updates: the awful business travel, the men pooping in the women’s bathrooms, 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 four updates from past letter-writers.

1. My business travel is full of exhausting layovers and cost-cutting

I’d like to thank you again for your advice following my letter, it was instrumental to me realizing I needed to make a change in my life. As a person relatively new to the workforce, your blog has been incredibly useful in helping me navigate the world of professional norms.

Following my letter, I had the good fortune to not have to travel for work for a while, which was really a blessing as it took me weeks to recover from the crazy trip I wrote in about originally. After reading your advice, and the many helpful comments from readers, I knew it was time to start planning my exit. After many commenters rightly pointed out how my company wasn’t even saving money once my time and expenses were factored in, I ran the math and it was totally correct. The final straw came about three weeks ago. I had two-day trip planned to a city a two-hour flight away (thankfully just a short flight so no chance of a torturously long layover in between). I had been planning out these meetings and doing all the necessary prep work for weeks. Due to fly out on the Monday, I messaged my boss on Friday afternoon to check a detail about the trip.

My boss: “What trip? You have no trips coming up.”
Me: “The trip to Big City I have on Monday?”
My boss: “Oh right, yeah, that’s been cancelled, I guess I forgot to tell you.”
Me: (Internally screaming)

Having my time constantly disrespected with these travel issues and penny pinching measures was just one of the bigger issues in a workplace riddled with more issues than I could name in this short update (think the usual toxic nightmare of insane overtime, no benefits, a small-ish family owned company, the whole shebang). So I am so happy to say I will be leaving after the holidays and will be taking a looong holiday, followed by going back to university to finally do my master’s! I’m incredibly happy and excited to be finally making this change and hopefully moving into a totally different career path.

2. The men in our office use the women’s bathrooms … only for pooping (first update here)

I am sad to say that Shera and the other new owners were not all that that they seemed. By all accounts, things were pretty great for a couple months after the old owners were out, and the entire debacle from my last update about her having to throw out the former CFO who was having a tantrum was pretty wonderful. Employees were happy, there was pay parity, and good benefits. Sadly this is not a fairy tale.

Quick back story: The new owners also owned another business and this one is their second. The other business is the “home office” and they spend most of their time there, and it’s a couple of hours away. The business is similar but not the same. Because of this, I guess they now started to look at everyone in this office as “working remotely,” despite them working in the same location they’ve always been working in, with the same managers, etc. But they didn’t hire those managers and they had trust issues. Work started being distributed in ways that made no sense, and they started interjecting into client communications and negotiations without really being fully present and understanding the situations, which resulted in some losses, and then they decided that firing some of the existing managers and bringing in new ones would solve their problems.

My friend was pretty unhappy with the way things were going down, including some issues with a new PTO policy (which was illegal, by the way) but she was sticking it out as any type of acquisition is expected to cause some turmoil. Then Shera (and I now regret giving her that pseudonym) made her stance on things particularly well known by accidentally emailing my friend instead of one of the other owners, and the email contained a list of complaints about her (things like not responding to emails fast enough, fast enough being within minutes) written in a … less than professional tone. They were trying to micromanage from a distance and just refused to trust people to be adults and do their jobs, even people they previously identified as high performers who they even gave raises to. For my friend, there was really no coming back from this, and she decided to resign (and she wasn’t the only one).

As far as the bathroom goes, we will not know if it ever gets resolved as all of my friends who still worked there have now moved on. That said, Shera is now the only woman left in the office, and is only there one or two days a week, so it’s probably a non-issue now.

3. New job isn’t giving me any training (#2 at the link)

I just wanted to follow up on my old story from 2012 about receiving no training. I know it’s an ancient article, but that experience taught me a lot.

I stayed in that position for 1-1/2 tortured years. I became a top performer and learned more information about how things worked than even my boss knew. Unfortunately, my boss and coworkers found this intimidating and systematically began to shut me out (excluding me from meetings, not updating me with current information, etc.). I was even in a rough bullying situation with one of my coworkers who would cuss at me and treat me like garbage. Unfortunately for me, she was a good friend of my boss. Luckily, after I left that position (so beaten down that I didn’t even have another job lined up), I found a job that actually appreciated my talents. I worked there for five years, and enjoyed being treated well, trained, and then trusted to work independently.

Here’s what I learned –
1. Trust your instincts – the lack of training issue was the least of my problems there, but a good clue that there was dysfunction.
2. Don’t go too gung-ho right away. I was eager and wanting to learn, but I unintentionally intimidated people in the process by forcing them to look at their own mediocre behavior.
3. If you have to leave … leave! I don’t regret leaving when I did though. I did accumulate enough experience to get out with what I needed to get a much better job.

Thanks for the great advice you give!

4. My desk mate makes sex noises while she works (#2 at the link)

I’m inherently afraid of conflict, so I never said anything, but more and more people began to comment on it as disruptive. I ended up leaving the company, and the person who took my seat bought noise-cancelling headphones. :)

{ 97 comments… read them below }

  1. Myrin*

    What an interesting – if depressing – update in #2!
    I don’t think we’ve ever had a case where someone sent a second update and the tune of the whole situation had basically changed completely (barring the OP who was jealous of her employee and the cliquey beer-run OP, but those were more changes of heart for the OPs, not changes of the situation itself).
    For me as an outsider, it’s fascinating to see how these things unfold sometimes (much less so for OP and her friend while they still actually lived this, I’m sure.) and goes to show just how variable human nature is.

    1. Mazzy*

      I don’t understand why someone emailing your friend meant your friend couldn’t recover from it and had to resign? I know, I’m probably reading it wrong like the letter from yesterday, but if the new management sucks, why does that make friend look bad?

      1. Lance*

        This was an e-mail coming from the top, containing a litany of complaints about said friend who it was (I assume accidentally) sent to. If the owners apparently dislike you that much, there’s pretty certainly no place for you at that company.

      2. Bee*

        My understanding is that the friend received a list of complaints *about her* from the boss, by mistake. It’s the boss’s incompetence, sure, but I don’t know that I’d be able to mentally recover from that and keep working for that boss.

      3. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I take it to mean that the friend couldn’t recover from it — meaning couldn’t recover their enthusiasm for the job, or could no longer overlook toxic behavior.

      4. MCMonkeyBean*

        I don’t think it was that it made the friend look bad, so much as it was a final straw and the friend could no longer stand to stay there.

      5. OP #2*

        Ok I think I worded that badly! So Shera intended to send an e-mail to one of her partners which contained a list of complaints about my friend only… she sent it to my friend instead. It included a list of petty complaints, and things like her not replying to e-mails within minutes, or not answering the phone every time they called (heaven forbid she take a lunch and not be at her desk), and petty things like that. She decided to resign because of how offended she was, not because she looked bad and was embarrassed or anything.

  2. I'm A Little Teapot*

    #4 – I understand being inherently non-confrontational. However, in the grand scheme of life, a complete inability to cope with conflict WILL hurt you. You WILL be taken advantage of, you will be walked over, etc. It’s just a matter of when and how badly. For your own benefit, you need to figure out how to cope. You don’t have to be aggressive, but you can’t run scared from every hint of conflict.

    1. OhBehave*

      Agreed! Not much was learned here. #4 may send another letter. You can’t keep quitting when things are uncomfortable.

    2. Sam.*

      In OP’s defense, this is a pretty awkward thing to talk to a colleague about. I’ve gotten pretty good at psyching myself up for (diplomatic) confrontations, but I think I’d struggle with this one.

    3. CarrieKidney*

      I’m not sure if this strategy was suggested on the original post, but the OP could have just set her voice recorder on her phone to record while neighbor was making noises, then play them back for the neighbor at a later time, or send the audio file. “Just so you know, this is what I’m hearing while I’m trying to work. Little distracting…”

      1. Close Bracket*

        Recording her without first getting permission is passive aggressive and might be illegal and/or a violation of company policies. Alison’s approach was great. Her wording was direct and described what was going on without commentary on what the sounds resembled.

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      OP didn’t say she left *because* of the sex noises. And I agree with the commenter downthread that this is an awkward conversation to have, that will probably result in nothing. I bet the sex-noise coworker does not know that she is doing this. Or does, but cannot help herself. Definitely not doing this on purpose to irk everyone in her office. Could be a medical condition for all I know. I sat next to a guy at an OldJob who had the worst cough (if cough is even the right term for this) that he’d have a fit of every day, mostly after lunch but at other times too. Like we were in the movie The Alien and the alien was about to burst out of his mouth along with everything he’d just eaten. I sat next to that guy for two years and said nothing, because it’s not like he can help it. Eventually found another job and was happy not to sit next to the guy again.

      1. Free Meerkats*

        When I’m deep in concentration, or conversely doing something totally mindless, I whistle softly under my breath. Usually not with any tune anyone would recognize, it’s along with whatever music is in my head at the moment; could be Mozart, could be Cyndi Lauper (right now it’s Tom Petty.) I know this about myself, I’m not defensive if called on it, but it’s outside my control until someone tells me I’m doing it.
        I don’t normally think to warn coworkers, but if they mention it, my response is to make me aware of it when I’m doing it and I’ll stop – at least for a while until I reenter the concentration state. Then tell me again.
        My wife has decided to treat it as endearing; to her it means I’m content.

    5. Glitsy Gus*

      I actually had a similar situation a while ago with a coworker. Not so much sex noises, but yeah, muttering, groaning, gasping, etc. when things got stressful.

      When it finally got to be too much I just looked over at her and said (in a very friendly but mildly concerned tone), “are you OK over there? You kind of sound like you’re having a medical emergency or something.” She said it’s fine, that her project was just not going well. “Oh, OK, well, sound really carries over here. I get that you need to vent, but could you mind the volume a little? I’m having trouble concentrating.” She was a tiny bit embarrassed, but it was over in a couple minutes, mainly because I immediately dropped it and went back to what I was doing. She didn’t curb it completely, it really was involuntary sometimes, but it was a lot better from there out because up until then she just didn’t realize other people could hear her.

      Don’t focus on the embarrassing part (you sound like you’re a featured player in a porno) focus on the solution (could you keep your voice down, please? Thanks!) and it takes down the confrontation stakes a lot in these kinds of situations.

    6. Veva*

      Agree with this so much. I hate confrontation but sometimes you just have to speak up for yourself. And like so many things, it gets easier the more you do it.
      I had to ask a coworker I shared an office with to stop applying a certain hand cream that was giving me a headache. I waited longer than I should have to say something and honestly when I did she didn’t react well. I could tell she was somewhat offended and short with me the rest of the day. But I carried on with our work as usual and she was over it the very next day and we were back to normal. People get embarrassed when they are told they bothering or inconveniencing someone, but will get over it quickly if you move on and don’t make it a thing.

    7. Goliath Corp.*

      If anyone is in the same boat, I just discovered an online course called “Get Assertive!” from Gale Courses. My library offers free access, and I’d imagine other public libraries might do the same. I’m going to give it a try in the new year.

      1. Artemesia*

        Years ago we sent our office staff to an assertiveness training workshop; the Monday after it was over there was an almost physical knock down drag out fight over the copy machine. It always makes the word ‘assertive’ give me the giggles now.

  3. Soupmonger*

    So, the solution to all of these situations was the LW saying nothing and leaving. I guess it’s a pen update, and it’s a solution but – honestly, why bother writing to an advice page if you’re not even going to *try* some of the advice offered?

    1. CaliCali*

      I think, to a degree, most people want some kind of solution that doesn’t require them to take any risk. And unfortunately, Alison is not an actual magician who can give people spells to cast to change the situation.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Agree with this. When they see that the solution could have some unpleasant side affects, they realize it may not be worth it. It’s easy to sit in the peanut gallery and say people should do certain things, but the real life situations are too complicated to weigh all the factors the OP must consider.

        1. Mazzy*

          Absolutely. For example, I’m pretty outspoken and loud but there are some people I am not like that with, because they are even more outspoken and it’s not worth dealing with their reaction. And some of those are difficult coworkers

      2. Media Monkey*

        and if she could, the solutions to a lot of these problems are one of the 3 Unforgiveable Curses and probably best avoided if you don’t want a spell (ha) in Azkaban

        1. TardyTardis*

          I know. Terry Pratchett had a phrase about ‘someone who carved his way out of accounting and into forensic history’ but we’re not supposed to emulate that.

    2. Meißner Porcelain Teapot*

      I guess a lot of times it’s mostly letter writers looking for validation that they are not just imagining things and that the situation really is as bad as they think and they are right to feel sad/angry/scared/helpless about it. Psychologically speaking, just hearing someone say “you are right and your feelings about this are ok” can have a huge positive impact on our ability to deal with stress. Whether we take the good advice or not–that’s an entirely different matter.

      1. Lance*

        This, I think, is a lot of it. Plus, well… even if you are writing in for advice, it’s not as though you’re obligated to take it. Heck, maybe the advice could even be helping someone else entirely who’s in a similar situation! I’m pretty sure it’s happened here before on a few occasions.

        That aside, sometimes as well people just need options to mull on. Whether or not they take a given option is another matter entirely, but it’s still nice to see that they’re there.

      2. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

        I agree. Also, I think of letter writers as shopping for advice rather than necessarily asking for advice they will definitely take. Alison answers questions very thoroughly and considering every angle, so letter writers probably write in to see what options they have in their specific situation. However, they may decide they don’t like any of the options and just nope out of the situation. And honestly, I don’t think talking with their dysfunctional higher ups would have helped the first 3 LWs, and may have actually hurt them.

    3. Giant Squid*

      A lot of people are just raised to not cause any trouble. Don’t complain, don’t point things out, don’t be “rude”. Alison’s advice is always great–but a lot of times it isn’t realistic for people with no confrontation experience. The comments are generally where the less confrontational advice is.

      I’d be interested to see some kind of “baby steps” advice. Maybe you’re not ready to confront someone when they make an offensive joke at your expense, but you can stop fake smiling and fake laughing. You can slowly build your tolerance to awkwardness and tension.

      1. Welling*

        I don’t know. I think Alison’s advice is already pretty non-confrontational in general. She often advises letter writers to use the kind of non-verbal cues you mentioned if they’re not comfortable addressing the issue directly. I don’t think advice can be any less confrontational and still be actionable. She’s never going to advise letter writers to do nothing and hope the problem solves itself, but a lot of letter writers seem to choose to do that anyway.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        . . . but if you run every time, you’ll never *get* any confrontation experience.

        I realized recently that my job has gradually and rather dramatically reduced my shyness about conflict, and it’s definitely a good thing. I’m not aggressive, but my anxiety level–and I’m an anxious person in general–about calling/approaching people or dealing with cranky patrons is so much less than it was when I was younger.

    4. Clementine*

      If the letter writer feels that losing her job is a possibility, even with the best possible scripts, she may not implement the advice. It’s not so much being conflict-averse as being risk-averse (where the risk is not having rent or food money).

    5. Close Bracket*

      Sometimes Your Boss Sucks And Isn’t Going To Change, and leaving is the right answer. For #2 and #3, that may have been the case. #1, it’s not clear without more details whether speaking up would have done anything. #4 needs to learn to be assertive and also how to frame things. People breathe heavy, gasp, and moan for a lot of reasons, and the framing of the problem probably made it just as bad as the actual noise levels. Alison’s advice stuck to addressing the noise and not what they reminded OP of, and it’s a shame that OP didn’t develop themself enough to implement it.

      1. Antilles*

        Yeah, I’m surprised at the people lumping all the updates together under the same umbrella.
        #1 seems like just circumstance. OP was waiting for the next time it happened to address it in the moment rather than try to retroactively bring up something that happened last month (often a smart strategy), but that moment just never came because the next trip was a short one.
        #2’s new ownership came in, meddled, then fired all the managers because We Know Best. What exactly do you expect #2 or her colleagues to do? Even if they’d said anything, the management had made clear that they weren’t interested in feedback; fall in line or walk out the door.
        #3 actually did try to push hard to grow and develop despite the poor training…and her boss resented her for it.
        #4 is the only one where I think it’s fair to say “yeah, you really should have stepped up and been more assertive like Alison suggested”.

        1. OP1*

          Hi! OP1 here. You’re correct. I had Alison’s script in mind to use when I got booked for more crazy work travel but it just never happened. And like I say, the travel issue turned out to be the catalyst that made me realise everything else that was wrong in the company. I do think Alison gives fantastic advice but I also have total sympathy for people who can’t apply it for whatever reason. I do think letter writers often use Alison as a “is this crazy thing normal?” gauge just as much as asking for advice (just as I did). I trust the letter writers know their situation better than anyone so I’m not sure how helpful it is to ask why people have left or moved on to new roles instead of addressing issues or using the advice! There’s quite a lot of speculation in this thread about people’s personalities that doesn’t feel particularly kind.

    6. Yorick*

      I don’t know. I think Alison’s advice is great. But I also can’t imagine saying some of her scripts, especially to a boss. It seems to me that she’s writing from the perspective of a more confrontational culture (she’s from New York, I think?)

    7. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think that’s okay! Ultimately the core of my advice is nearly always “if you want this to change, you’d need to do X; if you don’t want to do X, the trade-off is accepting the situation will probably continue.” It’s perfectly legitimate to decide “nope, the discomfort/awkwardness/other consequences of X aren’t worth it to me, so I will live with things as they are” (or change jobs, etc.).

      1. Triumphant Fox*

        Like the entire office of the pee in the sink boss…they all just decided it was better to deal.

    8. Quill*

      Leaving is, however, an action, and one that many letter writers are scared to take. Permission to get the duck out of dodge is as hard to come by in the professional world as it is in relationships.

    9. SarahTheEntwife*

      Sometimes another job opens up and it’s both a good career move *and* doesn’t (you hope) have the annoying thing you wrote in about. I’m all for practicing being assertive — goodness knows I need it — but sometimes you don’t end up needing to use advice for reasons other than pure fear of confrontation.

  4. AnotherAlison*

    I don’t know if it’s just my own bias, but seems a lot of updates end up with the OP leaving or the problem person leaving. They may have tried to follow the advice and solve the problem or not, but it seems a lot of the final resolutions are that someone leaves. Any data geeks who want to analyze the updates?

    1. joriley*

      I mean, in the long run that’s how most work situations turn out, just because people leave jobs! I also suspect that people hesitate to send an update if a situation doesn’t feel totally resolved, which often isn’t until one party isn’t there anymore. If they do send an update while they’re still there, they run the risk of something like #2 here (among others we’ve seen) where there’s an update that turns out not to be the end of the story.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes — people often write in once it’s “resolved” in some way — and that may be because they left. Whereas people who are still there and nothing is different may be less likely to write in.

  5. MicroManagered*

    I love updates like #2, where you totally see how the bathroom was probably not the real issue.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I love that the excremental letters are *still* consistently letter#2 on a page. :) Because I have the sense of humor of a 4th grader.

  6. Antilles*

    The juxtaposition in #1’s letter is amazing.
    On one hand, your company is incredibly cheap, wanting to route you through extra cities and even different forms of travel, just to save a few bucks.
    On the other hand, if you hadn’t offhandedly brought it up right before you were about to leave, you would have wasted company time/money showing up to the airport as normal, not getting a refund for the flight, etc. Heck, it’s entirely possible you could have even gotten on the flight and flown all the way there (at company expense) before finding out from the client that they’d canceled the meeting.

    1. BadWolf*

      I’m curious what would have happened had OP gone on the trip? Was it a one on one thing so the other people would have been surprised and confused at OPs arrival? Or more like a conference so only the office would have been confused why the OP was at the conference and not at their desk?

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        If it was air travel, and the company didn’t buy a plane ticket or cancelled the ticket, the LW would have figured it out when they went to check in online the night before and couldn’t.

        But a company this disorganized might have just not canceled the flight and LW would have not noticed until they arrived at their meeting to find it was canceled.

    2. Clorinda*

      It would not surprise me at all for the company to have attempted to bill OP for the wasted flight.

      1. OP1*

        Hi, OP1 here! I’m actually not sure what happened with the flights and accommodation. It was all booked in by the company and thankfully I wasn’t liable for any of it after the last minute cancellation. I truly think if I hadn’t have messaged my boss on the Friday I would have showed up at the airport as normal on Monday…..yikes

  7. revueller*

    Re: all the comments lately about LWs not implementing Alison’s advice

    I’m really young in my career and I’ve already had countless times where I’ve worked to solve an issue at my company only to have the problem completely go away or change in nature, making all my hard work moot. No transparency from a boss on a project? All of a sudden, the project gets cancelled by the boss’s whim. We need to better manage our remote team to increase engagement? Change of plans: we’re laying off the entire remote team instead and trying something new. I saw website changes I recommended as an intern get installed four years later after I’d already moved on to my second full-time position. Sh*t happens.

    I know we all want to see the narrative from the original letters play out, but that’s not how life works. Turnover, moving, and process changes are among the hundreds of dynamics at play in every person’s life. And in many cases, the LW’s Original Problem was not the only problem going on.

    Having an update at all is a nice sense of closure in itself given how many commenters go to each post BEGGING for any update. The LWs were nice enough to take time out of their day to give us more insight into their letter and let the comment mob dissect their situation. Complaining that the updates aren’t implementing advice seems coarse and misguided at best.

    1. Close Bracket*

      I’ve already had countless times where I’ve worked to solve an issue at my company only to have the problem completely go away or change in nature, making all my hard work moot.

      But that’s not what people are noting about these situations. What people are noting is that someone wrote into an advice column and did nothing. If your point is that it wouldn’t have mattered if they took action, then that’s a bad point. We don’t know whether following the advice would have resulted in change. I frequently tell people that a situation will resolve regardless of what they do, but I say it tongue in cheek with varying levels of cynicism bc “do nothing and the situation will eventually change anyway,” while true, is actually terrible advice that will more often result in a bad outcome for you than a good outcome.

      Calling the commentariat’s feedback as coarse and misguided certainly validates the OPs’ lack of action, and others have noted that sometimes people want validation more than advice. Validating negative patterns of behavior doesn’t actually help the person who wrote in, though, even if it does feel good to them.

      1. Yorick*

        I’m not sure we can say they did nothing. Maybe they didn’t talk to the problem coworker when they could/should have, but reframing the issue in your mind can sometimes be a very effective solution.

        1. Close Bracket*

          I’m not sure we can say they did nothing.

          That’s correct–they did something. They left. I don’t see any description of how they reframed the problem, though.

          1. Yorick*

            Leaving is an action that fixed the problem. It’s even the advice we often give.

            If they decided to just deal with it, they may not have consciously reframed the problem, but they probably did at least a little reframing so they were able to deal with it better than they were before.

      2. revueller*

        I’d definitely share your and other commenters’ disappointment that the situation didn’t improve or only improved by leaving. What frustrates me is when people frame it as, “Why bother going to an advice column? Why bother asking for advice then?” It implies that people shouldn’t write in at all unless they’re willing to take direct action on their situation. I think that’s wrong.

        I want to hear updates from anyone who was brave enough to write in in the first place. Sometimes, the updates are boring, horrific, or even mean. I still like that closure. I don’t want the commentariat to discourage people who decided not to take action in the one privately-public situation they wrote to AAM about. That would be a disservice to readers, if not the LWs themselves.

        1. Mike C.*

          What is brave about writing to an advice columnist? It’s not that difficult to write a letter here.

          1. The IT Plebe*

            For some people, when your letter gets published and is open to the commentariat to scrutinize, that’s reason enough to not write in. Even on this site where the commenting community is one of the best on the Internet, certain comments directed at a letter-writer can be hurtful.

    2. GrumpyGnome*

      I agree with this. I’ve had quite a few similar experiences.

      Sometimes the best outcome IS leaving the environment or having that problem coworker leave on their own. While I think that many of us would love to see one person be able to utilize Alison’s advice and change an entire organization or department or even a single team, the reality is that that rarely happens, even if that person is in a position of power. Big changes like that take concerted effort and a willingness to change from more than an individual.

      I hope the LWs don’t become discouraged about sending in updates. I personally am glad to have them.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        I have also had similar experiences.

        One thing I think is also important, is that while Alison gives wonderful advice, in a truly dysfunctional environment, it might not be the correct way to effect change in that specific environment. I’ve worked plenty of places where saying, “Hey Fergus, could you do me a favor and use headphones when you listen to EDM death metal? It gives me a headache,” would get you raked across the coals for “causing interpersonal problems” and “not being a team player.”

        So while a straightforward solution is obvious to us, the LW may be seeing the inherent flaws in implementing that advice in their particular workplace, and thus hesitate to do so.

      2. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

        I agree. Even if Alison’s advice was implemented and effective, I doubt it would have completely converted a systemically dysfunctional organization to one with reasonable management. Even the best of Alison’s advice are temporary solutions rather than permanent ones for these dire cases. (LW 4 is the only situation I feel like could have been resolved.) I just recently left a large organization with truly crappy management. People, including myself, confronted the managers with issues both while employed and in the exit interviews. There are also multiple Glassdoor reviews citing the same issues over and over again. Nothing changed in the time I was there, and it doesn’t seem like it will ever. Egotistical managers will bury their head in the sand and ignore feedback even if it’s pouring down on them.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      As Wally from the Dilbert comic once said, “if you ignore the problem long enough, it will go away”.

      I confess I’ve been following this principle a lot in my career.

        1. Amy Sly*

          Ironically, Scott Adams has explained that Wally was based on a real coworker. Apparently, the company was having problems and wanted to get rid of payroll, but they were offering better packages for getting fired than laid off. Thus, “Wally” did his absolute best to be the worst employee possible.

    4. Tau*

      I think this is a really good point. A letter to Alison is also by necessity stripped of a lot of context and things the LW didn’t think was relevant. At times, that context may change things dramatically down the line. At the end of the day, the LW is the only one who really knows their situation; everyone else is getting a very imperfect look at it.

      (What I find particularly interesting are the letters that seem to be about relatively minor or at least contained issues but where the OP realises later that they were picking up on much more fundamental problems with the place but couldn’t articulate them. Update #3 is sort of an example!)

    5. Mike C.*

      Literally sitting there and doing nothing every time there is the possibility of conflict is a terrible way to live your life.

  8. KD*

    It’s a bit disheartening to see that with most updates, the problems actually never get resolved except for the OP just getting a new job elsewhere, so the work environments remain terrible. :-(

    1. Jaybeetee*

      It reminds me of a bit of a trope from general/relationship advice columns. A common criticism of a lot of those columns (and columnists) is that they seem to always just suggest leaving or breaking up in response to relationship problems. One of the more common rebuttals is that “if someone is unhappy enough in the relationship to be writing an agony aunt about it, that relationship probably isn’t meant to last.”

      So it likely goes with these letters. Most of the above LWs were working in very dysfunctional places, and were stressed/unhappy/confused enough to write to a stranger looking for shot-in-the-dark advice for fixing it. Just like the people who write to relationship columns about their “wonderful partner” except that, say, s/he likes to set fires in hizzer spare time – a lot of these situations probably can’t be fixed, at least not by the person writing in.

      1. high school teacher*

        Just chiming to say that I love when relationship advice letters start with “my partner is so wonderful, loving, devoted, and perfect…but sometimes he/she calls me ugly and then sleeps with other people and also spends all of my money.” So many letters are like that!

        1. annakarina1*

          I looked through Captain Awkward to find this one which fits your description perfectly:


          “My husband is extremely smart and good in his job, has a close relationship with his sister, and good at figuring out mechanical challenges . . . But I can’t bear the constant criticism.” And then it’s a long laundry list of how much of a buzzkill asshole he is and makes her miserable.

          1. Batgirl*

            I know! Its quite sad to hear someone think “If he doesnt suck at his job, and his sister likes him, so should I!”
            But I remember a friend contemplating getting back together with an Evil Ex because a) he had made her a cup of tea during a visit and b) his sister was amazed at his doing this and whispered to my friend “He never does things for women, he must really like you!”
            …..so sisters are not to be trusted.

        2. annakarina1*

          I’m not sure if my previous comment went through or is in moderation, but Captain Awkward had a post like that, where a woman is like “My husband is so smart and good at his job, has a close relationship with his family, and is good at figuring out mechanical stuff,” then goes on to basically say he’s a buzzkill asshole who criticizes her all the time and they have big fights every couple of weeks, and asking how she can be a better person for him. CA just told her she doesn’t deserve this treatment and to advocate for herself, whether through counseling or just getting out.

      2. whingedrinking*

        Yes, this. Dan Savage has even coined the acronym DTMFA – dump the motherfucker already – and has admitted that he could run nothing but columns advising people to do that and never run out of material. Sometimes the sad truth is that you can’t fix the relationship or the other person, but *you* can still be happier if you get out. There might be times when a heroic effort and maybe a complete personality transplant *could* save things, but the situation really doesn’t merit it. (I’m thinking of those letters where people write in saying, “So I’ve been in this relationship for three months, and the sex is terrible/their family is annoying/we can’t carry on a conversation for more than a minute and a half/we fight constantly. How can I make things better?” It’s like…why do you want to salvage a relationship with someone you apparently don’t even like very much?!)

    2. CaliCali*

      It is disheartening, but also, one thing that’s usually not apparent from the letter is just how much of a change agent the person is, and how much power they’d actually have to effect change. As I mentioned above, there’s a certain element of risk to rocking the boat in any way, and sometimes, that risk won’t pay off, too. One person against, let’s say, a family business with entrenched dysfunction just isn’t going to be able to improve the environment, so they have to improve their own. Sometimes leaving is its own statement as well.

  9. anon4this*

    Anyone else wondering if AAM ever gets letters back where the advice backfired?
    It seems like, with these updates, the advice wasn’t taken and the OP left. With all the other updates, it’s either the situation improved with AAM’s invaluable advice and OP is happy (and usually includes a weirdly specific raise increase %), or OP moved on but has learned invaluable life lessons from AAM’s advice.

    What about when it all goes wrong? Where are those updates?

      1. Pebbles*

        I really hope we can get another update on that. I’d like to know that the former receptionist eventually landed somewhere much better and that the OP also found a job away from that asshat manager. Seriously, he didn’t deserve the two awesome people that were working for him. And besides the former receptionist’s replacement, who else might he have been screwing over?

    1. SarahTheEntwife*

      We’ve also had a fair number of letters where the LW says “yeah, I really appreciated the advice and it’s given me some tools that might be useful in an office that’s not filled with evil bees, but so far I’ve been trying the things you’ve said and nothing’s changed.”

  10. Chronic Overthinker*

    Wow, LW#3 reminds me of ExJob! Bullying, lack of focused training and a lot of learn as you go stuff while getting shafted with assignments and other such things. It was such a clusterf*&% that I am glad I moved on. It took me a bit to get a new job, but it is such a world of difference that I am so much happier and confident. When a job beats the humanity out of you, it can be a laborious job to pick up the pieces and realize that you have value and are skillful at many things.

    Sometimes it’s hard to fix what is broken, and it shouldn’t always be up to the employee to fix it. Try, if you think you can, but sometimes toxic is toxic and you should get out while you can.

    1. matcha123*

      I’m in a similar position at my job, and it’s not just this one, but other jobs I’ve had too. Lack of training, etc. just happens to target those of us that are foreign. When the only solution is to leave the country or suck it up, it’s really frustrating.
      I have a hard time understanding people that feel intimidated by others and actively work to sabotage their work. If you have the money to leave, do it…but it’s impossible when you don’t..

    2. Lexin*

      This not training people isn’t that unusual. My current employer took on four personal assistants last year who had no previous experience in the role and provided no proper training. I’m one of them.

      I’m older, I’d worked for a similar organisation before, and had applied for the job knowing that the chances of them offering training in that role were probably quite limited. So while I was unemployed I signed up for an online course covering that kind of work. I wanted to be prepared if/when I started work again. So my employer seems pleased with my work and I’m happy here.

      This was not the case for the three other personal assistants, all of whom came from different parts of the organisation where they already had jobs, but not as personal assistants. I think they were expecting more from the minimalist instructions (phrased as a ‘job description’, this was actually an annual appraisal of the work done by a previous holder of the post but with the numbers filed off) that were handed out than they got. Two of them have managed well, but are peeved that they weren’t trained properly.

      The third is in deep trouble. She hasn’t taken to the role at all, and is in constant dispute with her line manager, to the point that the line manager tried to palm her off on another department by getting them to offer her another, different, ill-explained post. Not surprisingly, she refused the poisoned chalice. We await the next instalment.

      Come to think of it, I should get her to write to Alison.

  11. Linda Evangelista*

    “2. Don’t go too gung-ho right away. I was eager and wanting to learn, but I unintentionally intimidated people in the process by forcing them to look at their own mediocre behavior.”

    Disagree, number 3! Being willing and eager to learn is a fantastic quality that only intimidates toxic people (especially in the case of your previous workplace). Don’t stop putting yourself out there.

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