updates: company vacation with tattoos, the heavy duty chair, and more

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

1. Going on vacation with my company execs when I’m covered in tattoos

The trip turned out to be awesome. Right beforehand, I decided to talk to my manager about my concerns. She was very supportive and said “everyone has stuff they don’t want people at work to know about their private life, yours just happens to be immediately visible.” She also talked through some of the specific people who were attending and how I could handle situations with them if they arose.

The first day, our CEO emphasized that the trip was really a gift and he didn’t have any expectations to see any of us until the end of the week, and then really kept true to that. That made it really easy to just hang out with my significant other and only spend time with the people that I already knew well.

I did decide to go with the “keep the tattoos covered” option. I know there were a lot of people saying “you’re already a top performer, go for it!” and that people should mind their own business, but in my heart I knew I wasn’t going to get comfortable with it. When there were group outings, I wore a rash guard (thanks to every person who suggested these, I got three really cute ones off Amazon). When I wasn’t actively swimming, I wore a cover-up that basically looked like a long button down shirt (someone else suggested that) that covered mostly everything. I did have one instance of wearing a sarong in a pool like a shawl and looking … a little weird … but no one said anything. Nights were cooler so I wore sweaters over dresses which mostly went fine (one particularly hot happy hour I was wearing a sweater while everyone complained about how much they were sweating, but again, no one said anything). I only got one verbal comment on them the whole time and it was neutral.

Since the trip I’ve been notified that I’m moving into a management role, and I’ve also gotten two new tattoos. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll feel secure enough in my position at work to reveal my secret. If I ever do, you’ll be the first to know!

2. My boss wants me to fire a heavier employee if she won’t use a heavy duty chair

I ended up combining the advice you and some commenters gave and made this a non-negotiable health and safety issue. The Tuesday after you published my letter I had a 1:1 with my employee and told her, “You need to start using the chair we purchased for you or, if it isn’t comfortable, I can get you a replacement. I’m worried you are going to get hurt if you don’t have a chair that is safe and comfortable for you. This isn’t optional”. She got upset, cried, and tried to get me to change my mind. Apparently when she worked for a different company she was bullied for her weight, partially because she had a different chair. I held firm and then walked her around the floor to demonstrate that quite literally no two people have the same office set up and her having a different chair wouldn’t matter. I also asked her that she come to me immediately if any coworkers made any comments about her size or treated her any differently. She cried again and eventually acquiesced.

I was feeling pretty good about the chair situation but unfortunately my employee took my being understanding of her issues to mean that she could come to me and uncork on all the things. If they had been work related issues, I would have been OK with that because it is my job, but she seemed to want me to be best friend and therapist for primarily personal matters. Unfortunately I didn’t immediately cut it off and set boundaries, so we had 2-3 meetings of her crying to me about a lot of things I didn’t want to hear and frankly shouldn’t know, much of it tied up in low self-esteem. When I set the boundaries, she was even more upset, but I held firm and pointed her to our EAP resources. Things smoothed out with me, but in the past couple of weeks some of her coworkers have come to me because she has started doing the same to them and they feel awkward and uncomfortable with that degree of intimacy and need for emotional support from a colleague, so I had to have another talk with her about how she needed to find resources outside our workplace to manage these issues and offered her accommodation (e.g. flex time, FMLA, WFH) to get her bearings. I am hoping she takes me up on the offer, we can get everything settled, and she can recover from her previous toxic workplace. I wish I had cut this off sooner and it hadn’t spilled over into the rest of the team, but I’m just going to take it as a lesson for what to do next time.

One unambiguous positive from the whole experience is that people love the new conference room chairs. They are swank, super comfortable, and can be adjusted for nearly every body type. They are such a hit all the conference rooms, not just ours, are going to have them when it comes time for new equipment.

3. Older coworkers asking about my relationship with my girlfriend

I am the person who wrote in about my coworkers asking about my girlfriend and when we’ll get married, have kids, etc. Your advice, as well as the advice from the comments section, was incredibly helpful. I have a (relatively) happy update to share. A few months ago one of my coworkers again brought up something about us getting married. Before I could even say anything, she must’ve seen the look on my face and quickly said she was just kidding and was happy for us. It was a pleasant exchange and things seemed to die down after that.

All that said, unfortunately my girlfriend and I broke up a few weeks ago (it was my call and I’m glad I did it. Looking back, it wasn’t a healthy relationship), so in a twisted way I guess I don’t have to worry about my original problem anymore. However, I am still very grateful to have such caring coworkers.

4. I accidentally ditched a peer at a conference and then cried publicly about it (#4 at the link)

I did have to contact Sansa to get our stuff together for our presentation at this year’s conference, and…it went totally fine. I didn’t bring up my weird behavior from the year before. I did take time during the conference to jokingly refer to it, keeping it light. She laughed. It was totally fine. A boring update but I’d take boring over completely dramatic, like my original letter. I really needed to hear all that your commenters told me. Some of the points stung a bit but it all helped. Thank you for publishing my question.

5. Was this interview as bizarre as I think it was?

I wanted to give you a happy update. I had another interview at a huge and old company and it was the complete opposite of the other one. The first thing my interviewer did was describe, in detail, the typical work day in the role. They told me that the company strongly believes in mentorship into the role and growth within the company. They told me that most staff stay with the company for 30+ years.

I start next week, my first salaried position (and a extremely good starting salary for someone with zero experience). I am SO GLAD I didn’t take that other job!

Thank you and the readers so much, I read all the comments and they were so helpful.

Update to the update:

I absolutely love it at this company. One week after I started my boss told me he likes my educational background and doesn’t like to see wasted potential and asked me what my goals were. I told him I want to work up to junior clerk. I am happy to say I am now learning parts of the role so I am prepared when there is an opening. I have already received a raise above the cost of living increase after only 8 months. I am so glad I didn’t take the other job out of feeling like I had to accept any offer because of my lack of experience!

{ 90 comments… read them below }

  1. Lance*

    #2 is so unfortunate. Hopefully she can start to work through her insecurities, but you’re absolutely right that you and your coworkers aren’t, and shouldn’t be, the ones to turn to for that, and in pointing out the resources she has available. Very good on your company for getting good conference room chairs, though; especially in longer meetings, those can be a big boon.

    1. The IT Plebe*

      I can’t remember where I read this, but apparently quite a few companies purposefully do get uncomfortable chairs for conference rooms specifically because they think it’ll encourage shorter meetings. I’d be interested to see the results of that aside from lots of sore behinds!

      1. Mockingjay*

        Not to mention the lower back.

        If companies want shorter meetings, they can train their people to run effective ones.

      2. Wintermute*

        There’s a patent for a toilet seat that leans forward forcing you to bear more weight on your legs which is supposed to encourage shortened bathroom breaks, on a similar principle.

        Which sounds like some cyberpunk, dystopian corporate hellscape crap to me but there it is.

  2. MMD*

    I feel bad for you OP with the chair employee. That’s quite a problem. No one should be using coworkers as therapists. Personal problems are just that. We all have them. Sounds like she has very few professional boundaries. Sounds like you are doing your best.

  3. Health Insurance Nerd*

    Update 2- LW, you sound like a really excellent manager, your team is really lucky to have you!

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*


      I feel so awful for OP #2’s report and I hope that she is getting the help and support she needs.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I just also want to say it sounds like you are the sort of manager we all hope for – who wants to kindly support their employees but also sees them as individuals who all need different things.

  4. Jennifer*

    #2 It makes me sad that this woman doesn’t seem to have anyone outside of work to vent to about her issues. I hope she takes advantage of the EAP.

    1. TimeTravelR*

      This woman may have people outside to vent to… she may just be a serial venter. I know people like this and the best OP can do is draw the line and redirect her to resources.

      1. TimeTravelR*

        To add: I don’t take that she was bullied lightly. I just don’t that some people talk about their personal issues a lot. I’m not one of them so I struggle with hearing it from others. (Not that they are wrong to want to talk about it.)

      2. SimplyTheBest*

        I work with a woman like this and she is exhausting. She processes everything verbally (that’s how she puts it) so she has to talk through every little thing. I have made it clear that I am not a person she can talk to like this, but no one else in my office seems to have put up any kind of boundary with her. What’s most annoying is she seems to want as many different perspectives on each issue as possible. So I hear her have the same conversation about her problems (with her boss, with her kid, with her husband, whatever) with at least three different people. Thank god her last day is coming up.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I had an older relative that was a verbal processor who was also addicted to worry – yes, she was exhausting to be around. I could only handle her in short visits.

        2. Lilo*

          Yeah, sympathies, sure, but she can’t be allowed to derail other people’s work. OP is good for establishing boundaries and she needs to protect all of her staff, not just this person.

          It sounds like this situation is still in flux.

          1. Jennifer*

            I never said she should be allowed to derail other people’s work. You can feel sympathy for someone AND disagree with how they handle certain situations in their life. I didn’t think I needed to specify that in my original comment.

              1. Lilo*

                I wasn’t saying you were saying that, I am just highlighting that, it’s easy to be sympathetic to the “squeaky wheel” so to speak and lose perspective about the impact it is having on all employees. OP is doing a good job by shutting her down.

        3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I process verbally too…but my trick is to talk to myself. I literally have conversations with myself driving in my car! Or I phone a friend. It’s so easy to not word vomit on colleagues or strangers.

          1. MsM*

            Me too. I’ll take the occasional weird looks from coworkers or strangers if they catch me in the middle of a soliloquy over unprocessed feelings-dumping on them.

      3. Jennifer*

        I disagree. She didn’t vent to the OP until she showed her that she was a compassionate person who was sensitive to the fact that she was bullied. It seems that she mistook her professional concern for friendship.

        I’m glad the OP redirected her to resources as kindly as possible.

        1. Lance*

          That doesn’t explain her going to her co-workers after to try and vent, granted. I think in this case it was just OP’s (very fair) insistence on a chair that would work for her that opened the proverbial floodgates at work.

    1. Anon because, well The Kid*

      So much this. Almost two full school years later hubby and I are still helping our oldest find both her feet and confidence at her new school (old school was small enough that she never would have been able to get away from the bully clique, moving was the best choice for her).

          1. Sara without an H*

            Ditto. It gets better with time, but I still have small sensitivities from my Job in Hell, probably because it was early in my career.

    2. BrotherFlounder*

      Agreed. I’m still unpacking damage from being bullied for my weight as a kid. I really hope she takes advantage of the EAP and accommodations to find therapy and other help, because that’s likely the only thing that’s going to help her long term.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            I was bullied all through school. ADHD, socially awkward, glasses and after puberty I was fat.

            I didn’t start working through it until college, and I just went to my 40th high school reunion. I still have issues from it.

            What’s worse is that workplace bullies seem to sense that you were a target in school, and take up the abuse again.

            1. Anon because, well the Kid*

              Agreed that bullying is a cycle. One of the things I really like at older child’s new school is the fact that they have classes run by the counselors that grab the transfers bullied at other schools and do classes on how to break the cycle and how to be more confident in yourself moving forward. They also have a functional no bullying policy that brings in the parents to be a part of the solution.

              (There was one kid who tried to start something this year – they were caught quick and had to explain to their parents in the principal’s office why the principal wanted to speak to them in the middle of the day. Student was then made by their parents – not the school – to handwrite apologies to everybody they’d been targeting. Older child wasn’t a target, but one of their good friends was – and an email was also sent reminding all parents of the policies . For reference this was a seventh grade boy harassing fifth grade girls in hallways during the school day – yeah, deserved to be jumped on.)

              1. MsM*

                That’s so good that the parents backed up the school and came up with some productive consequences. It’s so much more frustrating when they just blow it off or yell at the kid, since you know it’s not going to make things better.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        Same here. It is a challenge, but I do know not to use coworkers as therapists. Journaling is actually surprisingly good for therapy. I write offline in a paper diary though, and don’t put anything on the Internet for coworkers to find.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Same. I literally became a hermit and thought all men thought I was disgusting until I was 30. It sucks the scars others can inflict upon us, sometimes without even being absolutely heinous but just crude.

  5. Dagny*

    LW2: I think you handled this well. It is hard to have people pick on you, especially at work (because you need to tolerate the b.s. in order to keep a roof over your head), but the appropriate way to handle it is to come to the manager if there are work-related issues.

    It’s also good to see that you gave her WFH and flex work if she needed to seek professional help for her issues. Mental health isn’t that much different from physical health, and, IMHO, companies should allow their employees flexibility to attend medical appointments.

  6. Observer*

    What a nice set of updates. I love getting all the updates, but some make me sad. This set is all good, which is nice.

  7. MissGirl*

    A woman I knew felt bad about herself because of her smoking. Her shame over her smell kept her from doing some group activities (I was encouraging her to come). I mentioned this to the organizer, and he said something that always stuck with me. “Would that all of our mistakes smelled.”

    It’s so much easier to judge people or feel shame over the visible when there’s so much else out there.

    OP 1, I don’t say this that your tattoos are a mistake, obviously. But that your manager is right that we all have things we’d rather keep separate from our work selves. I hope more of us will focus less on the outward superficial.

    1. Shadowbelle*

      “Would that all of our mistakes smelled.”

      I had to laugh at the phrasing, but I totally agree with the sentiment. From “The Forgotten Beasts of Eld”:

      “The giant Grof was hit in one eye by a stone, and that eye turned inward so that it looked into his mind, and he died of what he saw there.”

    1. Salsa Your Face*

      I’m 6 weeks into a new job. My training is finished and I have two projects of my own, but most people on my team run 20-25 projects at a time. I’m helping out my coworkers as much as humanly possible but I’m still finding myself with way too much idle time every day. My manager warned me that I would be bored out of my mind for a while and I am, so from my perspective, thank heavens for this month of updates!

    2. RobotWithHumanHair*

      I’ve had nothing going on at all at work today, so I’ve been craving every single site update!

      1. Ann Onny Muss*

        Yeah, the end of the year insanity has died down, so it was nice to have something to check on between meetings.

  8. Elizabeth West*

    I’m so happy about #5’s updates. I wish I could find a job like that, with a good starting salary and opportunities for growth! What a great boss, and it sounds like a great workplace.

    I hope #2’s employee can recover from her previous toxic workplace. I feel for her, but she needs to focus on that now. It’s good that OP is offering her the support to do so.

  9. 1234*

    I’m glad OP#2 became firm and direct with her employee. It’s sad to hear that the employee was bullied at her old job and this caused some of her anxiety about the new chair.

    OP #2, I wish all managers handled this situation with as much grace as you did. You were kind and professional towards her. I hope the employee stops telling everyone her personal problems and gets the professional help that she needs.

  10. Tobias Funke*

    Oh, OP2, I so feel for your employee. When you are fat, and especially very fat, and especially if you have been very fat most of your life, everything can feel like a gigantic Long Con. If you get bullied in school when you’re 11 by boys pretending to ask you out, it’s going to be hard at 30 to believe anyone can like you. If you get bullied at work for your chair, it’s going to be very hard at the next job to believe that it’s not just All A Setup for an Elaborate Joke that you are not in on. And as far as the bad boundary things, I am glad you regulated. When we don’t know how to feel safe, we do a lot of super weird stuff.

    1. 4Sina*

      Fatphobia is real, it is systemic, and it may be manifesting in other ways in OP’s workplace. I’m also glad the employee has been pointed in the right direction for appropriate resources, and I also hope that workplaces start not only challenging the inherent biases present (research shows managers believe employees/applicants who are thinner and more conventionally attractive are more competent and more intelligent, even when accomplishments and skills are equal). I also hope that workplaces start implementing universal design.

      1. TardyTardis*

        Yes, you’re always expecting that bucket of cow’s blood if anything nice seems to be happening to you (cf CARRIE).

  11. Update 2 OP*

    Hi everyone, thanks for all the compliments about my management. I try really hard to be a good manager and generally feel like I am coming up short, so it is nice to hear that I’m not making too big a mess of things.

    As for the situation with my employee, it is going not so great. There has been a shift from oversharing to seeking validation all the time from co-workers by saying she is going to do terrible at something, that she did terrible at something, etc. and then doing the “No, no it was really terrible” when people tell her she did great. It is bad enough that it is happening with co-workers, I just learned from a client/friend that she did the same thing to him while doing a project on-site with him. So tomorrow is another 1:1. I think I am going to ask her for a plan to manage this and that if it keeps happening we are going to have to discuss her continued employment here. I don’t feel like I can dictate a specific path, but feel like insisting she come up with something concrete might help. What say you? Is this an OK approach or is there a better idea?

    1. K*

      Hi, thank you for the update to the update! I’m sorry that things are still kind of rough, but it sounds like you’re doing the best you can to address the problematic aspects of her behavior while still being compassionate.

    2. AnonAcademic*

      Given that her behavior keeps changing making this a “whack a mole” type problem, I think you need to zoom out and have a bigger picture conversation. She is actually drawing extra attention to herself through her behavior so it’s not going to have the desired effect of having her/her size be less of a focus in the workplace. She’s working against her career success and your interests as her employer, and it seems like a mindset shift is needed more than just troubleshooting each behavior. It’s the hard but compassionate thing to lay this out for her, IMO. I would strongly urge her towards the EAP and give her more general categories of behavior that need to change consistently (e.g. “must seek feedback at an appropriate time and place such as 1-on-1s; limit personal discussions with coworkers so that it does not interfere with productivity” etc.) and a timeline and plan for reevaluation.

      This might seem harsh but I think it’s actually a kindness to let someone know when they are making a career limiting move.

    3. sweat pants*

      OP2, I agree with the sentiments expressed by earlier commenters. You sound like a tremendously understanding and compassionate manager, and I’m sorry to hear the situation hasn’t improved.

      If she’s in a client-facing role, I think this problem is actually a lot more serious. No client wants to hear that the work they’ve paid for is “terrible”, even if that client is a friend. It sounds like this particular client was forgiving, but others might not be. This employee has crossed over from annoying / disrupting her co-workers to potentially harming your business.

      You’ve already gone above and beyond for this employee. If I were in your position, I would seriously consider letting her go.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      She just keeps moving the target, OP.
      It’s sad because I can see from here that this is a person who is really struggling. I think most of us relate to the concept of struggling to some degree.

      At some point, these problems shift from doing what is best for the employee to doing what is best for the group. As managers/supervisors we cannot save everyone. I was always amazed by watching who accepted help and who did not accept help. I would try to forecast how the conversations would go and so many times I was wrong. We don’t get to chose how people respond to us. All we can do is offer appropriate opportunities to get back on course.

      You have done this, OP. You have offered her many chances to get back on track. I think that your plan here is correct. You definitely cannot dictate a path but you can let her know that you are trying to help her salvage her job. Perhaps you can offer her paid or unpaid leave to allow her time to sort some life stuff. You can say that most of us have something running in the background that we should address at some point. You can point out is a show of strength to greet these issues head on. One of my favorite things I learned is that once we get to safety many old issues can rear up and strike back at us. That is because we have reached safety and it is safe to look at these issues.

      For the new problem, I would go over the correct ways of handling concerns with ones own work and point out that what she is saying about her own terrible work must stop, TODAY. You can cover points such as it is fine to ask a specific question, ONCE, to double check on a specific concern. Don’t ask the same question twice and don’t ask different people advice on the same question. Pick one person and ask once. If true, you can point out times where a cohort could review something before she finalizes it. Don’t say this if this is not a standard practice. Tell her that telling clients her work is terrible is totally unprofessional and not acceptable for the reason that the clients will hear, “Don’t hire us, we are a terrible company.”

      Because she keeps moving from one poor choice to another poor choice, it might be wise for her to take a time out from work just to sort out what she needs to do right now. Her personal grief is clouding her judgement and dictating her reactions. And I think I would say that sentence out loud, but there are settings where I might not. So YMMV here.

      You know, OP, one tool I have used to answer the question, “Have I done enough here?” is to ask myself, “Could I do this for everyone who worked under me IF all of them needed me to do this?” Once framed that way I could usually see me running down the street screaming and tugging at my hair. Unfortunately for you, this one of those examples that help us to define ourselves as managers/supervisors. The amount of human suffering out there is astronomical. There is only so much we can do as one single person. You are far from being a cold-hearted person, OP. You have just come up on a person who is not ready for help or doesn’t want to be helped right now.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        It’s really hard being in a supervisory position with someone who is obviously suffering, but whose suffering manifests itself in a determined attempt to self-sabotage. I’m also reminded of the letter earlier this year with a report on her probationary period who went into an anxiety spiral when receiving feedback. She was competent enough at the actual job tasks, but the anxiety made it impossible to train her.

        In a social situation, you can often limit your exposure to someone like this without cutting them off completely, but that doesn’t work at a job.

        For the OP’s report, the bottom line is that she can’t seek emotional validation and support from her coworkers. The OP is trying her best to offer appropriate *professional* support, but it doesn’t seem to be sticking. I think she might need to get really blunt – make it clear that her work is fine, but her behaviour is jeopardizing her job, and that she needs to sort it out to stay employed. I’m not sure how you’d word a PIP that boils down to “you can’t seek emotional validation and support from your coworkers or clients” but that’s what it works out to.

      2. Wintermute*

        I really like your universal maxim test, which really is sort of what this is like. That was Kant’s big thing as a philosopher. Something is right and moral if you could wish all society to follow the same rule of action you’re following and it wouldn’t lead to mass suffering or the breakdown of society.

        It’s useful because it frames our actions in terms of if it’s sustainable and if your allocation of resources is capable of leading you the direction you want to go.

        That line between being compassionate and being irresponsible with company resources is probably the toughest line there is as a manager, because you have two vital and valid competing interests, and you have the question of how you balance one person’s legitimate pain and the lesser pain they’re spreading to people around them.

    5. Observer*

      Talk to your boss / HR about offering her a leave of absence to give her some time to get this figures out – at least enough to keep it under control in the workplace. Because I think that the others are right that this is a broader picture. And this could be a decent way to protect the rest of your staff and business from her issues while not having to fire her.

      1. Avasarala*

        I agree. I think it would be really kind to offer her a break so she could get herself together without getting fired for this.

      2. Let's not knock nonprofits*

        Agreed, but from OP’s letter it seems like she’s already offered FMLA and the employee has decided not to take it. Can a manager force an employee to go on leave? I feel like that’s been a question before but I can’t remember

    6. LGC*

      So first off, I want to add to the kudos. I don’t think you should feel too badly about not setting firmer boundaries before. You were trying to be not only a good boss, but a good person – and you don’t expect people to pour their hearts out to you normally! You actually handled that very well, I think – you DID refer her to the EAP eventually, and you actually listened to her when I’m guessing she felt like nobody else would.

      I was initially going to say that her weight is the least of her issues, it seems – the real issue here is that she’s extremely insecure to the point where it’s impacting her relationships at work. (But I’m glad she feels secure enough with you guys to be open about it now, I guess?) Definitely talk to her about her behavior, but …I’m not sure about putting termination on the table right now. It sounds like she’s just acting in an EXTREMELY ANNOYING way right now, and it’s not directly affecting her ability to do her job. Generally, I feel like termination should be sparingly used, and if being annoyingly insecure was grounds for firing, I’d never have a job.

      Keep the rest of it, though! And one more thing – I’ve had “annoying“ employees myself. A lot of the time they don’t realize they’re being “annoying,” or at least not the extent. So sometimes you need to get them to think about why they’re doing what they do.

      (And yes, I repeatedly called her “annoying.” I mean that her behavior is annoying, and that I think that in the grand scheme of things her needing constant validation isn’t the worst thing in the world.)

      1. SS Express*

        She’s seeking validation from *clients* though, and she’s doing it by repeatedly insisting that she can’t do quality work for them. Long term, it won’t be possible to keep an employee who does that on your team if you also want to keep your clients.

        1. Update 2 OP*

          Yeah, that was what took me from “Internal matter, can handle with another 1:1 and guidance” to “Yeah, this might not work anymore”. This client happens to be an old friend (I have worked for him, he has worked for me, I have bought from him, he has bought from me) so who knows how many people who don’t know me have been subjected to this and not spoken up? However, the short term leave option was one I hadn’t considered. It is a deadish time for us, so I am thinking of trying that before termination.

        2. LGC*

          I missed that! In that case, that actually changes my view…but not so much my advice.

          I still wouldn’t put firing on the table right now, but only because I’m afraid it might backfire (which is another concern I had). I’d probably say, “This is serious because this makes our clients feel uncomfortable – what’s going on?” (She might pour out her accumulated traumas to you again, which…isn’t ideal, but might get her to think about why she’s acting like this.

    7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      She’s spiraling and caught in a cycle of self sabotage.

      You need to have a discussion about her continued behaviors and I agree a leave of absence would be fair if possible.

      But I want you to also know there’s a limit to how much you can be expected to do. You are kind. You are understanding. You are working step by step well. But now in the end, if she can’t find that outside help that she needs, you should let her go. Not right now. But if it boils down to another dead end. You have to. She’s hurting your other employees and now your clients. That client was a friend who felt safe to tell you. Others will just walk away.

    8. Update 2 OP*

      Hi all, sorry for the delayed reply, but, you know, life and whatnot

      I’m thinking I am going to offer her a paid leave of absence. I’m pretty sure I can get it approved if I burn a little capital. Right now I have some to spare. Thing is, she’s currently my lowest performer, but that is just because I have a team of “Hot damn, how did I luck into this?”. On a normal team she’d be mid- to high- performance, even with the issues. Without them, she might just be at least an opening act, and possibly a rock star. At this time, I could lose her, no worries, but when you have a good a team as mine, you need to assume you are going to lose a few and I’d like to keep her because in a normal team she’d be great.

      My approach is going to be offering her 3 weeks off, paid, with a specific list of what needs to be sorted and the resources we have available. I checked our mental health coverage and it is really quite good (our founder has a few conditions and always picks plans that are MH generous). and our EAP program is really more robust than I even knew (and is good to know!). When she returns, we are going to set some clear standards of behavior and (inshallah) she can meet them within 3 months. After that, PIP, but hopefully we never get there.

      Thanks everyone! I’ll update once we get this sorted

      1. Batgirl*

        This is such a good plan. No matter what happens the best opportunities are available. It shows a value for your employees that will probably be noted by more than just the one.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Hmm. I see why you have a team of rock stars, I am looking at their boss. People rise to the level of those around them. You lift your people upward.

        It sounds like you have an additional wrinkle here in that you have the luxury of keeping her on because your team is spectacular. In a lesser group, she would have to be gone by now. But you are wise in considering your team and just how much you can expect them to carry.

        I think you have a good strong plan here and I wish you and her and your team the best possible outcome.

      3. Cartographical*

        I’d just like to add that you should trust your judgement here, no matter what way it goes. You seem to be tuned-in and compassionate and so your instincts here, regardless of your sentiments, should guide you well.

        I also think you should share with this woman what you’ve said here if you haven’t done so already: that she has potential to be great at her job, that she’s surrounded by people at the top of their game and so she may feel like she’s falling short when she’s actually meeting the baseline for most departments but she’s capable of more, and that you think if she could accept the appropriate support available that she could be very successful — and that you really want to see her succeed.

        People who have been in abusive environments often try to recreate them for various deep-seated reasons. It sounds like she’s doing just that right now. She’s got to stop kicking the ball into her own goal here and that requires a change in perspective that you can only suggest; you can’t manage her out of her trauma, you can only offer her the possibility of doing it herself. No matter the outcome, it sounds like you’re getting some experience that will only benefit everyone you supervise going forward, your efforts here aren’t going to waste.

    9. Kt*

      Good luck!

      I’m going to throw it a slightly different framing. I might say that she needs to go from an employee mindset to a leader mindset. S leader does not tell the client her work is terrible. A leader is not fair, but is putting the emphasis on the team and the product rather than the individual. It seems to me she’s making a lot about her, and that’s the problem. If she can identify that habit and turn it around — put the emphasis back on the product, the service, her team, her value as a representative of your company and group — maybe that would help.

    10. Lilo*

      If she’s saying stuff like that to clients she could be hurting your company’s business. I think it’s probably time to start documenting to letting her go. How many people do you manage and how much time are you spending putting out fires from this one person?

      1. The IT Plebe*

        This is a really good point to consider. Not that I think this is the case here based on your other replies in this thread, LW2, but if you’re spending a lot of time and energy managing this person at the expense of the rest of your team, that’s not good. That said, it sounds like you have a lot of stellar performers on your team, so they probably don’t require a ton of managing and you can spend the time on her, but just continue to be mindful of the impact this person has on your team and whether it’s worth transitioning this time and energy into a replacement. I know from a previous comment you mentioned putting her on a PIP after she returns from leave if she doesn’t shape up after coming back, but I’d consider putting her on one right at the end of her leave. You’ve given her more than enough chances, resources, and 1:1s. If you weren’t clear before, you are now and have been for awhile now.

  12. Jackie*

    To Not So New Reader:
    “ We don’t get to chose how people respond to us.”

    I’ve been reading AAM for well over a year now after discovering this site accidentally. It’s my daily addiction. Archives on the weekends. I’m going on 35 years in the medical field (30 in anesthesia nursing).

    This is the most perfect statement for my personal and professional life. I know you are a semi-regular on here, and I have admired your views and comments. Many thanks !

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I’d like to add there have been many time I have said this with tears running down my face because a person has had made such a poor choice and I am so. very. saddened by that choice. For folks who have or had a Jane type situation, please know that sometimes your bosses cry in private on your behalf.

    2. Grapey*

      Not from this blog but “you can’t control other people’s reactions, only yours” has been the most helpful advice in my adult life.

  13. Batgirl*

    Why does calling in sick make you feel so guilty? I think the set up of calling in is so unnecessary.
    I woke up with a high temperature on Monday but by Wednesday I had a normal temperature, felt OK and decided to go in. Everything was going swimmingly for an hour or so, until I began to see spots and realised I had passed out in my classroom. I freaked out the small exam group I was invigilating but luckily it was only a few seconds until I came to. I had to take a cab home and I vowed to be a lot more careful of myself before coming back in.
    Thing is… at my work you have to call in to a grandboss every single day. On the Thursday my grandboss sounded annoyed because my line manager never told him I’d gone home: ‘who covered you that afternoon?’
    “I don’t know, I was asleep and shivering under two blankets!” I wanted to say.
    “You’re going to need a doctor’s note if you’re still unwell Friday, and to avoid calling in over the holidays it should cover the two weeks we are off as well”
    So I went the doctors, who thinks it’s ridiculous I need a note for when the school is closed. “You can have one for this week and if they need more they can call themselves and ask.
    “You can self certify. Anything more is a burden on the NHS”.
    I was really hoping to be well enough to go in for today, the last day just to avoid the palaver. Last night I felt pretty good.
    This morning I feel awful again and have called in. At least I was given the option of updating via email on Monday.

    1. only acting normal*

      In the UK an employer can’t legally *require* a doctor’s note for less than 7 consecutive calendar days sick, and the NHS can charge for them for <7 days. Asshats still demand them, of course, but the rules as laid out on the gov.uk website state self-certification is for less than 7 days (the law since 2010). There’s even an online gov form (SC2) if your employer doesn’t have their own version.

  14. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    That sounds awful and I hope it is shortlived.

    But I think that your distress is definitely doubled by grandboss being so awful about it. It’s not normal and it’s not ok.

    Get well soon.

  15. cheeky*

    I feel for the large woman in LW2’s story. Fat people are treated so horribly by society, by individuals who think it’s not only okay but necessary to point out or shame fat people. If you’ve never been fat, you can’t understand how painful this is, and it happens to fat people over and over, all the time.

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