updates: the bad coworker, the food police, 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. My coworker is bad at her job, and I’m unofficially in charge of her

I got a lot of advice for how to work with Penny, and lots of people rightly suggested that the bigger issue was our chronically absent manager. This is true. However, I knew that there was nothing I could do to fix this problem. (I can’t go into detail but the way our structure is set up, he’s pretty independent–think academia, although this isn’t–so although he has someone officially over him, that person is pretty hands-off and also quite inaccessible to me.) What I did do was to approach another manager (Billy) on the same level and get him unofficially involved with our team, as kind of an advisor. Penny looks up to Billy and respects him, so when he asks her to do something or gives her an assignment she takes it much more seriously than when I was doing it. Billy has also been wanting to get involved with our work, so it’s a win-win. Now we meet together on a regular basis and divide tasks and prioritize. Penny asks Billy at every meeting what she should work on for next week, and sometimes I answer and Billy confirms it, but that’s enough for her to take better ownership of it than when I was just giving her assignments myself. This has worked out amazingly. Recently I had a “higher-up” come to my office–who had previously come to complain about Penny and give me advice for how to “fix” her issues–to tell me how pleased everyone is with her work, and that it’s been a complete 180 in the past 6 months. “Whatever you did, it worked!” I was told.

But, the even bigger news is that my entire department is having a reorg next year, and my team is being eliminated. That means chronically absent manager will be gone. Penny, for better or worse, will also be gone. But I am being transferred to another team and given a VERY substantial raise (the manager of the other team asked what it would take to get me to stay, I threw out what I thought was a ridiculously high number, and he came back with an even higher number). They worked very hard to keep me. Additionally, since I have been lowkey job hunting since my first letter, I actually have 2 other companies courting me right now. One of them made an offer last night of $10K more than what I will be making when I transfer, and they want to put me in management. The other one said I should hear from them soon. I haven’t decided what to do but it’s great to have so many options, and to have a vote of confidence from my own company!

2. How do I tell friends and family I can’t keep helping with their writing?

Surprisingly, the person whom I thought would take my declining to help the worst, surprised me by asking for my help in finding a beginners writing program. It’s been 6 months, and she loves it.

Some other friends (including fellow teachers) have been harder to handle, “But it won’t take that long!” “You’ve always done it before!” Using your suggested scripts, I felt so confident saying, “I’m completely swamped – I know you understand!” Sticking to a few practiced lines helped me feel strong about saying no. I referred a few people to a former colleague who freelances and she is thankful for the work. My husband also sends his thanks. Everyone wins! 

3. My coworker acts like the food police

You published my letter about my coworker who acted like the food police nearly three years ago. About eight months later, I was laid off and went through a period of unemployment. I found a job that’s more challenging and pays better and have been there two years now. The best thing is that my coworkers don’t obsess over food and diet. Yeah, the occasional comment is made about their own eating habits — I don’t think it’s possible to escape that in our society — but it’s not constant and it’s NEVER about anyone else.

As far as my eating disorder recovery goes, I’m doing fantastic. I still have the occasional disordered thought, but they’re the exception rather than the rule at this point. I think back to three years ago and barely recognize myself. Things are so much better and I’m in a better place than I could have even imagined back then.

I wanted to thank you and your readers again for such kind and thoughtful responses to my letter. I wrote in during one of the worst periods of my life and everyone was tremendously encouraging. I still go back and read the comments every once in awhile because they really were helpful.

4. My company moved me to 5 countries in 12 months, got me deported, and is angry I want to quit

Things worked out fine after I got kicked out of the country I was working in in January. The company wasn’t particularly helpful, but at that point I didn’t expect much of anything from them. They got me a ticket back to a city where I worked years before, so I had friends and old colleagues who made sure I had an easy adjustment.

The company is known – really, has only increased its reputation in the last year – for being super vindictive if you leave before two years, and the team I was working with was very clear that they at least needed me to stick around for a few months. So I did, working from the other side of the world. It was not great; my hours were weird in order to take calls and my work suffered for being isolated. But after finishing that project in the spring they let me spend a few months drawing a regular paycheck (they only missed payroll for me once, but I’m told it’s a more widespread problem), doing short tasks for them, and putting most of my energy toward job hunting.

I ended up getting a job (in a new city I like a lot, doing similar, interesting work) right after the 2-year contract ended, so I left on good terms. About six months after I got deported, after I got a new job, they shipped my stuff back to me (well, most of it. Some of it my roommates lost or kept). Whatever. I’ve refrained from writing a glassdoor review yet, but I did have a cathartic exit interview. I got to say my piece, but the interviewer did part of it for me, opening by saying the org had put me through a nightmare, which I appreciated; everyone senior at the org just kind of brushed the deportation off, so I was glad someone at least got that it mattered.

5. How do I get my coworkers to shut up about Game of Thrones?

You were right, I only had to power through a few more weeks and all Game of Thrones conversation totally stopped. In fact, a lot of them were upset about the way the last season went and didn’t want to talk about it at all anymore, so the day I sent the email ended up actually being the day of highest conversation intensity anyway. I do still hear rumors about a reboot but I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

I never did watch the show and continue to live with my choices, but I did really enjoy the spirited conversation in the comments :D

{ 32 comments… read them below }

  1. Interviewer*

    Happy to hear from #4. The cavalier way OP was treated made me so angry. To hear that they held onto your stuff so long and even missed a paycheck too – it’s the crappy icing on an awful cake. I’m glad you’ve landed on your feet, and best wishes for tons of success in your new job.

  2. MissPieish*

    Game of Thrones used to be the first thing we talked about every Monday at work… now I think it’s a sore subject for all of us.

    1. Charlotte Collins*

      All I can say is now you know what it’s like to have been a “Twin Peaks” viewer back in the day. (The reason I never watched “Lost” is because I could see from the beginning that it would have a dissatisfying ending.)

    2. Elenna*

      ughhh I didn’t even watch the show, just read online articles to find out what happened, and I’m still angry about that last season

        1. ohmiomy*

          I think that a lot of people were okay with the basic premise of the last season, but felt that was extremely poorly done. I really feel bad for the cast and crew that put so much into years and years into it only for the showrunners to drive it into the ground because they wanted to move on.

        2. yala*

          I mean, yes and no.

          Parts of it were (I guess) the only way it could’ve ended. But the way it was done *didn’t* really make sense because they didn’t give the characters in question sufficient time/space to actually become what they suddenly were.

          Also, a lot of the writing played into some very tired, sexist tropes. Which, like…yeah, it’s a fantasy, yeah there was always sexism in the show. But they dialed it up to 11 and did it in the laziest possible way.

  3. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

    From OP2 “Sticking to a few practiced lines helped me feel strong about saying no.”

    This. This. Everyone learn to do this.

    1. Ess in Tee*

      Straight up agreement here. Practice in the shower, in your car, while making eggs on toast, whatever you’re comfy with. It’s saved me from anxiously freezing up when I should have spoken up more than once.

  4. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    #OP4 – I remember reading this letter (and the associated comments) at the time and although it is awful to be jerked around like that I thought the worst part of it was the deportation on your record with probable implications for the future. If you are reading OP – I am curious whether you’ve looked into that any further or taken any action (consulted lawyers etc)?

    1. OP4*

      Well, I got denied entry at the airport, so it’s not totally clear how “recorded” it is. And I have a couple passports, so I don’t usually have to use the one where I’ve got a scribbled-out visa. Basically I figure I’m blacklisted from the one country, but other than that, I’ve gotten a few visas without a problem for my new job.

  5. Elizabeth West*

    #2—This is a great update. Happy to hear it worked out for the OP and the person she was helping! I wrote a whole blog post on this once (about manuscripts). I’m an English major but also a writer, so this happens to me too.

    If I volunteer, that’s different, but the main reason I don’t like doing it is that people cannot take feedback. Seriously, if you’re not going to accept edits, don’t waste my time. If you just want a spellcheck, turn it on in Word or use Grammarly. :P

  6. Kes*

    OP1 – I’m glad you were able to make things work, even if it sucks that your org expected you to manage Penny without actually giving you the position or authority to enforce that. Good luck for the future, it sounds like you’re in a good position and have options, including becoming an actual manager. If you do want to stay at your current company, it’s probably worth mentioning to your potential future boss if you are getting higher offers, since it seems they are eager to keep you and might improve what they are offering in response.

  7. Antilles*

    #4: But after finishing that project in the spring they let me spend a few months drawing a regular paycheck (they only missed payroll for me once, but I’m told it’s a more widespread problem)
    I know you’re gone from that awful company so hopefully this never comes up again, but FYI: “Only missed payroll once” is one more time than is reasonable. And “it’s a widespread problem within the company” isn’t an excuse; in fact, it makes it even worse that it wasn’t resolved the first time the problem came up.
    In an era of computerized everything and direct deposits, your paycheck should pretty much show up in your account at 12:01 am every single payday, full stop, no questions asked. Even once is a serious red flag about either the company’s fiscal liquidity or their organizational skills.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Well, normally I’d say that too. However, it sounds like this company moves workers around all over the world, which likely presents some very unusual payroll problems.
      I mean, I can see how a delay could happen. Hopefully OP did get it eventually though.

      1. Fikly*

        Except if it’s common for them, the payroll problems aren’t unusual. One delay? Yeah, I can see that. But it being a widespread problem? Completely their fault.

      2. Antilles*

        Two comments:
        1.) If they move workers all over the world, they should be quite familiar with how to get this stuff to work. If this was a pure US company and suddenly accepted their first international job in Argentina, sure, there’s an adjustment period. But this doesn’t seem like their first rodeo.
        2.) It also doesn’t explain why it’s “widespread”. If it was just one office, sure, maybe the National Bank of Fictionaria is going through some issues right now and it’s understandable…but in that case, it should be fairly localized.

    2. bluephone*

      I can’t wait for the subsequent update that OP’s company has gone out of business for payroll shenanigans/fiscal insolvency and maybe even official fallout from encouraging employees to play fast and loose with VISA regulations. Please universe, let this happen for me in 2020, we all need this.

    1. Not Australian*

      Yes, just coming here to say the same – and occasionally re-reading the comments sounds like the perfect way to reinforce the positivity, if you ever need to. Congratulations, LW3.

  8. Quake Johnson*

    In relation to number 5, I can’t tell you how happy I am that “Cersei” is no longer a regular character on this blog. “Sansa” and “Arya” seem to be fading away too. :)

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