I have now. During our peak busy period, I get interrupted about 150 times per day, not even exaggerating. Messages on Slack that must be answered immediately, panicked phone calls, etc. If I had any kind of attention span, I’d probably hate the job and quit immediately.

      1. hello*

        Yup! My former co-workers would not have been suited for the work environment that I had, needing to be able to drop everything at a moment’s notice and then get back to it right away. Obviously ADHD will come with it’s downfalls, but I’ve had it long enough to find ways to have it work for me.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      I work with an a higher-up who has ADHD, and he tells nearly everyone who works with him along with a short summary of how he finds it most effective to work with him to find common ground before digging in too deep. In particular, he’s a fidgeter and likes for you to know that he doesn’t find whatever he’s fidgeting with more interesting than you, just that it helps him concentrate on what you’re saying.

  12. MeMe'sMom*

    Now I am super curious about what the meeting ended up being about! Looking forward to an update.

  13. Cassandra Mortmain*

    I have ADHD; I have colleagues, direct reports, and managers with ADHD. Like you, I was diagnosed in adulthood after some struggles at work. I think this depends a lot on your boss, your team, and the culture of your workplace.

    If you’re wary of talking about it for all of the good reasons Allison gives, I think the best way to approach it is to work backwards from your diagnosis to what you need from your colleagues and managers, and then talk about it through that lens. For example, “I’m trying to stay on top of everyone I need to follow up with, and it’s tricky when I have Slack messages flying at me all day — if you don’t need an answer right this second, can you send me an email instead?” Or “I’m having a little trouble making time for longer-term projects amid the daily churn — can we do a quick run through my priority list tomorrow?”

    To be clear, we should have a world where everyone is comfortable disclosing a diagnosis. But there are a ton of misunderstandings about what ADHD is and isn’t (and particular misunderstandings about how it manifests in women and girls), so it’s likely you’re always going to have to be a little more specific.

    As a manager, there are circumstances where it’s nice to know a diagnosis for context. But there are also circumstances where it’s no help at all, or where it can sound like an excuse. I have an employee right now with (diagnosed, medicated) severe ADHD who is underperforming in ways that are almost certainly linked to her diagnosis, and I get it, I’ve been there, and in some ways it’s helpful to know what’s likely behind this. But I’m not her psychiatrist or her therapist, I’m her boss, and I need her to figure out how to do the baseline parts of the job. Generally, what I find helpful is the same as what I suggested above — people who are self-aware about their challenges at work, whatever’s causing them, and clear about what’s most helpful to them.

    And good luck, OP (or whatever the podcast version of OP is) and good for you. I was diagnosed at 28, and, like you, I was diagnosed amid some really rough times at work. I don’t want to say it’s been smooth sailing ever since – here I am writing a long AAM comment instead of doing some work that will require sustained focus. But being diagnosed and being prescribed medication absolutely changed my life and my career, and I’m crossing my fingers that it happens for you too.

    1. Lily Rowan*

      Your second paragraph is how I was thinking of it as well — especially with the boss. Not “I’ve been diagnosed and now I need to X, Y, Z,” but “I’m working on the feedback you gave me, and I think X, Y, and Z will really help.”

  14. BadWolf*

    On the early calls, if calling employee complains, that’s okay! If they really need the help that they’re getting from you, that should be addressed directly and adjusted for formally. Adding another employee, altering schedules, re-evaluate trends, etc. Until you stop covering nearly every day, there’s no motivation to make a change.

    If calling employee is being a bad employee (roping you into coverage that’s not really needed), than they’re just making themselves look bad, “Wait, why are you calling OP at 5:30AM? She doesn’t start at 10, of course she didn’t answer.”

    1. BadWolf*

      To clarify my first sentence, if OP takes Alison’s advice and doesn’t answer the phone and the Calling Employee complains…that’s okay (unless your workplace is generally terrible, of course).

    2. Pandop*

      You could also make your manager be the ‘bad guy’ as it is clear that they don’t think you should be doing this. Say that your manager doesn’t want you coming in that early any more.

  15. softcastle mccormick*

    I think Alison’s advice to the LW with ADHD is really helpful. My teammate has ADHD and is very vocal about it, and it has mixed effects on the office.

    On one hand, it helps us understand what initially comes off as rude or tonedeaf behavior or reactions. She frequently interrupts meetings, interjects into conversations she isn’t a part of, talks excessively, and has trouble controlling her language and appropriate topics in the workplace. Knowing that she has ADHD mitigates these behaviors somewhat, and I’m more understanding when they happen, because I know they aren’t purposeful.

    On the other hand, it’s frustrating because when inappropriate behaviors do surface, it makes us wonder what steps are being taken to control them, etc. We often feel unable to confront this coworker about these behaviors because she simply laughs it off and says, “Haha, yeah, ADHD will do that!” Any issues are chalked up to ADHD, when some of them honestly seem like they could be behaviors or language that actively need to change or are truly disruptive. But we don’t want to come off as condescending or demanding when in reality, this coworker does have an actual disorder they are trying to live with.

    1. Oh so very anon*

      This is a tough one. My sister has ADHD as well, (yeah, it runs in the family) and has been on medication for many years. There are times when she has solid, screaming, angry meltdowns (she’s 70). Once she gets it out of her system, it’s over for her — but I’m left shaking for hours. It’s hard to know how much of this she can actually control. Where do you draw the line? (The rest of the time, she’s one of the sweetest, kindest, most thoughtful and generous human beings you can imagine.)

    2. Yvette*

      And the thing is, even if the behavior is understandable and forgivable, it doesn’t change the fact that it can be disruptive and annoying.

    3. WellRed*

      +1. “Thanks for the context, but it’s not a blanket excuse.” I want to know, What’s being done to manage it?

  16. Ops manager*

    When I was an executive assistant, this happened to me frequently, it sounds like the OP is in a similar position.

    My old boss was sort of a jerk, and would make disparaging comments – or blame me for mistakes I didn’t make to save face. He new I was regularly in his email, so it always shocked me that he wasn’t more careful. As difficult as it is, I would try and forget and also just use the information as a job perk. Don’t share, but you will come across info before others in this type of role, and you can plan your own future around that.

  17. BadWolf*

    On touchie fealy collegue, sometimes you really do need a flat, blunt, “Stop touching me.” After your joking/save face and Alison’s more serious response, you may need it. He’s the one being awkward at that point. You might have to be on guard for the arm grabbing and step out of reach as a reminder with a “Hey, please stop.” The random brushing in the hallway? Ugh, that brings it into creeper getting his jollies category. But I live in an area with a giant personal bubble.

    For Too Close, in addition to Alison’s great quips, the aforementioned “personal bubble” might be helpful. “Sorry, my personal bubble is bigger than this” and step back and sort of indicate with your hands and lines in the air.

    And if nothing else, channel your inner Kuzco from Emperor’s New Groove and shout “No touchie!!” while making punching/hand waving motions.

    1. Bunny Girl*

      Overly touchie people can be the worst. I’m so shocked at other people’s entitlement to touch another person without their permission, especially after they’ve indicated that they don’t appreciate it. We had some volunteers at my old job who were like this. They would try to hug me after every shift and event. Even after I said I’m sorry I’m not a hugger. He said “Well hang around us and you’ll become one!” Yeah no. It made me avoid that couple all together.

    2. softcastle mccormick*

      I agree about Too Close Lady. I work with some older Midwestern women who are very into Talking Close and Leaning Way Over You To Look At Your Computer Screen, which drives me crazy, but it’s more important for me in the long run to preserve a good working relationship with them. I just congenially say, “I know I’ll get the Cold East Coaster reputation, but I have a big personal space bubble! Do you mind stepping back while I work on this for a moment?” It’s worked splendidly so far.

      1. mark132*

        A lot of that is definitely cultural. I remember that from living in Europe. On average they seemed to have a smaller personal bubble than Americans.

  18. Jane Smith*

    Hi! I thought the ADHD was a neuro developmental disorder and not a mental illness?

    1. Enough*

      In the broadest sense in that any condition that involves mood, behavior of thinking is considered a mental illness.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think in the show I used the term “mental health” in talking about there still being a stigma around mental health diagnoses in general, but I wouldn’t call ADHD a mental illness.

      1. Wired Wolf*

        My old manager was ADHD–he disclosed to me privately–and I think that’s part of the reason we worked so well together. I have Aspergers (didn’t disclose upon hiring because doing so previously had gotten me targeted, and I didn’t feel it would impact the work) and we ‘filled the gaps’ of each other’s working styles and strengths–he didn’t quite have the patience to sit at the computer and type in dozens of SKUs for price tags, I was more than happy to take a break from the floor chaos to do that when the hand scanner wasn’t working and have an insane memory for the order of the tags so when they print out I’m able to backtrack and place them in the exact order they were gathered.

        Presently, things are a mess. After he left, the new management felt that I ‘needed to focus more’ (which is a severe insult to my work ethic) and so I’ve been branded as needing extra help as it were. Constant checking “what are you working on” which none of my teammates get, and often what the managers (neither of whom can manage their way out of a paper bag) think is worthy of attention isn’t. This job is very non-linear; you see something that needs doing and you do it because someone else may not. Price tags go missing sometimes hours after I place them, and when I asked my manager about this the reply I got was “I don’t know, maybe it’s the tag fairies at night” in a condescending tone…I know what I put up when. I’m getting the feeling that I’m not working according to their definition of ‘efficient and effective’, but I’ve asked how my work style is inefficient and have never gotten a straight/sensible answer. I work in a way that’s most efficient for me given the circumstances.

        HR has bought into the ‘needs to focus’ label, so any concerns I have about being singled out (rightfully so, all my coworkers have confirmed that I’m the only one that gets hovered over) seem to go ignored or turned back on me. At the least, I have a case for bullying; I’ve considered asking “Is this treatment because of my neurodiverse status?” but given that I did not disclose upon hiring I’m not sure if I would be helping or hurting myself.

      2. Sam Sepiol*

        I think the way you phrased it made it sound like you were conflating them. It certainly confused me!

  19. Jerry*

    I’m glad you posted the second voicemail. I’m the kind (I hope) but severe New England type, and I have not figured out how to manage the love-and-welcoming types I encounter at work. Paradoxically, because I am highish in the organization (manager of managers, global role), I’m not 100% comfortable rebuffing requests for hugs or flinching at arm, shoulder or back touching because I’m aware that a rebuke can be read as more severe from someone with authority. With our sales staff and virtually all female staff from the South, I just steel myself that I will be enduring a decent amount of physical space violation. I think I’ll use some of this language, but would love comments on how this would be received from above.

    1. WellRed*

      I feel like the higher up you are tbe less you would br subjected to all the touchy feelies. But then, I am also a New Englander. People! Hands off coworkers, ffs.

      1. Belle8bete*

        I think it’s okay for other people to be more touchy so long as they respect others. Sometimes I feel like this self selected group of comments comes across really anti-touch, which in many cases comes down to cultural differences. It’s not better or worse, it just is, so long as people respect one another when they make it clear they don’t want to be touched.

        Then again, I work in a field where human contact is part of how we do our job….

  20. Namast'ay in Bed*

    Man, I felt caller #1 hard – it might be just Oldjob ptsd, but I definitely still get a flash of panic when my boss says “hey do you have a minute to talk”. I immediately start thinking about everything I’ve ever done that could possibly be wrong or get me in trouble – and then I feel silly because 99.999999% of the time it’s something innocuous like “here’s a project I’m sending your way” or “hey can you show newperson how to categorize the dinosaurs”.

    Side note, I felt it was kind of garbage that the second to last person was given a specific list of things to do to get a promotion, accomplished them, and was then denied for a set of different reasons? I didn’t seem like they were very good reasons either, but if they were bad enough to deny her a promotion, surely they should have been bad enough to make it onto the to-do list?

  21. CM*

    About the overtime “opportunity” — sometimes this is real. When I worked at a call centre, they hardly paid us anything, and, depending what their situation was, some people could only make rent if they picked up extra shifts and got overtime hours. In fact, I’d say that for over half the people working there, overtime actually was an opportunity that they wouldn’t have wanted to be cut off from.

    Of course, this is a bullshit situation when it happens, because full-time jobs should pay us a living wage to begin with. BUT, if the caller is in a situation where she genuinely needs to pick up extra hours to get by, her question could be interpreted more as “Do I have to accept every overtime opportunity I’m offered in order to stay in the pool of people who get offers at all?”

    And the answer is, sadly, it depends on the politics of where you’re working. But the safest approach is probably to tell the person who controls the overtime offers that you really appreciate it and you want to stay in the loop, but you can only pick up x-number of extra shifts a month before it starts to mess with your health.

    1. LGC*

      I’m not sure of what kind of job that caller is working exactly, but what she’s doing sounded a little excessive even to me (and I have terrible boundaries with OT). She was picking up the phone at 5:30 in the morning and (it sounded like) going in to work at 6 if she got called! And I think that’s why Alison was so aghast at the thought of it – it’s not that she’s doing OT at all, it’s that it seemed like she was dropping everything for her job.

      Your framework is great, though, because it sets the important boundary while leaving the door open for offers. I think that she could even add on, “Would you be able to let me know the night before?” or something to that effect – she’s been there a few months, and I think it was a couple of times per week that she said they were calling her in, so it’s fairly routine at this point.

  22. LGC*

    Between caller 1 and the “flirty” boss earlier this week, can we pass a law that makes it illegal for bosses to share email inboxes with their direct reports?

    (I’m kidding. Sort of. But man, I am SO glad that my boss has never offered to let me in her emails or asked to get into mine.)

    1. LGC*

      (And yes, I’m aware that caller 1 is likely an EA and thus it’s part of her job to be in her boss’s inbox, but…whoo boy I’m still glad that when my boss is talking about me via email, I’m totally unable to see it.)

  23. Candy Clouston*

    I’d be inclined to shift any discussion of salary to one of compensation. For career positions, aspects of compensation can more than offset a seemingly low or high salary. Pretending it’s all about the salary is not assessing the big picture, and potential employers may be obscuring a lack of other benefits.

  24. Sara*

    I don’t know if the caller who spoke about the early wake-up calls will comb through the comments, but my phone has a do not disturb feature that allows me to mute all calls and notification sounds per a set schedule. I can set an exception for my alarm clock. I use that because I would absolutely be the one to forget to turn the sounds back on in the AM and off again at night.

    1. Elizabeth Proctor*

      I use Do Not Disturb on my iPhone. It’s great and you can make exceptions for some numbers (so if you’re a parent and want them to get through, etc.)

  25. NYWeasel*

    OP1 (OC1?): I feel your pain! Jobs -3 and -2 were snarling cesspits where you needed to be ready at any moment for your coworkers to throw you under the bus. Job -1 had a great immediate manager, but we were remote from the main team and they were childish and insecure so we were constantly under attack. Current job (Job 0) started with a horrid manager that almost made me quit before I started reporting to Cersei. Our grandboss, Sansa, had asked Cersei to work with me on some negative feedback, so my impression of Sansa was that she dislikes me.

    Now in the present day, I report directly to Sansa and get generally glowing reviews. She implicitly trusts me with lots of sensitive materials, etc., and we talk quite openly in my 1:1s about what I can focus on to perform even better. In other words, I have zero reason to expect any major negative feedback. And yet, bc of my dysfunctional job history, I’m conditioned to expect that when I sit down with her, there’s going to be something big and horrible sprung on me. It’s our annual review time period, and I’ve sat with Sansa to talk through most of the department’s reviews. I *know* she’s been super positive about almost everyone, but I’m still dreading that she’s going to tell me that I’m screwing up.

    Cersei understood me well enough that if she had something negative, she’d just pull me aside and instantly tell me. I don’t think Sansa has the bandwidth (she has a much larger team to manage), so I have to work on staying calm.

    This may sound counter-intuitive, but what helps me is really preparing for bad news. If I walk into my meeting with Sansa next week and she says “Everyone hates working with you and we’re going to fire you.” I figure out what my next 2-3 steps would be. While it may sound crazy, the act of figuring out exactly what I would do actually calms me down. If the feedback is positive, then there’s no issue whatsoever, and if it’s mildly negative (“I’m getting reports that X is falling through the cracks”), just having mentally prepared for a bigger blow allows me to genuinely feel positive and ready to address the smaller issue, rather than sounding peevish or annoyed.

    1. Namast'ay in Bed*

      “Prepare for the worst, hope for the best” is definitely a motto I ascribe to, too! Having a plan gives me some feeling of control over what’s coming, and since the worst rarely happens, you get to be excited/happy about mundane things that normally wouldn’t bring you joy.

  26. Uncanny Valley*

    I did not have direct access to my boss’ email but one time I did get an email from “new” boss which contained a complaint about me from “old” boss. For reasons partly my fault but mostly not, my “old” boss, a recent hire did not want me in the department and used a project I was assisting in to conveniently transfer me out. But “old” boss still viewed me as responsible for duties that were taken away especially since no one else could perform them yet.

    Another co-worker asked me to assist with one of these responsibilities and as protocol required, I waited for clearance from my “new” boss. This enraged “old” boss and resulted in the email sent to “new” boss and also up the chain of command as well, essentially accusing me of refusing to assist during an “emergency”. My “new” boss sent me an email clearing me to assist with this “emergency” (wink wink , it was not and never was), but in this email was the original lie told by “old” boss. (I also learned that “old” boss tried to have me fired for this.) I am sure this was an accident, but that email triggered a chain of events that led to me landing at my new and better job less than 30 days later!

    Part of the the comeuppance took place a few months afterward. When during a real emergency situation, they had to call in the consultant who trained me and had to pay him in one month what I made in a year!

  27. Misti*

    I am an Executive Assistant who probably spends more time in my boss’s Inbox than I do my own, he gets so many emails that there’s no way for him to read them all – I filter to decide what he needs to see either urgently, eventually or never. As an EA, we have access to so much of their lives, both personal and professional, so trust is the single most important aspect of the working relationship. If the boss sees the email and knows the EA probably saw it and didn’t say anything, it breaks down trust. I would go to boss and say, “I was in your email box to send the XYZ email, and I saw a message from Mr. Boss regarding me. It has me feeling somewhere between curious and apprehensive so wanted to be up front with you that I saw it. If now is not the right time to discuss, I understand, but wanted to be open with you.”

  28. Renee*

    Kudos for including transcripts on your podcasts to make them accessible. Not all podcasts do so.

  29. Belle8bete*

    I’ve used the “hey I have this weird thing about personal space” specifically on a male who was getting a little flirty with me and it worked perfectly. I think he knew he was being flirty but I don’t think he understood it made me uncomfortable. This allowed him to save face and he actually thanked me for letting him know, rather than just being silently upset about it (I suspect this came up before, so take that as you will, but there wasn’t any kind of direct communication). The weirdness stopped immediately and we are work friends.

    For the guy who grabs your arm, I wouldn’t go straight to Alison’s suggestion, but I wouldn’t just say “I have a weird thing.” I sincerely think this dude doesn’t get that you aren’t kidding.

    It would be beneficial to say, in a normal voice
    “hey, I don’t think I communicated this clearly before, but I don’t like being touched. You probably thought I was joking when I said it to you before, so I just want to be clear— I don’t like being touched.”

    If he does it again, upgrade to the suggested script.

  30. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

    I found myself asking if the early-morning colleague who is calling OP#6 to report to work four hours before her standard start time would appreciate being expected to stay a half-day past quitting time to help out the later shift. It puts a different perspective on the situation.

    For OP#1, I was reminded of a time when I got a brief and vague meeting invite from the VP I supported. I did not have access to his inbox, but did have calendar privileges. He rarely set up his own meetings, since I had the access to do so on his behalf, so him setting up a meeting instead of just leaning out the door to talk to me was red flag number one. He vague subject line (“Discussion” or some such thing) was altogether too much like the bad-news meetings I’d had to set up on his behalf in the past. I started to panic because I felt as though my work had been less than stellar since returning from my maternity leave a month or two prior to this instance- it was my third kid and the sleep schedules were horrendous, so I was not at the top of my game on some days. I worked myself into a frenzy, only to find out that he set up the meeting because he was trying to figure out ways to delegate some of my workload because he thought I was overwhelmed- he said that I was at the perfectly acceptable and professional level of most of the admin staff, but that prior to having had the baby I’d been stellar, so he was worried I was about to burn out.

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