update: my office has a burn book we all have to read and sign

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.

Remember the letter-writer whose manager wrote down everyone’s minor mistakes in a notebook and made everyone else read and sign it? Here’s the update.

On the evening you posted my letter, I went into work and Jane had written two full pages in the burn book blaming me for something she screwed up that morning, when I wasn’t working. I hadn’t worked the two days prior either, so it was impossible for me to be to blame. I was so furious at the time that I don’t even remember what she was accusing me of.

I used your advice and the advice from people in the comments. I wrote a response in the burn book saying I will no longer be reading any of these notes as they are inappropriate, and that the schedule shows I was not working at the time she said I was. I took photos on my cell phone of the worst pages of the book. Jane’s boss was out the office at the time so I sent her an email explaining the many problems Jane’s behaviour would raise for management including breaching employee privacy laws, workplace harrassment, etc. I’m Canadian and we have very clear employment laws here, so I copy and pasted some points directly from the government’s website which could apply.

The next morning I received an email from Jane’s boss apologizing for her behaviour and saying it will be addressed. She offered to take over as my direct supervisor and speak to me directly about any issue which would arise. I accepted her offer, but nothing was ever brought up, presumably because so much of Jane’s problems with me were untrue or exaggerated. When I went into work that evening, the burn book had many pages torn out of it, but I don’t know if Jane did that to hide her behaviour or if her boss made her take them out. Good thing I took photos!

Anyway, Jane was scratched off the schedule for a week (whether she was suspended or took sick leave I don’t know) then spent the next month or so avoiding me by calling in sick or leaving early on the days we were scheduled to work together. She dropped her attitude and she became much easier for everyone to work with. In addition to that good news, I just finished going back to school and started an amazing new job! I’m so glad to be out of there!

{ 141 comments… read them below }

  1. BrotherFlounder*

    The burn book! One of the most ridiculous things ever. But it sounds like Jane actually got the message after a month or so of total embarrassment. Glad she dropped the attitude and very glad you were able to get her boss to step in. And even more glad that you’re out there.

      1. Claire*

        It looks like the burn book did actually serve a function in alerting employees on the next shift to things like, “We need to buy more staples,” but Jane decided to take it in a weird direction. It’s possible that the book is still there for its intended purpose, but is no longer a burn book.

      2. I'm that person*

        The book itself was useful for communicating with people on different shifts, it was Jane her turned it into a burn book. So hopefully it’s now being used the way that it’s supposed to be used.

        1. Antilles*

          Yeah, these sorts of books are pretty common in shift work, so that messages can get passed to different shifts. Otherwise, you tend to end up with a giant game of telephone where “we’re low on staples, the evening shift should buy more, also the back door lock is broken” gets passed through 3 different people and the message ends up being “the evening shift should put staples in the lower portion of the door…wait, what?”

      3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Yeah, I’ve had jobs with pass down logs in the past that we’re in notebooks (so that if you were off for a few days you could check/skim the history of when you were out to get caught up instead of just hoping co-workers would tell you everything you needed to know). When used as a this happened – FYI everybody, it’s great. The way Jane was using it – not so much.

        1. JustaTech*

          I just had training on a computer system we use to track errors and one of the first things the training said was “keep this professional” and reminded the users that auditors can and do read these, so no snark and no sniping.

          I laughed, and now I really want to read whatever rude thing someone wrote that made that a rule.

          1. MarsJenkar*

            Could just be someone with sufficient foresight to see what direction things easily *could* go, and they made sure to cover that angle before someone actually did.

          2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            No you really don’t want to know why the rule had to be explicitly stated.

            Signed, the person who freshman year shared a dorm room wall with the room that spawned the need for three new housing rules (by the end of December – and the room was evicted from housing by March).

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              The only new rule that is safe for public that they created the need for:

              You are not allowed to cook food unattended in the communal kitchen. Additionally, the fire alarm is not meant to serve as a kitchen timer.

            2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

              We had a book like that for phone messages and messages to each other in my senior year of college. About five of us in the suite, and no mobile phones or personal – just one land line (this was a long time ago).

              Some of the stuff was amazing: “X called, she said to buy cocaine” was the arguably the most memorable.

        2. TardyTardis*

          We had a daybook for our campaign office that listed who was there and what hours, interesting people who came in, volunteers wanting to sign up, and notes about ‘that person came, again, but fled like the wind when we tried to put her to work folding flyers’, ‘street person took off with the whole candy bowl when we weren’t watching’ and the different radio stations and what kind of music they were on a donated stereo.

      4. Not-So-Mean-Girl*

        OP Here. The book does still exist but is rarely used. The only messages that go in are actually important stuff that needs to be passed from shift to shift (out of staples, door is broken, etc.).

    1. Heidi*

      It’s pretty messed up when people have to resort to documenting the hostile documentation of their coworkers. Way to fight fire with fire, OP!

  2. Amber Rose*


    Heck yeah we have strict laws, that “burn book” violates basically everything I just learned in my course on workplace harassment. The fact that it wasn’t a fireable offense just makes me shake my head.

    1. Cookie Captain*

      Likewise. Jane’s boss wasn’t unkind, but she was definitely incompetent.

      I don’t understand how the fact that multiple employees quit because of her wasn’t addressed until it became overtly clear that she wasn’t just an awful boss, she was a crazypants-awful boss.

      Managers: you can deal with terrible people, you don’t have to wait until they become egregiously terrible.

      1. Senor Montoya*

        I suppose Jane’s boss might not have known Jane was crazypants-awful. Sounds like the OP was the first to tell J’s boss about the burn book, for instance. If I were the grandboss, checking to see that the log book is being used correctly is not likely to be at the top of my to-do list, or even on it at all.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        The boss may have not heard/been told that the employees quit *because* of Jane. What we see is that the first time the book is documented for her, Jane’s behavior changed and the offending pages were removed.
        OP I’d be curious if you hear from your former co-workers how long the improvement lasts/lasted.

    2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      There is strain of people who think that harassment laws and healthy workplace rules are somehow only for the bullies. They end up in management roles guarding that broken step like its a mission.

      1. Mongrel*

        I’ve also seen, in social care environments with shifts, they (TPTB) would rather have a body there to fill a legally mandated slot than worry how good or bad that body is at filling the slot. While a customer service desk isn’t as bound by regulations there may well have been some contractual obligations or KPIs that can make a difference
        Since it’s easier to get dinged for being persistently short a person that should be there bad behavior can flourish as that’s both harder to prove and has to go through ‘the process’ which is a lot of hassle when dealing with shift workers and a 9-5 HR dept.

  3. LucyHoneychurch*

    Wow. Jane’s the kind of bully who crumples the minute someone stands up to her. Nice work, OP.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      A lot of them are; many of the rest majorly flip out when you stand up to them, which can be good (as long as you’re not in physical danger), as it can provoke even a horrible manager like Jane’s boss to finally DO SOMETHING.

  4. Dasein9*

    Jane got off easy. I hope she takes the lesson to heart and becomes a good manager someday.

    I’m glad you’re out of there. Congratulations!

    1. EPLawyer*

      Now that OP is gone I would bet Jane went right back to the book. She just is embarrassed she got caught. Not that she did it.

      1. Cookie Captain*

        Or she’s going to go back to being a nightmare, she’s just going to stop doing it in writing.

        It sounds like the book itself is what was addressed, not necessarily the blame-shifting, incompetence and vindictiveness.

        1. Antilles*

          I disagree with that last part. OP specifically said “She dropped her attitude and she became much easier for everyone to work with.”. To me that reads like management told her to fix her overall style and attitude, not just ‘stop writing this down’.
          It might not *stay* fixed, but it definitely seems like it was more than just a ‘stop with the book’ talk.

        2. Not-So-Mean-Girl*

          OP here. I’m still friends with one of my old coworkers who gives me updates. Apparently the replacement they hired quit within a couple of weeks after witnessing Jane get in a screaming match with another employee. Christmas is the busiest time of year and Jane had to help cover weekend shifts because of it, which she never had to do.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Hopefully OP’s success in pushing back would let those who still work there feel comfortable addressing it if something like that were to happen again.

  5. Dragoning*

    I, too, once got yelled at for something that happened when I was not on shift and my defense was “I have no idea what happened, I wasn’t there” when my manager pulled up the video of the incident to ask me about the customer, etc.

    He was distinctly unhappy about it, but he was a rotten manager.

    Wish I would’ve had the guts to ever go over his head about any of it, but I eventually got out, too.

    Congrats, OP!

    1. Senor Montoya*

      Maybe she should have been, but it sounds like Jane’s boss addressed it and Jane is now much easier to work with, no longer has a bad attitude, etc. If you can resolve the problem by getting the employee to behave correctly, why not? Unless the behavior was so bad that no one can get past it, but doesn’t sound like that’s the case.

    2. one in every store?*

      Because a place that would start a passive aggressive book to begin with certainly doesn’t have the management skills to fire either. Retail!

      1. Not-So-Mean-Girl*

        OP here. Management is kind of a mess and I think Jane’s boss really doesn’t care what happens as long as people keep showing up. She only acted after I spelled out how much trouble Jane’s behaviour could cause management in the long run.

      1. That Lady in HR*

        Me too. I remember this letter and it made me furious that Jane’s manager wouldn’t address it the first time. Managers can lose so much by not managing!!

  6. Jamie*

    I still can’t believe an office has a burn book. What’s next, a PIP that includes putting employees hand in warm water while they’re sleeping?

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Yeah, I’m glad things worked out for OP, but I still have a problem with the fact that book was not removed, instead of Jane just ripping out a few pages. It is highly inappropriate and counterproductive, and needs to be thrown into the dumpster.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Jane’s punitive you did this wrong was destructive – but a pass down book in shift work involving customer service can be a great way to make sure everybody on all shifts knows about “crazy aggressive guy” who came in yelling at all the on duty staff because his ten year old computer can’t run the newest version of that new game he wants to play…..

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yeah it sounded like the original intention of the book was fine and helpful, and it was just Jane who was misusing it.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Putting a little shaving cream on their hands and then tickling their nose with a feather time.

      1. Mayflower*

        “Burn Book” is a “Mean Girls” reference; “fetch” is from the same movie, a term coined by Gretchen who hopes to make it the new it-word.

    1. Pants*

      So dang fetch! Also, your hoop earrings are gorgeous! And tell your dad that I love the new flavour of Toaster Struedel!

  7. LGC*

    This update is so fetch.

    (No, seriously, I love this update so much! And congratulations on getting away from that manager and getting a new and better job!)

      1. Third or Nothing!*


        I know that’s not the next line but it’s one of my fave scenes.

  8. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    The sad part of this though is that the book has apparently not disappeared entirely — only pages have been torn out. Why is the book still there?

    1. CatCat*

      The book had legitimate uses like “we need to buy more staples” type of notes about stuff needed, scheduling, and the like. I imagine those pages stayed in.

      1. Half-Caf Latte*

        I get that, but it sounds like most of the notes have a pretty short shelf life, maybe a week max?

        I’m just baffled they didn’t buy a new book, and start fresh.

        1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

          right? It doesn’t sound like it was really useful to anyone anyway so why not just scrap it; use post it notes or send an email directly to the person/people. Does everyone really need to see a note about staples?

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Yeah – there is definitely a place for passdown books in shift work, but Jane was off-track in how she was using the book.

  9. Dragon_dreamer*

    I got fired supposedly because of something that happened on a day I hadn’t worked. I was a full time non-manager, earned because I had the 2nd best sales numbers in the company. (Still got the paperwork to prove it!) However, in retail these days, full time status for non-managers Isn’t Done. As soon as my DM was let go, the new one made it clear my status was Unacceptable.

    So I walked into work a week after she took over, and was told that a customer had supposedly taken a survey and said that she’d heard me being rude to another customer on the phone. On a day I’d not only been off, but was in exams. However, they told me, I was still re-hireable! As long as I took a pay cut from $12/hr to minimum wages, at no more than 20 hours a week, and at a store 2 hours from my house that had been struggling. Also, they told me that due to the firing, I would NEVER be management.

    They weren’t happy when I basically walked away. I was in tears for the first week, then got mad. I had been documenting things for most of the 10.5 years I was there. They got hit with EPA, OSHA, and EEOC complaints. Being forced to work through breaks, bullying management, HR complaints ignored, attempts to force techs to fix bedbug infested computers, and the water main leak that sent gallons of diluted ink and toner into a protected stream the week before.

    I was harrassed in turn for most of a year, got an email blaming me for the closure of the stores I worked at, and they fought my unemployment tooth and nail. That “rehireable” status bit them in the butt at every hearing, plus the fact that the phone in question wasn’t recorded, and no one else had overheard the supposed call.

    I haven’t heard anything from them since October, thankfully. Good riddance to bad rubbish. I will NEVER work retail again.

    My motto? “Loyal until you screw me over. Then you’re f***ed” :P

    1. WellRed*

      I can’t believe you worked there for 10.5 years and then they turned around and treated you like that. However, I love the alphabet soup list of complaints. Good for you!

      1. Dragon_dreamer*

        The attitude in corporate retail is, “but what have you done for us LATELY?” If I’d taken their “offer,” they would have been highly upset if I hadn’t continued delivering $3k/week in repair/warranty sales on half the hours. Also, I’ve heard since last year that the new DM equates “autistic” with “stupid,” which is probably why they expected me to accept.

      1. Dragon_dreamer*

        Yes, yes it was. The only reason I *had* full time hours was because when the ACA rules went into effect, they tried cutting my hours in half. With less time to sell and repair, my sales went down accordingly. Hence why the old DM was willing to put me back up to full time.

      1. Dragon_dreamer*

        Now, if only the whole toxic company would either fix itself or go under. It was a good place to work when I started, but then they started following the same path Circuit City took. It’s sad, really.

        I’m in school full time, btw, getting a second degree. As a student worker, I’m making exactly my old $12/hr wages, and it’s even full time during the summer! I take care of live animals in one of the teaching labs, and am creating a collections database from scratch for them. It’s a lot more fun and rewarding. Plus, my new boss brags about all the changes I’ve made! I’m definitely better off. :D

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Circuit City was great until they changed everything. I stopped shopping there when they did that and look at them now. Oh wait! YOU CAN’T!

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Started taking a path of that of a failed business *claps* Sounds like a legit plan of action! Yuck.

          I’m glad you’re free from that place. Ef it. Ef all of it. It shows that even after a decade, a company can spiral.

          I’ll put it this way, when somewhere is failing, it’s felt everywhere and this is pretty typical sadly. I’m glad one was put out of it’s misery. Now for the rest of them to fall.

        3. Quill*

          Lab animals for the win!

          … I always wondered how many people ended up taking the control group behavior wistari rats home… I know the demo rats lived happily separate from the experimental rats.

          I also know a dude who had to do behavioral analysis with cats and took one of the control group cats home at the end of the project. Apparently she’s no nuttier than the average cat.

          1. Dragon_dreamer*

            Can’t take these babies home, but I can promise they’re not experimented on. They’re marine invertebrates, a few fishies, and a giant horseshoe crab. :)

              1. Dragon_dreamer*

                She looooove being stroked! My supervisor ordered a 6 inch, we got a 16 inch. She is such a docile love. :D I keep telling him, we’re officially pet owners now. ;)

            1. Quill*

              One of my old professors caught an invasive round gobi when we were doing stream sampling… obviously he couldn’t re-release it with the rest of our vertebrate haul, so it lived happily in his minnow tank for several years, only ever leaving it for a large jam jar on lab practicum day so subsequent classes could ID it.

    2. Anon For This*

      My brother got fired from a job like this several years ago by a manager who had a personal vendetta to settle with one of his non-work friends. The funniest part is that they really thought he would take them up on the “re-hireable” part. He didn’t, and got a better job somewhere else right away. His ex-manager’s response was “but we don’t have anyone else qualified to close next Thursday evening.” It was glorious.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Ha! “I think we can file that under ‘things that are no longer my problem’, Ex-Boss!”.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I regret to inform you that this is no longer my circus and those are no longer my dancing monkeys. Have a nice day.

    3. Warm Weighty Wrists*

      Bedbug. Infested. Computers.
      Pardon me while I disinfect myself and everything in my immediately vicinity.

        1. Dragon_dreamer*

          I have a photo, too. The bullying supervisor I’ve mentioned before took that one in, then threw a tantrum when I refused to work on it or let anyone else do so. “But he spent $400!” “You’re just trying to make sure you’re the only one making money for this department!” “Quit stealing my sale!” 9.9

          I ended up triple bagging it despite his threats and texting the store manager during a Sunday meeting with the old DM. It took a week for the customer to come pick it up after he was called, and they did refund the money, though the customer threw his own tantrum.

          Best part was, it was in the store for 4 hours before I got there, next to the laptop of another customer who liked to complain. Last thing I needed was to give THAT guy a legitimate reason!

          Yes, it got resolved, however it was still an OSHA violation. That computer and all the ones that came in regularly that were yellow with “smoker’s dust.” Apparently, the day the inspectors came, there were THREE computers that qualified as health and safety violations.

        1. Dragon_dreamer*

          The photo shows them crawling out of the USB ports. I think they’re like roaches, the electricity and heat may attract them.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            They just like cracks/seams more than anything.

            They’re known to go through electrical sockets to get between adjoining buildings. They just follow that smell of sleeping humans TBH. So if it’s somewhere near their bed. BOOM.

            1. Dragon_Dreamer*

              That makes sense, so they crawled out of the laptop to find new victims. *shudder* I’m just grateful they apparently *didn’t* spread to the other machines. Or to me!

              I do have to clarify my above statement. We double bagged it the first day. The third bag was added after we had moved it to the back room and holes were discovered in the first two! As far as I could ever tell, we didn’t have issues with bedbugs in that back room within the 6 months between that incident and when they got rid of me.

              (Okay, I lied, bedbugs DO squick me in person. The photo doesn’t, mostly because it brings back memories of just how PO’d I was at the supervisor in question.)

    1. Dragoning*

      At this point, if a boss isn’t threatening the health and lives of their employees, do they even qualify?

        1. Quill*

          We could do senior superlatives

          “Boss with least relation to reality”
          “Boss most likely to commit a murder”
          “Boss most likely to commit manslaughter”
          “Boss most likely to result in a full building biohazard evacuation.”

  10. Batgirl*

    “Do you have anything you wanna own up to?”
    “You never made up a rumor about anybody?”
    “I’m really disappointed in you, Jane”
    At least, I’m hoping that Jane’s boss went full on Ms Norbury.

  11. QCI*

    A burn book definitely would have been my passive aggressive playground. I’d be filling it with worthless notes to the point of uselessness.

      1. QCI*

        Like others mentioned
        “Saw Jane making out with a hotdog”
        “Jim wore blue 3 days in a row”
        “Carol wore white after labor day :O”
        “Jim flicks eye boogers at Carol”
        The weirder the better

        1. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

          “Jack was farting over in the other aisle and blaming it on Sarah”
          “The stapler was looking at me funny”
          “There is supposed to be a full moon tonight and Jack is suspiciously off again”
          “Milk, eggs, butter, rice, broccoli, peanut butter cookies, bagels, butternut squash”

    1. Antilles*

      I’d be filling it with worthless notes to the point of uselessness.
      Given that the intent of the log book was certainly to document important things that people needed to know like “supplier coming Thursday morning”, “chip reader is down, customers need to swipe cards” and so forth…Jane was doing a pretty good job of making the log book useless already, actually.

  12. irene adler*

    There’s something ‘super-hero’ like about the OP’s actions!
    So admire calling this ugly out.

  13. hbc*

    I’m pretty shocked that Jane changed her attitude so fast. I would have bet good money that she’d comply with what she was asked to do but find other ways to pick at people and generally get worse for having her hand slapped. I can’t quite figure it out–is she only capable of working herself into a blinding rage on paper, and once that medium is gone, she doesn’t care about which drawer the stapler is in? Was she deliberately adopting a management approach of being a raging jerk, but now she’s leaving that persona behind and using a gentler model?

    I dunno, but I’m glad OP got out, because I’d be worried that this was an act and Jane was just biding her time for a backstabbing.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’m not too shocked. Most people will backdown if they feel that their job is truly threatened. The fact they changed the reporting structure for the OP, makes it sound like they really did tell Jane that this is going to end in termination.

      They usually escalate only when they have no fear of repercussion. The problem is Jane was running unchecked. She took a hit and then went “ouch ouch ouch I could actually lose my job, oh sh*t, avoid avoid avoid.”

      Some bullies do go away when you hit them in the nose ;) This is the professional version of hitting someone on the nose.

      1. Observer*

        Yes. The most solid research on bullying seems to lead to one conclusion – whatever else is at play, Bullies bully because they can.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          It really isn’t the case. There’s actual psychology involved. Untreated mental issues and poor defense mechanisms because of the people who leave children to their own devices.

          1. Observer*

            I know about the psychology. But, what I said is still true. Keep in mind that lots of neglected and abused kids turn out NOT to be bullies. Also, there are plenty of bullies who were not abused or neglected in any way or only had their moral development neglected.

        2. MsSolo*

          I think bullies bully because the people with the power to stop them don’t. Poor leadership – be it from parents, teachers or managers – creates dysfunctional social structures that allow people to behave in ways that damage others and themselves.

          Name the behaviour, establish why it’s harmful, and establish the consequences and follow through on them. Create structure. Don’t put it on the victim to lead the charge when they can’t follow through on consequences (apart from reeling off and punching the bully when it all gets too much – I mean, it works, but it shouldn’t have to reach that point). It’s why ignoring bullies doesn’t work – there’s no accountability, there’s no consequences. Making yourself a void to shout into just means the shouting continues.

          People like structure and knowing the rules, and I think that’s broadly what’s happened here – once Jane realised that she was being actively managed she became more comfortable in her role and had less need to lash out. By demonstrating that the workplace did have structure and rules it became a safer space not just for the victims, but also for the bully. We talk a lot here about carrying dysfunctional behaviour over between employers, but here’s hoping Jane manages to carry this functional behaviour with her, now she’s got a handle on it.

      2. Quill*

        Can confirm that I have, in fact, dealt with a bully by hitting them in the face. Was then known as the girl who will sock you in the face with an ice-cored snowball if you try to jump her after school. Was furthermore known as the girl who will run you off with a 2×4 if you decide to shoot staples at the homecoming float work crew, then known as the girl that all the other girls’ dads wanted them to hang out with for better herd protection against creepy boys who thought trying to shoot staples at their butts was a good idea.

      3. hbc*

        Avoiding I understand, and improving behavior to the point of not getting busted again. Actually dropping her attitude? I would expect sulky compliance at best. Maybe I’m misreading, because it sounds like she basically went from mean to nice, and I don’t trust a turn like that.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Agreed. Most people aren’t gonna do a 180…

          It may just be that she’s a good actress/not showing her emotions.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            It’s not some kind of disease that isn’t treatable. Lots of people can be scared straight and others can change due to assorted intervention techniques.

            There’s a lot going on in the NHL right now. I encourage people to see what abuse of children do to people and how they find peace and stop acting out in these kinds of ways, lots of men are stepping up to talk about it. You lash out when you’re hurt. It’s pretty typical response and if you address it with compassion and understanding that they’re not wasted souls, they can absolutely change.

  14. Nancy pelosi*

    I always wonder how folks like Jane get hired in the first place, and how someone like OP is the first (or one of the few) folks to speak up. Like Alison often says, someone like Jane is definitely exhibiting bad management in other areas. Is this truly the first time Jane’s boss has been made aware? Why hasn’t Jane’s boss been more involved up until now? Good on OP for speaking up!!

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Sometimes there is only one person speaking up because there’s lots of people who need that job, and only one person has enough safety net to make it the bosses problem enough to get it on the radar and get it fixed.

Comments are closed.