updates: the balls adjuster, the daily affirmation, 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 employee keeps adjusting himself while we’re talking

The advice helped greatly, I’m so glad I wrote into you for advice. Thank you very much.

I ended up maintaining eye contact and asking him if he was okay every time he did it, or needed a minute. I then continued on with the conversation once he stopped. He looked at me strangely the first few times like he wasn’t sure why I was asking him: I honestly don’t think he consciously realized he was doing it. The behavior has mostly stopped, perhaps he became aware it was happening.

2. My coworker sucks at her job and my manager won’t address it

You answered my question on your podcast about my coworker “Artemis” who sucks at her job and a manager who won’t do anything about it. Management never addressed the situation, but still a lot has changed since then. It started when Artemis’ office mate, Sally, quit. Sally’s motto was “it’s ok, everyone makes mistakes,” and I think this attitude was a factor in Artemis not realizing she was not good at this job. Also, after Sally left, it became even more clear how little Artemis was able to do. She would come to me with the most basic questions (“How do I save a file from my email to my desktop?”) which leads me to believe that Sally had been pretty much doing Artemis’ work on top of her own. We hired a new employee to replace Sally, and within a few weeks, Artemis was asking the new employee questions about how to do things. Finally, FINALLY, Artemis realized she wasn’t a good fit, and quit abruptly on a Thursday, saying Friday would be her last day. So, what needed to happen finally happened- Artemis is gone. But, if management had addressed the situation months ago, it would have saved a lot of stress, tension, and hostility among our department.

3. My colleague is allergic to me because of my cats

I’m happy to say that the use of a web conferencing client really helped with communication! Even though it felt a little awkward at first, we settled into a regular rhythm for our meetings. I think he appreciated the time away from his open cubicle behind the service desk!

I’ve since moved on to a similar role at another institution, but still have regular opportunities for collaboration with folks from my previous workplace. We were all at a meeting together this spring, and I shared with him that I’d asked you about this problem. We had a good laugh, because it is funny while being totally serious! Thank you for answering my question, and to my fellow readers for offering additional thoughtful suggestions to support a strong working relationship.

4. My coworker whispers a daily affirmation to me

Thank you for your advice, and much of your readers’ advice as well. Apologies it ended up being triggering for some, and thank you Alison for stepping into the comments a few times to moderate. Please feel free to edit this for brevity :)

He still often tells me that I am amazing – probably 2 or 3 days per week. We either have a quick work chat or I just move it on quickly if I don’t have time.

1. Apparently he does do it to some others as well, just none near me. So I was inaccurate there.
2. He’s lovely. A positive, funny optimistic colleague who works hard at building connections.
3. I tried some of the advice but nothing too direct, and he has seen how busy I am in general which has helped.

I re-read the comment thread today, and realized that many perhaps misunderstood what this whispering looks like. He always stands on the far side of my cubicle wall: I think some readers presumed he was leaning in close to whisper in my ear, which I would have shut down right quick.

He will still often stop by, tell me that I’m amazing, and if we have time we turn it into a bit of a chat. He respects my time though: I think if I don’t engage he doesn’t hang around waiting. He also has a bit of a quiet voice, so while it is a whisper, it isn’t much quieter than his regular voice. It’s a joke now too: I stopped by when he was visiting another colleague to give them a quick update, and as I left he called out ‘You’re amazing!’

So I think we just know each other better now. Thanks for all that you do!

5. What kind of non-monetary perks can I ask for? (#3 at the link)

The news is all good. Like you and the commenters, my boss pointed out that they could easily provide me with an extra monitor, and I was able to find/create a workspace in my home, so I’ve been working from home on Fridays (unless I’m needed on-site, such as for our recent conference). I’ve also been more proactive taking my vacation, though part of me still gets nervous when it dips below a certain balance—I’m working on letting go of that! Professional development was always part of our package (and is a required part of our annual goals), but I’ve gotten more involved in choosing what I want to take vs. just saying ‘sure’ to whatever my boss recommended.

Even better, they announced at a recent staff meeting that we’re back on track with funding and the raise freeze has been lifted for 2020, so I’m on track for a raise again. And in the last year they’ve added several agency-wide perks such as paid volunteer days!

{ 80 comments… read them below }

  1. ApparentlyIaminamiddlelifecrisis*

    Glad #1 was resolved – think with a lot of men it is just subconscious.

    Regarding #2 – I wonder if Sally left because she was doing extra work and it was unnoticed?

    1. CmdrShepard4ever*

      I think it is to a certain degree.

      I probably do it when I am at my desk unconsciously. But I think I am more conscious (all though maybe I am like the employee and no one has bothered to bring it up) about it when I am more visible or in a meeting/1 on 1.

      I have on occasion adjusted myself as I am getting up from my desk and walking out of my office only to realize to my horror that if someone has been walking by at the same time they would have seen me adjust myself, but I don’t think it happens often.

    2. Jedi Squirrel*

      Regarding #1: It is and it starts in boyhood. Some parents address it, others hope they’ll grow out of it. (Hint: many don’t.)

    3. Arts Akimbo*

      Agreed re: subconscious adjusting. I have to adjust my bra whenever it gets uncomfortable and I used to not notice I was doing it in front of people. (Oh, college me!… and possibly present-me, since I’ve been WFH…)

      1. ellex42*

        I think that depends on what kind of adjusting you’re doing. Are you sticking your hand inside the cup to reposition, or are you just tugging up a sliding shoulder strap (I confess to doing this pretty regularly)? I’m sure we’ve all given our underwear a quick tug at the hip to alleviate a wedgie.

        Some people are more conscious of their body and what they’re doing with it than others, but it sure doesn’t hurt to make an effort to be a little more self-aware. Why yes, yes I am thinking of several specific coworkers when I say this…

    4. mark132*

      Sometimes they are “poorly” positioned and it can hurt if they aren’t “repositioned” quickly. When such “positioning” is necessary, I try to be discreet, but sometimes …

      1. Claire*

        If it’s a one-time, emergency thing, I’d be pretty uncomfortable, but let it go, but according to OP’s first letter, this happens all the time with this employee, which makes it seem like it’s not an issue of painful, poor positioning (or if it is, he should probably start looking into making some sort of permanent change to how he dresses or stands or something).

    5. KoiFeeder*

      The subconscious is weird. I’ve been dinged a few times because I dislocate and relocate my jaw idly. It’s not something I’d do consciously, but the brain turns off and them I’m scaring people.

    6. Clever Name*

      I’ve heard stories about a Bad Boss at another company in my industry. He would apparently relentlessly adjust himself, and enough people complained to HR about it that he had a stern talking to. So he swapped playing with his balls for playing with one of those lead-filled bags that is used to hold down the corners of large architectural drawings or maps (!!). But then apparently during a routine blood test for work, his lead levels were off the charts. So he swapped out a Koosh ball for the bag of lead shot. Two of my coworkers used to work for him, and they are so very glad they don’t anymore. Fun times.

    7. Mary*

      I’m sure this is true, but I think getting to adulthood and being able to do that subconsciously is a massive marker of privilege. Girls get told to be conscious of things like are they sitting neatly, are their knickers visible, don’t sit like that, and constant reminders that they have boobs, bums, legs etc and that these things are sexual and might be interpreted as sexual from well before puberty.

      1. ApparentlyIaminamiddlelifecrisis*

        “Girls get told to be conscious of things like are they sitting neatly, are their knickers visible, don’t sit like that, and constant reminders that they have boobs, bums, legs etc and that these things are sexual and might be interpreted as sexual from well before puberty”

        Very much true. Imagine if we all went around scratching our boobs all hours of the day – it would cause a ruckus I feel in the office.

        Interesting perspective though from the men – didn’t know those “things” shifted so much.

      2. AKchic*

        Very much so.
        My chest is large. Comically so. If my shirt is so much as a fraction of a hair off-kilter, my mother and grandmother *still* give me side-eye and demand I “fix” it (I’m nearing 40). Yet if I bring my hands anywhere near my chest to fix my shirt, I’m being “fresh” or “a tart” and a “tease” for “playing with [my] bosom”.
        And neither of them will look at me or images of me in a corset because “you look like a wh*re, advertising your goods like that!”

        My sons? Oh they are allowed to do/say/wear whatever so long as they appear masculine in my grandmother’s eye. They could drop trou right in front of her and she would laughingly say “boys will be boys”. Women are held to much different standards, even within family units, and generationally.

    8. Narvo Flieboppen*

      Late to the party, but I’ll be honest, at an earlier stage of my career I was this guy. The rest I have to add may be TMI for some, TL;DR – Weird medical conditions can lead to this kind of situation.


      Right, so I have a weird enough medical issue that my last several doctors haven’t been able to even give it a name. Basically, I’m slightly deformed (internally) in my manly dangly bits. This sometimes causes the internal plumbing to seemingly randomly wrap around itself. Think like taking a a plastic bag full of water by the handles and spinning it around.

      When this happens, it is supremely uncomfortable. A combination of stomach churning discomfort and/or pain. It didn’t start until my late teens, at which time I would do whatever was necessary to end the discomfort. In the last decades I’ve learned to just bear through it until I can escape to privacy, but I am definitely mentally preoccupied and not fully engaged when this issue comes up.

      So, the dude may have an actual problem. I’m not saying what he’s doing is right, he does need to learn to contain the urge even if he’s in the same situation I am in, but I can empathize with his urge.

      1. Crooked Bird*

        Wow. Sorry to hear that. This is the weirdest, but your description of the sensation reminds me vividly of how I felt after giving birth.
        ___________TMI/TLDR line here
        You see, your internal organs get a bit rearranged by the presence of an increasingly large new person in there, and when the person comes out, they have to kind of slip back into place or possibly slightly new places, and it takes a little while. An older friend gave me a heads-up about this and described it as a “sloshy” feeling, but when it came to the point my feeling was more like yours. (Eesh, I don’t like remembering it. But thankfully it was only when I stood up, so I mostly didn’t for that first week.) I wonder if some things were getting twisted or wrapped round each other some way.

        1. AKchic*

          I always felt like slapping a sticker on me that said “Contents May Shift During Delivery” and just leaving it at that.
          So may things are deliberately left out of the pregnancy, delivery and post-partum experience that I really wonder if any of us are truly making an informed decision.

  2. Mayati*

    #4, congratulations on working with Rob Lowe’s character from Parks & Rec. Seems like a good guy if you can stomach relentless positivity!

    1. Working with professionals*

      Reminds me of an episode of Bones where they had the “Science Dude” from a children’s show on and one of the characters mentioned how in college he and his friends would drink every time they heard “Amazing!” on the children’s show. Of course, I then counted how often it was said during the episode…..

      1. many bells down*

        We’ve been watching Master Chef and I think we’re going to take a shot every time Gordon Ramsay describes an ingredient as “the most AMAZING xyz”

    2. Goliath Corp.*

      I’m glad this is how it turned out and that OPs instincts with this guy were proven right.

      I had a coworker who would sometimes leave me sticky notes telling me that I’m an awesome (although, those were usually timed for when she thought I needed them), and it was a gesture that I very much appreciated.

  3. your favorite person*

    Such interesting updates!
    1) AMAZING. Such a classy and subtle way to address a really weird problem.
    5) Great work! I’m on a personal mission to make people take their vacation time so I’m heartened to see this!

    1. TimeTravlR*

      On Friday I am, for the first time in I don’t know how long, taking a sick day for no reason other than I need a break. I put in for it in advance so it won’t be a surprise, and I don’t have anything so big pending it can’t wait another day. I just need a day and I realized that if I retire next summer (still up in the air) I have many hours of sick time that i will just lose. I can get a certain amount paid out, but I am over that number and I am going to work on dwindling it down. If I don’t retire next year, it still won’t have hurt to burn some leave. And it sure might hurt somebody if I don’t!

  4. Bunny Girl*

    #3 – I am so glad you found something to work out! I always wonder if I’m killing people with severe allergies. I have 5 animals and although I bathe regularly and lint roller myself before walking out the door, there’s a lot of hair still. It could have just been a specific cat, because I know you said you hadn’t had people react to you before. A lot of times people are allergic to the protein in a cat’s saliva, and some breeds produce more of that protein than others. I’m allergic to cats, but I have one! I chose a breed that typically produces less of that protein than others.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Which is good because no matter how hard I try, I always have cat and dog hair somewhere

        1. Arts Akimbo*

          Even several years post-cat, I still find the odd whisker! Those things are vacuum-resistant!

          1. Quill*

            We moved furniture and found an entire winter coat of dog hair, a variety of toys that had been stuck under things…

            Someone a decade down the line is going to find dog hair in the heating vents.

            1. Arts Akimbo*

              Ha! Probably. I picture it leaping out at the unwary, like the Alien! Only it just coats you in hair. Which would be a very different kind of movie.

    1. All Hail Queen Sally*

      Same here. Anytime I give a gift to anyone, I start out with “I apologize in advance for any cat hair you might find.”

      I did work with a highly allergic coworker once. The poor guy couldn’t come near my desk without sneezing. Fortunately, we rarely had to work with each other.

  5. Quill*

    #2 I think a lot of managers don’t address these things in hopes that their own Artemises will self select out.

    1. Cookie Captain*

      I’m thinking that if Artemis hadn’t left, it’s the new hire who would have self selected out.

      1. ellex42*


        I feel for the new hire. Definitely a situation that’s going to make someone wondering what other problems there are with a workplace.

      2. Crooked Bird*

        And it’s extremely possible that Sally, clearly a hard worker if perhaps a touch codependent or something, self-selected out! I mean look at what she was doing–reassuring the non-functional employee and doing her work for her. It must have been a real burden on her and it was never acknowledged or rewarded. Or, most importantly, relieved.

        Sally reminds me vividly of people I’ve known who will take on burdens and never speak up, and this is what happens: they burn out, but you never know it because they will never speak up, and they reach a breaking point and instead of speaking up they drop out. Boom. You lose them suddenly and it’s the first you ever hear of a problem. But if it’s NOT the first you hear of it, if you knew they were pretty much carrying someone else–that’s pretty inexcusable really.

        1. Crooked Bird*

          And btw when I say people here I mean women. I’m sure there are a few men like this too. But the ones I’ve known were all women.

  6. IT But I Can't Fix Your Printer*

    OP#1, you are awesome and giving me a lot of courage about addressing awkward situations in my own life.

  7. T Red*

    1. We had that guy in our lab a while ago. He was constantly playing with his balls. Maybe it makes me a bad person, but my solution was to tell him loudly and directly not to play with himself while we were talking. I’ve got no time for mommy handholding or attempted conditioning experiments when someone is being that gross.

    1. Lyys*

      This! The idea that it’s somehow unacceptable to tell people to stop touching their genitals in public is very VERY weird.

      1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

        I get it though… because if you’re noticing that they’re playing with/touching their genitals, then that means that YOU are LOOKING at their genitals… and people don’t want to be perceived as looking at others genitals in public.

    2. Gazebo Slayer*

      I used to know a guy who would literally *reach under his waistband into his boxers* to adjust himself on the regular. So gross.

    3. Delphine*

      It never hurts to try the soft approach first and, if that doesn’t work, go for the non-“mommy handholding” approach.

  8. Reality Check*

    #1 We have that guy in our office, too. The boss’s son. My boss one day, if I stick around long enough. None of us has the courage to say a word.

    1. banzo_bean*

      It’s so weird. My husband’s boss always does this and my husband is so embarassed to be around him.

      1. Liz*

        A former Co-workers boss, who happened to be the company president, would do this all the time. He’d come out of his office, stand right in front of her desk, which was “ball level” and adjust away. he knew exactly what he was doing too. It was disgusting. thankfully she got another job, and he was then “let go” for other things.

  9. Quill*

    Reading about #1 has made me deeply self conscious about the number of times I must adjust any item of clothing on my entire body in one work day. Bra straps migrating, trying to fix my pants when I stand up, the thousands of times I have to change how tight my shoes are laced or pick my socks out of them…

    This is why I love having a cube to myself.

    1. Janet, Sower of Chaos*

      I mean, unless you keep your gonads in your shoes I really don’t think it’s an issue.

  10. CoffeeLover*

    #4 it’s so interesting how your interpretation of someone’s actions can change so much simply by getting to know them better. This isn’t a gripe on you OP, but I think a generally good thing to keep in mind. It’s natural to judge someone based on limited interactions, but it’s worth pushing through that and giving them a chance (not that it always works out). We’re so much more tolerant of the people we know/like. A happy ending really :).

    1. Lissa*

      I think this is often true and can be part of the reason why the comments (not just here but anywhere where someone has a personal problem they need to describe quickly) can get so off. If someone getting to know somebody better in person can change things for the better or worse, then a stranger with just two paragraphs of description can certain give suggestions but is unlikely to really be spot on – but people reaaally wanna be internet detectives (I mean, me too sometimes) so become super insistent their reading is correct.
      Like I’m quite sure most of us (me!) have done things or have behaviours that if described quickly by someone annoyed with us online would get a bunch of gaspy comments telling the other person we’re a parade of red flags. ;)

  11. ouchie*

    I once worked with a “tech guy” who didn’t really… know any tech. He had started out as a temporary hire, replacing another tech person who left, and it soon became apparent he was a bit in over his head (or, more charitably, he probably had highly specialized knowledge that didn’t really translate to a general “tech guy” sort of job). When the time came to find a permanent replacement, he interviewed for the job, but it was offered to someone else. That person wound up declining the offer, so the permanent job went to NotATechGuy. (yes, after he was told he hadn’t gotten the job… awkward).

    He was a very nice guy who worked hard to try to understand and complete some highly complicated projects, which he succeeded at, but he still wasn’t suited to general computer tech tasks. I’m talking, fairly basic stuff, like connecting keyboards to CPUs, connecting peripherals, installing drivers, finding ethernet ports, and making simple website updates.

    The problem is that I was often expected to pinch-hit for him (and tech was not in my job description at all; I just had basic everyday knowledge) and know how to do stuff that he really should have been doing. Our manager didn’t seem to know or care what was going on and it was awkward to bring it up (how do you tactfully say “Tim’s making me do his job?”)

    Well, eventually I moved on from that job for various reasons, but feeling unsupported by “Tim” was one of the reasons and as it happened, on my very last day, the last thing I did was try to fix some equipment that “Tim” threw up his hands on. Sigh.

    1. A Non E. Mouse*

      I am fascinated by all this because as someone else mentioned above women are conditioned while growing up to sit a certain way, make sure bra straps aren’t showing, etc. You know those “man-spreading” pictures of men spreading their legs and taking up way more space than necessary on public transportation has a flip-side for girls? We are told to “sit like a lady”. We wore shorts under our dresses for modesty sake. It’s nuts (pun intended)!

      We have skin on our genitals too that sometimes is going to itch/sweat or (at certain times of the month) have to have something that’s near or in it adjusted and breasts that – at least as I’ve gotten older after having nursed three children – try to migrate out of their holster at the most inconvenient times.

      I take care to make sure I’m not readjusting my boobs or making sure my pad hasn’t shifted in front of people, so it’s….interesting that men not only just adjust themselves as needed with an excuse about balls shifting, and don’t also see the giant blind spot that Women Are People Too! and probably have their own “we’re all just meat sacs” related issues to deal with.

      I keep imagining a Lysistrata-ish protest, were we all just adjust our boobs and girly bits out loud and proud until either everyone can everywhere with no repercussions, or the men/boys get the idea and quit touching themselves.

      1. starsaphire*

        Just imagine, if we didn’t have to sit there discreetly and wait until we could casually saunter to the bathroom to fix that horrible sensation when the adhesive on the pad has decided to affix itself to something painful and then start tugging with every step.

        And better be smiling on the way to the restroom, while you’re getting an inadvertent partial bikini wax from a rogue “wing,” or someone might stop you to ask what’s the matter….

      2. AKchic*

        I mean, what makes a man’s “jumblies” any more sensitive or important than a woman’s?

        And can we stop with the cutesy infantilization? As if men’s genitals aren’t given *enough* passes, and men in general aren’t already given way too much leeway and jocular boyishness to this particular action already?

        Not sorry, Sean, but if you can’t keep your hands off of your genitals while you’re at work, you need to either buy yourself proper-fitting undergarments or be seen by a medical provider; and only you know which is more appropriate.
        ***Generic male name selected for this rant***

      3. Delphine*

        I think a better approach is to understand that everyone needs to adjust sometimes and as long as no one is messing around down there constantly (like in the OP’s case) then we can be understanding of each other. I’m sorry but I’m not going to sit around and wait to find a restroom while my pad peels layers of my skin off, that ish is getting fixed, discreetly but in public if necessary, as soon as possible.

      4. Timothy (TRiG)*

        those “man-spreading” pictures of men spreading their legs and taking up way more space than necessary on public transportation

        The vast vast majority of pictures I’ve seen shows guys “manspreading” in nearly empty trains, causing no problems at all. I really don’t understand the ire in those cases. I’m sure it sometimes is an actual concern, and some guys do cause real inconvenience and are inconsiderate, but that’s not what an online image search would tell me.


  12. starsaphire*

    I just love the title to this, because I keep thinking of it being similar to a claims adjuster.

    “Oh, yes, please go see the balls adjuster about that; he’s 2 doors down from Tim in Marketing.”

    1. Crooked Bird*

      LOL! I think I might have been thinking this subconsciously, I just couldn’t stop looking at the phrase “balls adjuster” & finding it weirdly funny…

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