updates: the matching tattoos, the embarrassing TV show, 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 team got matching tattoos … and other lack of boundaries at my start-up

I’m so happy to report that, very shortly after you posted my letter, I was contacted by a recruiter that provided a perfect opportunity to leave, and I’m so happy I did. Not only did I get out of a toxic environment, but the new position doubled my salary, has fantastic benefits, and I’m able to work on projects that focus on the parts of my skillset I most want to prioritize that I can honestly say I probably wouldn’t have been able to in my old company, as somebody outside the clique. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this new job is an improvement in basically every way.

Thank you so much for your great advice and for the commentariat’s wonderful encouragement to take a risk, however small, and move on to a new environment that offers me opportunities to grow my career.

2. I don’t want to do the outdoors volunteer project my manager planned (#2 at the link)

I didn’t quite have the guts to speak directly about this event just not being a good fit for me to my manager. We had tensions pop up which were unrelated (manager blocked a job offer from another team which would have advanced my career) and I just didn’t think it was a good topic to add to the mix. I was able to utilize your other advice which worked well though!

I put in requests for my volunteer time for later in the year for a fundraiser that I was chairing and then I booked a trip with flights on the evening of the outing (I was going to make this trip regardless, I just figured that weekend would be a very convenient time). My manager somehow didn’t realize that meant I wouldn’t be coming and kept speaking to the team as if we were all going to be there. Finally they spoke to me directly about where we should meet for the shuttle and I reminded them that I had already reserved all my volunteer time and hadn’t signed up to go. They then offered to have me attend anyways and luckily I was able to say that I would need to leave directly from the office in order to make my flight so would not be participating.

I’m probably not going to be on this team next year (fingers crossed!) but if I am, I’m determined to speak up and say that I prefer to volunteer for different organizations.

3. How can I get coworkers to leave me alone about a humiliating TV experience?

Pretty much what the commenters said is what happened. I was more or less anonymous. Strangely, a week or so ago, I was approached in a food store by someone who worked in another department in the building who recognized me and wanted to know more about it. I didn’t want to talk about it, but I felt kind of cornered since I was alone, and, well, he cornered me, so I told the whole spiel again. It was uncomfortable, to say the least, but I never see/saw him outside of that one occurrence (although apparently he’d seen me before and knew who I was); if he presses it again, I plan on shutting the conversation down, and if he still keeps it up, we’ll see where I should go from there. Hopefully that’ll be the last time. Other than that, no one seems to have given me any trouble, other than a few random online bullies with nothing better to do with their time right after the show aired. (I swear, some people have their religious scriptures to determine what is right and wrong, and others have their trash TV hosts.) Haven’t heard anything about it since.

Oddly, the worst person to deal with wasn’t a coworker, but a member of my family who loves the show (ugh) and who repeatedly and impatiently demanded to know when it was airing, and apparently believes in that fiction that anytime anyone appears on TV, it’s automatically a wonderful experience because people got to see you on TV. Even after I told him, again and again, that I absolutely did NOT want to talk about it, that it wasn’t anything like he thought it was, he wouldn’t let it go – knowing him, he thought I was just being silly, because hey, I got to be on TV! It finally took another family member sitting him down and telling him to shut up before he’d leave me alone about it.

If there’s any advice I have for anyone else who gets approached for this kind of thing, it is – DON’T DO IT. No, you won’t walk around a pariah for the rest of your life, but remember, no matter how much the people who contact you act like they’re your friend, they’re sympathetic, they’re on your side and tell you that you have a great case for whatever you’re suing for – this is not about getting justice for you, it’s about getting ratings for them. Although I didn’t have any long-term repercussions, it absolutely wasn’t worth it.

4. How can I shut down a nosy receptionist’s questions about my appointments?

Your response, and the comments in reply, really helped reinforce for me that I’m allowed to have boundaries and not share everything about my personal life with my coworkers! I’m much more comfortable with throwing a “Heading out, be back at ___” over my shoulder as I sign out and walk past reception and generally being cheerfully and politely evasive if I feel like anyone’s prying a little too much into my business. Honestly, I felt hugely validated that I wasn’t necessarily being overly sensitive – other people reacted the same way I did to the tenor of these interactions.

However, this did pull into focus for me the fact that this was one symptom of a workplace environment that, overall, is a little too boundary-stomping and likes to promote the idea of our coworkers being like a “family”. Not my cup of tea, and I’m looking for something new – I actually have an interview next week. Wish me luck!

{ 26 comments… read them below }

  1. Elizabeth West*

    #4– Speaking as a long-time receptionist, I literally do not care what your appointment is. I do not care if you have a pedicure, a doctor’s appointment, a snake-wrangling lesson, personal scream time in a soundproof closet, or if you are interviewing personal butt valets.

    ALL I need is for you to let me know you’re going to be gone, and what time you’re coming back. That’s it.

    1. Dragoning*

      I don’t know if you missed the first letter, but the receptionist was the one asking for personal details, not OP volunteering them because of anxiety?

      Of course, here we don’t even tell the receptionist if we’re coming or going…is that actually normal some places?

      1. H.C.*

        Depends on the role & workplace; for jobs that are not client facing, where most meetings are pre-planned, or where there’s one receptionist for a team of 100+ – it’s probably not expected to let them know if your coming & going.

      2. AKchic*

        It is in some buildings, especially if it is a limited-access place and you need to be able to “count noses” so to speak in case of a building evacuation.
        Whenever I had to train new receptionists, the hardest part was getting them to understand that they needed to know exactly who was on the our floor at all times, including visitors because if we had to evacuate for fire, earthquake or something else, we needed to be able to say “X person has not been accounted for and was visiting Y person, so they logically should be within Z area”.
        Every drill/evacuation – take the clipboards and a first aid kit.

    2. GreyjoyGardens*

      Back in the day, I had a secretary/receptionist job, and that’s all I cared about – when will you be gone, and what time will you be back, and, in a few cases, how can you be reached in an emergency? (This was before the days when everyone had mobile phones/smart phones.) I don’t care if you’re meeting your drug dealer, taking your dog for a pawdicure, or any of that stuff – I just need to tell clients, “Cersei is out of the office right now but she’ll be back at 1.”

      In my case, it was often the CALLERS who got really nosy and wanted to know where Cersei was going and what she was going to do and with whom and blah blah blah. Notably, I had a coworker who was in the process of dumping her boyfriend for one of our clients (!!!) and *that* was fun times whenever Boyfriend called.

      1. selena81*

        In most offices i’ve been in the in-case-of-fire headcounting was taken care of by means of everyone logging in and out with keycards.

        I think receptionists in small offices tend be nosy out of boredom

  2. Snoop OP*

    #3 I’m so sorry that experience was so horrible for you. Hopefully that’s the last you hear of it and will be able to move forward.

  3. Linzava*

    Over a decade ago, before we knew what we now know about court shows, I was aggressively approached by the most well know show at the time. They called my house every day, sent letters and generally pestered me even after I said no. They convinced my mother that it was a good idea and for a 19 year old batista, a free trip to LA was tempting.

    Luckily, my gut told me not to trust anyone who ignores the word “no”. Knowing what I know about the slimy world of reality TV producers, I’m grateful every day that I didn’t cave to pressure, but OP, you should not blame yourself. As someone who was vulnerable and targeted, it was really hard for me not to go along with it, they’re predators and really good at what they do.

    1. linzava*

      LOL, just realized I’d already shared a version of this story on the original post, sorry for the repeat everybody.

      Still OP, as someone who was targeted by the same process as you, I want you to know that I completely understand and anyone who’s been through the wooing process of these shows will absolutely be on your side here. Those people are scum and they manipulated my family members into trying to convince a 19 year old to appear after I said “no” more than once. They have no ethics, you were manipulated and I really hope you don’t carry shame for it, it’s their shame, not yours.

      1. Edwina*

        I just liked the picture of you as the U.S.-backed military dictator of Cuba from 1952 to 1959, before being overthrown during the Cuban Revolution (“Batista”). (Sorry, couldn’t resist the snark.)

        You were DEFINITELY wise beyond your years. Those shows are so exploitive and damaging, it’s horrible, I can never watch them for that exact reason. Good for you!

    2. GreyjoyGardens*

      Being wary of people who steamroller over a clear “no” is good advice! I’m glad you heeded your gut. I hope you were eventually able to save up and take a nice trip on your own dime and with no strings attached!

  4. Richard Hershberger*

    LW3’s final advice about reality shows is well taken. Compare the possible upside to the possible downside, keeping in mind that you have absolutely no control over which result actually occurs. I suppose it is possible to conclude that the upside justifies doing this, but I also think that a clear-headed evaluation will rarely arrive at this conclusion.

    1. selena81*

      Probably no coincidence many reality-shows started concentrating on wannabe-celebrities rather than regular people: it’s only worth the risk if you desperately want exposure.

      I hope for LW3’s sake that the show was so shoddy that it’ll end up in deep drawer and never see any reruns or further attention

    2. Antilles*

      The possible upside is that the money for the judgment comes out of the show’s budget and neither party actually has to pay a dime out of pocket. Which is obviously most valuable if you expect to lose, but I guess also potentially worth it to ensure you get your money even if you’re suing someone broke enough to be judgment proof.
      Still probably not worth it for the average person, but that’s the carrot they use to get people to appear.

  5. GreyjoyGardens*

    LW 1: Matching tattoos is what cults do, not normal workplaces. I was O_o when I read your original letter. That was creepy, not to mention permanent. Hooray for getting out of THAT mess and to a much better workplace and salary.

    LW3: “Reality” TV is all kayfabe for the audience. And you don’t have any control as to how the producers, etc. will make you appear in the end. Lesson learned. Thankfully, most people are not going to remember everyone who appeared in every episode (unless you were VERY memorable somehow) and you will be forgotten and won’t have to deal with any more nosy questions or “don’t I know you from Show X?”

    1. RVA Cat*

      Yeah, with the matching tattoos I immediately though of that cult that was branding people!

      (IIRC several cast members of Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones got commemorative tattoos, but multimillionaire actors are in a different universe from these startup folks.)

      1. JessaB*

        Yes and the LOTR thing was a consensual decision, the Avengers actors did something belike as well. But anyone who didn’t want to just didn’t. There was no OMG we have to or else about it or other skeevy behaviour.

        1. selena81*

          I think tattoos in general are a bad decision: i’m more into body-painting, never got the appeal of permanent markings.

          But with a mega-famous movie it is at least referencing a work of art that will still be appreciated 30 years from now, rather than some stupid job with a company that has long ago gone bankrupt

  6. Sara without an H*

    Re OP#4 — the ability to be politely uncooperative is a valuable business skill that will stand you in good stead in the future. Congratulations!

  7. Marie*

    #2 sympathies for your manager blocking you from transferring to another team. If you’re reading, would you mind providing a little context on why you think he did that? I hope you are seeking work outside the company, and not just outside your team, because managers who block transfers can continue to obstruct you when you’re in a different part of the org. Best of luck to you.

    1. OP#2*

      I had been suddenly moved to another team that was in a super crunch mode to finish development of a product. It was a crucial project and that team was promised anything they wanted/needed to get it done and they asked for me. I was supposed to go back in 3 months but they extended my tenure for 10 months and then offered me a permanent spot. After I checked in with my actual manager who was apparently not consulted about the offer as I had been initially told, he begrudgingly said he’d support my decision whatever it was. Unfortunately, when I accepted the offer, he went over the other team manager’s head to the Uber Boss and to appease him, the UB called me into the meeting and “asked” me if I would go back as I was “needed” on that team for our overall business objectives. I’m using quotes because saying no would have been career suicide and I quickly found that they had almost no work to do on my team so there really wasn’t any need for me to go back. I think the manager was just miffed at being short handed so long and being cut out of the loop from the big project and decision to offer me the job so I got screwed by politics.

      1. Ella*

        Re: Habitat OP,

        Good for you for blocking all available pressure points by booking both a trip and another volunteer job! Sometimes being cheerfully unavailable and following all spoken rules while blithely ignoring the unspoken ones, you can benefit by forcing the subtextual pressurer to say the quiet part. If manager wanted you on that miserable worksite that badly, he should have directly ordered you to. Except I suspect that he’s not really supposed to do that, so he exerts subtle pressure instead. It was presumptuous of your manager to pretend that he was doing anything other than “voluntelling” his subordinates! I’m glad it worked out for you!

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