update: should I tell my new boss about my previous poor performance in this job?

Remember the letter-writer who had been struggling with her job and was unsure whether to tell her new boss about the past problems? Here’s the update.

Thank you so much for your response, and all of the commenters. The commenters in particular really helped me get some perspective and see that anyone looking in from outside would see that the situation I was in was bad – it really wasn’t just me not being good enough.

As you said, it was naive of me to think that my new manager wouldn’t be informed by others about where I was at. I actually don’t know if she got a copy of the mid-probation review that I was so worried about (I didn’t end up handing it to her), but she certainly got told about my situation from a number of people, including the senior members of my team, the CEO and the director of HR (who is just one of my favorite people and does her job so well). From what I can tell, all of those people told my new boss that the situation I’d ended up in was bad, and not my fault – that circumstances had conspired in such a way that things weren’t going well, but that they were still confident I had potential to do what I had been hired to do, and do it really well.

She said she wanted me to start again at zero, to put everything that had happened so far behind me. I told her I really appreciated the sentiment, but couldn’t start at zero because I wasn’t at zero, I was well below, and I needed to figure out how to get back to zero again. I talked a lot to the HR director during that period, and she was great.

I took your advice and was candid about what was going on. I definitely cried in front of my new boss within the first few weeks on multiple occasions. She was really good about it, and said she appreciated me showing vulnerability. (She’s a bit of a Brene Brown fan.) I passed my probation at six months (even though I still thought I was going to get fired up to that point), and that helped me feel more confident. I also had a great conversation with the CEO (who was the one who hired me in the first place, before she was promoted), and she said she’s still confident I’m the right person for the job.

It also helped (in a rather perverse way) that my new boss had a bit of a rough start. I realized some of my team members were behaving in ways that could be construed as bullying, and that they were doing the same things to the new boss as they had done to me. While it was disappointing to see, it also made me feel validated – the bad stuff wasn’t in my head, it was really going on, and it wasn’t just me.

Today, I submitted a really major piece of work. The CEO said it was excellent, and that she’s very impressed with my development. I have a good relationship with my new boss and I’m supporting her to work through the issues with our team (which it turns out go pretty deep). I’m learning, and I think I’m getting out of this role what I wanted going in. So it’s all pretty good!

I would definitely encourage anyone in a similar position to do the same – be candid, be vulnerable, and just keep trying (if it seems like it might be worth it). Having my boss know that I’d been struggling meant that she could support me to get through it, and now I have I’m delivering really great work (that makes her look good too!).

{ 48 comments… read them below }

  1. Steve*

    I went back and read Glassdoor reviews from a terrible company I worked for. Strangely, all the 5 star reviews were vague and said things like “fast paced” but all the 1 star reviews were detailed. It was extremely validating to see that “not everything was in my head.”

    1. bippity-boppity-bacon*

      And now I’m wondering if you worked for the same startup as my husband, lol.

      1. Steve*

        If it has been around for 10+ years but still claiming to be a start-up, you get promoted by going drinking with the owners rather than doing a good job and commissions checks are always less than they were supposed to be then yes, it is very likely….

          1. Steve*

            Sadly, there seem to be many toxic workplaces. Reading Glassdoor is scarier than watching a horror movie as someone looking for work….

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Ah the vague 5 stars, aka the ghost accounts from that worker bee in HR buzzing right away! Or the “Hey, we’ll throw in an extra company branded frisbee if you leave us a good review.” incentive.

      1. Steve*

        I think I can identify the HR reviews for my previous company. They identify “perks” as things many people wouldn’t care about such as happy hours. Some are very silly, and let’s just say that they were trying to be a low budget google. Quite frankly it is a “perk” I got out of my system by the time I was old enough for elementary school.

    3. WestoftheRiver*

      I remember doing this for a company I worked at. It ended up being hilarious because most of the upper-level staff was European and didn’t think to cut out European colloquialisms and terminology when writing “reviews” from supposedly American staff. I don’t think anybody in Houston, Texas (save the odd extreme Anglophile) refers to college as “uni” or bars as “pubs.”

      1. Steve*

        That’s hilarious! I could tell many of the 5 star reviews were written by one of the co-owners because it used a few of his preferred buzzwords.

  2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Thank you for the update! It makes me sad that it shook out that your coworkers are sounding like low-key jerks but at least with a new management structure in place, that may actually be addressed at some point as well.

  3. animaniactoo*

    OP, this is really excellent. Based on what’s happened here, it sounds like you’ve found a really good company to work for, and a boss that you can be happy working with. Awesome to hear that it’s working out for you, especially after such a rough start. Fingers crossed that the team issues can be worked out without too much carnage.

      1. OP*

        The execs was one reason I was excited about the company. The person who I was supposed to be working for won a national Yong Executive of the Year award last year – I was a bit disappointed when she went and got herself promoted to CEO and I wouldn’t be working for her any more, but at the same time it’s super exciting to be working for a female CEO under 40 (all the previous CEOs at this company were typical grey-haired men), and happily the nature of my role is such that I still have a lot to do with her.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      You know… I think I’m okay with carnage as long as it’s directed at unhelpful, unrepentant bullies. I have a low tolerance for people who keep someone else down just to make themselves feel big.
      OP I’m very glad to hear you’re not letting the turkeys get you down!

  4. [Trying to] Dare Greatly*

    My heart warmed when I read “(She’s a bit of a Brené Brown fan.)”. :) That is awesome!

  5. Lily Rowan*

    What a great update — even the crappy coworkers, because it’s not you, it’s them!

    Good job, OP!

  6. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    “…couldn’t start at zero because I wasn’t at zero, I was well below, and I needed to figure out how to get back to zero again”
    Good on you, separating two things. Yes, you are starting fresh with this manager, but that doesn’t mean you are starting fresh in your work. Admitting, “I am here now and need to get to there. And asking, “can you help me make a plan?” Shows that the situation didn’t break you and in the end you have to know that you can handle anything and that even the worse times will pass!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I was also super impressed with your words here, OP. You are a very strong person.
      I would take out the word vulnerable and put in the word sincere. It never hurts to let your sincerity show. Good minded people will work with a person when they see that sincerity shining through. Bad minded people will let you know they are bad minded by stomping all over your sincerity.

      It will probably be a long time, if ever, that you face a situation this hard again.
      You have handled all this very well.

      As an aside, I really like how you are able to see that some folks around you have good intentions and are trying to help. This is a very important asset to have. It will carry you through many odd situations.

    2. JediSquirrel*

      I agree. This is an insightful perspective to have, and one that’s really difficult to achieve when you’re under so much stress. Well done, OP!

    3. WakeRed*

      Helpful framing for all of us who get work piled on and might lose sight of the horizon, so to speak. Great update, OP, glad you and your new manager are making progress in what sounds like a tough environment.

  7. Writerboy*

    I had a manager who took me aside when I came into his shop because I had had a negative review from my previous manager, who was a bit of a tyrant (more than a bit, actually). The new manager just told me that whatever happened in my previous role was in the past and that he only cared about what I contributed to his team. He was a terrific manager and he really helped me put my previous troubles behind me. Glad it’s working out for you.

  8. irene adler*

    OP your attitude here is an inspiration!
    Hell yes, anyone with two brain cells to rub together would see the value in you.
    Well done!

  9. KimberlyR*

    I didn’t see this in the original letter but based on the subtext of the update, it sounds like there could be some gaslighting going on:

    “It also helped (in a rather perverse way) that my new boss had a bit of a rough start. I realized some of my team members were behaving in ways that could be construed as bullying, and that they were doing the same things to the new boss as they had done to me. While it was disappointing to see, it also made me feel validated – the bad stuff wasn’t in my head, it was really going on, and it wasn’t just me.”

    When others either outright or subtly hint that things are your fault or are terrible because of you, it can be really difficult to figure out what is on you and what isn’t. Good for the OP for getting to that point. I hope that the culture on this team can change (or that the members leave) so the team can be a good place to work.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Thankfully my experience shows that with a management shift, these kind of unsettled goobers remove themselves rather quickly. I came in at the time of management shake up and the people who were doing similar things, just generally unhelpful, negative and always placing blame didn’t last when the atmosphere switched with new leads. So I’m holding out hope for our OP!

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I am completely enamored with the phrase “unsettled Goobers”!
        Although I now have an old folk song earworm.
        “Peas, peas, peas, peas, eating goober peas / Goodness how delicious, eating goober peas / Peas, peas, peas, peas, eating goober peas / Goodness how delicious, eating goober peas”

          1. TardyTardis*

            Old song, covered once by Burl Ives. Now *I’ve* got it stuck in my head…

            Just to spread the joy, many of Emily Dickinson’s poems can be sung to the tune “The Yellow Rose of Texas”.

            “Because I would not stop for Death/
            He kindly stopped for me…”

  10. Lucia Pacciola*

    I once had the opposite experience. Let go for a dumb mistake just after coming off a PIP. Three years later, the same company is looking to hire me back in a similar capacity in a different department. I was already on as a contractor, and impressing my supervisor enough that he wanted to convert me to a full time employee. Details of prior history had been glossed over during the contractor onboarding period, and I was vaguely noncommittal about my reasons for leaving the company three years prior.

    When my supervisor started talking enthusiastically about hiring me on as a permanent replacement for the contract position, I cautiously reached out to the HR person who’d handled my termination – was it okay for me to apply to work there again? His answer was a supremely unhelpful “you are of course allowed to apply for any job at Teapots, Inc.”

    So I crossed my fingers, kept my mouth shut, and went through the hiring process. Nobody every brought up my previous termination for cause, and I’d impressed my new department enough that they were eager to bring me on board permanently. I spent another three productive, satisfying, career-advancing years there, before finally leaving again on my own terms and with stellar references.

    I ran into my old boss once or twice, which was mildly awkward. Luckily he was based in a different state, so it wasn’t a big concern.

    But I consider myself very lucky. I wouldn’t recommend this strategy to anyone else. If I had it to do over again, I’d have not made the dumb mistake (or been on the PIP) in the first place.

    I’m glad it worked out for you, OP!

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Argh the canned HR response poked me right in the belly, right where I store my contempt for this kind of robot like response. The question you were looking for was “am I eligible for re-hire” and then they say “yes you are” or “no you’re not” as demonstrated in their files, doh.

      In my experience, granted only with small business, we only mark people for “NEVA HIRE AGAIN” when they’re awful to the core. AKA they scream at the ownership, steal and/or destroy company property. I’ve had a fair share of people come back to roost because they were let go for just general stuff, attendance or they weren’t doing that great and we were short on hours, so they were let go, etc.

  11. Mel*

    I’m so glad this work out for you! I was fired in a similar situation (couldn’t get the info I needed to do my job) right before your original letter came out, so I was super roti for you.

  12. MissDisplaced*

    I highly doubt you were “lower than zero” OP!
    But one thing I’ve come to find is that in bad workplaces with bad cultures you will be made to feel this way!

    The sudden onset of “You’re the worst employee in the world” syndrome also plays out when a company is experiencing financial difficulties. You may not even know about the financial difficulties, but there will be an concerted effort to drive people out by making them think they’re horrible and can’t do anything right.

  13. CupcakeCounter*

    How awesome that the senior people had your back and made it clear to new boss that the situation was bad but they had faith in you – that had to feel so wonderful to hear!

  14. Xingcat*

    Hooray! Things don’t always work out that well, but it’s so fantastic when they do. And keeping a good head about us while we think, “I’m only able to control the parts I can control and know where I am right now and what I can do to make things better” is so very, very helpful.

  15. HB*

    Thank you for this great update and I’m so glad things are going better!
    I’m in a similar-ish situation where I just started a new job – things haven’t been a disaster, but my training has been negligible and I’m in a senior role basically left to figure things out on my own. It’s good to hear stories about things turning around.

    1. OP*

      I hope you get through it!! For me, things got worse before they got better, but they did get better. What was key was knowing that there were changes coming, and giving myself realistic timelines for decision-making. I said to myself that I knew my new boss couldn’t turn things around instantly, so I delayed making any decision until she had been in the job 2-3 months. At that point, I’d know whether things were getting better or getting worse, and I could make a good decision. It was worth holding out that long – but only because I knew things were in flux and changing rapidly. The other thing that really helped was befriending other new people who were also having a rough start – when things happened, we’d grab each other for a short walk around the block and a vent, and it helped a lot. Negligible training in a senior role sounds really hard – I hope you’re able to find some good people to help. <3

  16. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    What a wonderful update! So happy to hear everything is going well for you.

  17. Flash Bristow*

    Oh wow! I’m really pleased for you; usually we see updates saying “thanks Alison for the advice but I left” – I’m happy to see you stayed and made it work. Congratulations! Have a great weekend.

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