updates: the secret chat group, the friend who cancels, 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 bosses and coworkers have a secret group chat where they trash-talk me

My letter went live while I was on my way to a job interview. (I had taken the morning off from work.) After rocking the interview and checking the comments on AAM, I decided I’d never return. Around 1 PM, my boss texted me like “Should we expect you back any time soon?” and I didn’t answer.

When I got home, I sent all of my bosses an email with the subject line, “Getting the monkey off your back.” I basically said that I had seen them talking about me ever since I started working there, I knew they planned to fire me, blah blah blah. One boss replied like, “I am sorry if you feel that we have created an insensitive environment. You have shed a lot of light on how this office can communicate in the future.”

I took the job off my resume, temped for a few months after that, and eventually got hired at a new job that I love! I still struggle with mild work-related anxiety and I’m trying to find a therapist, but changing my environment was essential. I cannot imagine having spent one more day at that company and I don’t know how I made it three months to begin with. Thank you so much for publishing my letter and cultivating such a kind community! You and your commenters were the impetus I needed to advocate for myself.

2. My friend/client won’t pay my cancellation fee

To be honest, I was very upset by Frank’s behavior. But the positive twist was that this situation was the catalyst for my decision not to work with people who didn’t respect me or my time. I also realized that I didn’t want ‘friends’ like Frank in my personal life, but because of optics and the mutual friends we shared, I needed to be the adult in the situation. As far as my advertising campaign, I decided it would be best if I featured a different athlete.

I avoided Frank for a while until I knew I could speak to him without losing my cool. When I did finally see him, he said he felt guilty for his behavior and apologized but I noticed he didn’t offer to pay the cancelation fee. So I took your advice and told him that our friendship was more important than having him as a client. I offered to give him another provider’s information. He scoffed and said he only wanted to work with me. His solution was that I should text him for any last minute openings on days that would be convenient for him… Ugh! Really? More work for me. Hmmm. I was non-committal about this solution.

Shortly after this, he was in a competition where he was disqualified for ignoring the rules. He then started a very public fight with the winner of the competition. I stated that I would not be taking sides in this war and haven’t spoken to Frank since.

3. My new job isn’t what I signed up for

I did end up speaking with my supervisor about the possibility of bringing on an intern to assist with my workload. It has now been 2 months since that conversation and we’re not any closer to hiring somebody. We may not be able to hire someone for another 3-4 months. While I’ve now been given projects that excited me during the interview process, I still have this mountain of work to tackle with no help from an intern. I’ve worked overtime every single week since I’ve started and my work/life balance has dissipated. My supervisor is lovely in a lot of ways but also incredibly ambitious. The result is that our small team is struggling to keep up with a constant barrage of new initiatives. I’m not a stranger to working hard but I’ve been feeling completely overwhelmed and have started therapy to deal with the stress. I’m going to have another conversation with my supervisor about priorities and workload but I don’t really see that aspect changing.

However, I’m also thinking this job might just not be a great fit. I’ve been here about 5 months now and while I’ve gotten the hang of the majority of my job responsibilities, I never feel like any of my tasks are really “complete”. Everything I do is on a tight deadline so it’s difficult to prioritize. Goals are not clearly articulated. How the department measures success is ambiguous. We’re so busy that I haven’t been able to have check in’s with my supervisor and team. No one really has boundaries at this job either. Folks answer emails even when they’re on vacation. The company director recently texted at 10 pm on a Sunday night. People are just expected to be “on” all the time.

On the upside, the job has also allowed me to realize that I really value work/life balance. I want a job that allows me to pursue hobbies and activities outside of work and that’s not really happening now when I’m working late every day and dealing with a 1-1.5 hour long commute. I want to work to live, not live to work. I think this job has revealed to me all the things that don’t really work for me in a job. Like working on very short deadlines, a lot of cold emailing/network building, a ton of copywriting. I’m much happier doing research, working on long-term projects/events and strategy. It’s tough because I was really excited about this opportunity but I feel ready to go. I think I’m going to treat this as my post-grad school first job dud. I’ve updated my resume and started applying to other positions. I’ve never quit a job without something else lined up but my anxiety has just skyrocketed to a point where I’m seriously considering it. Anyway, I wish this was a more positive update but I really appreciate all your advice.

4. What do I say to a former coworker who manages the job I’m applying for? (#4 at the link)

It wasn’t a super high stakes question, though it felt that way at the time. Actually, I did end up getting a phone interview for that job, but not an in-person. Later, for a different position at the same place, I did get an in-person only to discover the new head of the collection was rather strange. (She spent the whole interview speaking very poorly of her predecessor for whom I had worked previously and blaming them for all sorts of problems. Not a great look.) Anyway, what I really think your advice did for me was help me get more comfortable with the idea that I could reach out and it was okay to tap into my network. I wasn’t being an inconvenience or a bother to anyone by doing so. As a result, I am pleased to report I have a new job in a place I wanted to live doing what I love and with a promotion! So thank you for helping me find the words to say something which, in hindsight, wasn’t so complicated, but at the time felt like an impossible ask.

And while it had nothing to do with my question, your site also made me confident enough to negotiate a higher salary when I took this new job. Something I never would have done before.

{ 82 comments… read them below }

  1. Zona the Great*

    #1 I love that you wrote the letter and I love that you never showed up again. I save both of those actions for truly deplorable situations and I got so much contact-satisfaction from reading this. What that boss meant was, “I’ll be sure to be better about hiding my trash talking”.

    1. Lance*

      That last point is exactly my thought. Nothing about their response tells me they’re going to stop pulling nonsense like this. Even more so the non-apology ‘I’m sorry you’re upset at this’ ‘apology’ in the form of ‘I am sorry if you feel that we have created an insensitive environment’.

      1. Observer*

        I’d put it more strongly – everything about this response says that that WILL continue his garbage.

        1. animaniactoo*

          Yeah. It’s a “tee hee! you caught us!” and in 3 months it will be [snicker] “Remember when we got that strange email? We screwed that one up! Hahahaha!”

          1. RC Rascal*

            No, they are going to think OP is too sensitive. Folks like this have no notion of actually being at fault.

          2. ChemPlantPrincess*

            “Remember when that monkey we wanted off our backs couldn’t even make it through her notice period? Haw, haw, haw!”

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          Which is why departing this office full of bees was the right move: your boss and coworkers are not going to change. The solution is to geographically place yourself somewhere else.

    2. MtnLaurel*

      #1: you are my hero. That is awesome!! Best of luck moving forward, and I’m so glad you’re out of that toxic hole.

      1. SebbyGrrl*

        All of the posts in this section X 100!

        Especially the contact ‘high’ joy I also feel for what LW did – nicely done, KUDOS!

  2. Chronic Overthinker*

    LW #1: I had this happen too. Group chat (minus me) with mostly just my co-workers trash talking me, everything from performance issues, to my handwriting. It was so obnoxious. Thankfully I too am now at a job I love and with a company that values me. And now if I do happen to find that others are talking about me behind my back I will ignore it. Some people just love to crap on others because they’re “new.” I know my boss values me and I’m performing at the level they need me to right now. Enjoy the new job!

  3. DoctorateStrange*

    OP#1 I am so happy you left and you did it on their terms. I do take a little glee (ok, a lot of it) that they were inconvenienced and were probably not expecting you to cut them off from your life. You deserve better. As someone as an anxiety disorder, this update really makes me happy and wants to send you virtual hugs.

  4. Shadowbelle*

    “… I am sorry if you feel …”
    Translation: I am not going to acknowledge that I did anything wrong.

    1. Mimi Me*

      I tend to snap at people who apologize this way: Don’t apologize for my feelings! Apologize for what you did, not how I feel!
      Most people will stop and correct when it’s pointed out – though it makes me crazy that I had to even point it out!!

      I also hate the apologies that a lot of celebrities / politicians use: “I’m sorry my behavior hurt my family”. Basically this is a new spin on “I’m sorry you feel” because they’re not actually apologizing for doing the thing, they’re just sorry that it hurt someone else.

        1. techRando*

          How bad would the words have to be before criticizing them is fair, rather than “nitpicking”?

          If someone says, “I’m sorry you’re so sensitive,” is that an acceptable apology? Is “I’m sorry you got your feelings hurt. I’ll keep in mind that you’re a crybaby next time,” okay also?

          I think it’s fair to analyze poor apology formats. If someone says, “I’m sorry you felt [X],” then they are not apologizing for something they’ve done.

          Sometimes it’s fair for an “I’m sorry” statement to NOT be an apology. If I see a therapist and then decide I’d work better with someone else, they might say to me afterwards, “I’m sorry that we won’t be able to work together. Would you like a referral to someone who [Y]?” That “sorry” statement isn’t really an apology- it’s just a statement, basically, of “this is unfortunate, and I sympathize with the inconvenience it has caused you.” And I wouldn’t expect an apology in that situation; I don’t believe they’ve done anything wrong.

          When someone says “I’m sorry you felt [X],” they are saying a “this is unfortunate” statement, but they aren’t apologizing for any action of their own. It does, however, mask as an apology. And that format of sentence is intentionally used for people to both pretend that they did nothing wrong, and pretend that they were the bigger person and they apologized for what wasn’t _really_ wrongdoing, right?

          It’s really the adult version of “I’m sorry [quieter voice] that you suck” as an “apology” you give only when forced to.

        2. Sunflower Sea Star*

          No, it’s not. Nitpicking is when things don’t matter. This is a difference that matters.

        3. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

          Nah. If you’re sorry, say why. Or just “I’m sorry.” You know what you did. If you don’t, you’re not sorry, you just want the person to stop being upset. (This does not apply to the reflexive sorry or the empathetic sorry.)

        4. Former Employee*

          An apology is when you tell someone you are sorry for what you did or said that affected them in a negative way.

          It is not an apology when you tell someone that you are sorry that they feel the way they do. That is essentially saying that you are sorry they figured out what you did and are upset as a result.

          To my way of thinking it is not nitpicking to differentiate between the two.

      1. Part Time Poet*

        These are the very “apologies” that come from people who are narcissists.
        ” I’m sorry you took it that way’
        ‘I’m sorry you got angry with me’
        ‘You shouldn’t be so sensitive I didn’t mean it that way’
        ‘You should get over it/let it go’
        ‘I said I’m sorry what more do you want from me’

        You’ll also detect the ‘sorry/no sorry’ never contains evidence of deeper reflection of what has caused you pain, nor appreciation for how you might be feeling. Because, as stated, this is frankly of no consequence to the pathological narcissist.’

  5. Frankie*

    LW1, good on you for not going back. That is some seriously egregious and dysfunctional crap and you’re well rid of them. That would have sent my anxiety through the roof, too.

  6. AnotherLibrarian*

    #2- Sometimes it takes a job that isn’t a good fit to learn what really matters to you in your work place. Good luck!

  7. sigh - it's the end of the year*

    OP1 congratulations on your new success! Way to go sticking up for yourself. Perhaps with it being NYE it is appropriate to say out with the old and in with the new.

    Side note – am I the only one who would of liked to have been a fly on the wall when the company realized that 1) you are not coming back and they now have to do their work; 2) the OMG moment when they realized you knew they were talking about you behind your back; 3) while they were all “against you” that they still may have to answer to someone higher up who has has access to all the trash talking messages (not mentioned in a letter but I’m thinking the owner, a compliance officer – all done on a work computer) and lastly 4) their “apology” will not fix anything

    1. RC Rascal*

      Now they need to find someone else to pick on. Folks like this don’t stop, they just select a new victim.

  8. Mannheim Steamroller*

    “You have shed a lot of light on how this office can communicate in the future.”

    Translation: “We must do a better job of hiding our group trash-talking.”

    1. Batgirl*

      I’m sure she’s so relieved that they can communicate better now!
      Also, “Im sorry that you feel” is such obvious horseshit. They could have at least had the courage to apologize properly. The second best option was not to bother replying at all.

  9. Observer*

    #1 I’m so glad you’re out of there. I hope you keep all of the “translations” of that email in your back pocket if someone tried to make their misbehavior and it’s fall out your fault again.

    Here is mine:

    I’m sorry tat you found out about our behavior because it’s more fun to gaslight people and pretend like they are just too stupid. Also, I see that we’re going to have to be more careful about keeping firings secret because we want employment to end on our schedule not our victims, and for it to be with minimum inconvenience to us and maximum inconvenience to our victims.

  10. Not So NewReader*

    OP1. “Should we expect you back any time soon?” This question just strikes me as being odd. Why not ask if you are okay? It’s almost like they expected you to walk. It could just be me, but that hits me as an odd way of asking.

    But my main point, is OP there is a time and a place to walk out and, boy, did you nail it. Walking is THE answer here.
    I will never understand people who delight in the “failure” (real or imagined) of others. One’s failure does not automatically mean the other person wins. The opposite is true, one person’s failure probably indicates the failure of many around that person.

    I am chuckling. I wonder if any of these people recognize themselves on AAM and realize millions of people are reading what they did here.

    Just a general comment: I have started watching more and more for patterns. We are seeing more posters saying that they went into therapy for a problem at work. We (society) have a problem with toxic workplaces. Companies are afraid to fire Bully Boss/Employee but still complain about health care costs. Yet their own toxic environment is sending people to therapists. This is so preventable.

    OP, I am sorry you went through all that crap and I am very glad you are in a better spot now. Good for you, congrats.

    1. Third or Nothing!*

      I suspect the rise in people seeking therapy is more related to a general shift toward acknowledging the importance of mental health rather than an increase in toxic workplace environments. Jerks have always been around; we’ve just been told up until now to suck it up and deal with it or stop reacting so they can’t get their kicks off your response.

    2. blue Skies*

      One’s failure does not automatically mean the other person wins.

      Never been to a Cubs game pre last year

    3. Quake Johnson*

      Yeah I get the sense they expected her to walk too, like they think she’s just flaky, and then got surprised (but not particularly shamed) that it was because of their culture.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It doesn’t seem like a strange thing to ask when someone leaves early and says they’re going to be back later. I’ve had this happen to me and have reached out to others asking the same thing, it’s usually because I need them or they need me for something and they’re gauging if you need to do it yourself or if you can wait until Jane gets back?

      I don’t think they thought she was lost or hurt, just wondering “Hey you said you’d be back later, any idea when?” My boss has to be tracked down once in awhile and that’s my go to is “Hey, any idea when you’ll be back?” usually so and so is looking for him or what have you and I’d like to give them a better idea than “IDK he’s out doing errands right now, some time today, perhaps?” Since we can bypass him or improvise if necessary but we prefer not to?

      That aside, totally glad that the OP walked out like that. EF that toxic waste dump and dismissive non-apology! We can all thrive without hurting others or wishing failure on them!

    5. Batgirl*

      I read it as snark: “Are you done skiving?”, “Feel like working today?” It’s the appropriate communication style for their level.

  11. animaniactoo*

    I am sorry if you feel that we have created an insensitive environment

    “Let’s be clear. This is not a matter of my feelings. This is an objective fact. You DID create an insensitive environment.”

  12. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    #1 – The secondhand embarrassment I got reading about these people… So glad you are out of there, OP! You deserve way better and this internet stranger is so proud of you for standing up to them (the subject of your email was awesome). I can guarantee you that these people don’t like each other either. Bonding over disliking people isn’t real friendship and the day will come when they’ll turn on each other. I just hope you get to hear about it and have a good laugh. Good luck with your new job and hope you find a therapist to help you out with the residual issues.

    #2 – You handled this beautifully. Good riddance to Frank!

    #3 – I think this is a positive update in that you’re taking control of your life. The workload you describe will lead to severe burnout, so you’re absolutely right to get out of there now. Good luck with your job hunt and let us know how things go.

    #4 – A new job and higher salary? Amazing news! Well done.

    Happy new year to Alison and everyone else! Hope your 2020 is bright and filled with joy.

  13. CmdrShepard4ever*

    Does the timeline for update #3 seem off to anyone? The original letter came up in the October 2018 podcast, they already had the job at the time. But in the update they say:

    ” I’ve been here about 5 months now and while I’ve gotten the hang of the majority of my job responsibilities, I never feel like any of my tasks are really “complete”.”

    How have they only been there for 5 months if the letter originally ran 14 months ago?

    1. techRando*

      Some of these were sent to Alison many months ago and saved so she could basically take December off.

      (Which I’m happy she can do, and selfishly also happy that I can still get my AAM fix while she gets that time off!)

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          Ah I see now. Enjoy the well deserved time off. As good as you are you have not solved the problem of bad bosses/coworkers/employers and 2020 will bring plenty more fun!
          Happy New Year Alison and everyone else!

          I will have a drink to atleast another 10 years of AAM!

        2. Elaine Benes*

          I just want to say, I LOVE UPDATE MONTH. It’s my favorite time of year! And I’m so glad you get some well-deserved time off. This is the ultimate win-win :)

    2. Ann Onny Muss*

      I hope to see an update to this update in the (hopefully) not-so-distant future. (And preferably, that update will be LW got a new job that pays well and has a great work-life balance.)

  14. Sara without an H*

    I am sorry if you feel that we have created an insensitive environment.

    Talk about a non-apology apology…OP#1, you are well out of there. Take that job off your resume, and good luck in the new position.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      My only question is how many more people are going to “step away” from Frank after his actions at the competition.

      Let’s hope lots of people believe him after he showed them all who he really was, and he starts his struggle to be “famous and adored athlete Frank.”

      1. tangerineRose*

        “how many more people are going to “step away” from Frank after his actions at the competition.” The people with good sense will. I hope that’s most of them.

  15. Sara without an H*

    LW#3: Sometimes just the knowledge that you’re on your way out helps to relieve stress. You now have a more accurate picture of what jobs would be a good fit for you. It might help to start preparing some questions for sussing out what the culture is like in jobs you interview for. (There are several examples in the AAM archives, but I have today off, and I’m too lazy to go look up the links.)

    Anyway, best of luck in your job search.

  16. hayling*

    OP #3, do you *have* to work overtime? If the job is not what you signed up for and you are looking to leave, can you just work 40 hours and finish only what you can do in that time?

  17. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #1
    “I am sorry if you feel that we have created an insensitive environment. You have shed a lot of light on how this office can communicate in the future.”

    Gotta love the non-apology. Just proved you were right to leave there. I’m so glad you got out of there, OP!

    1. Ann Onny Muss*

      “I’m sorry you’re offended by the fact we’re a bunch of jerks. I’m also sorry we got caught. We’ll try to hide it better next time.”

      I was also struck by the fact that LW’s coworkers weren’t just being asses about her performance but things like her weight. That took the WTF-ness to a whole new level.

  18. bluephone*

    If nothing else, LW 1 has even more proof–in black and white text, from the horse’s mouth–of how much that “company” sucked at like, everything. Professionalism, common human decency, etc. I’d bet a nice teapot that they’re likely all terrible at their jobs and/or the business itself is in permanently in the red (or at least, very close to being in the red with no hope of recovering). Jackasses like these can certainly fail upwards but usually, it all comes crashing down eventually (until they find the next victim).

    TLDR: LW1’s former employer still sucks.

  19. ThursdaysGeek*

    #3 makes me a bit sad – if you’re overworked and don’t have a decent work/life balance, then quit working so much, quit caring more than your boss does, move some of that pain to your boss, where it belongs. You can let your boss know that the work has become too much, and you’re going to cut back. And then do so. When work doesn’t get done, then it’s on your boss to figure out a solution. But the solution isn’t killing yourself with work.

    1. RB*

      Yes, it’s a matter of assessing what you can do in a normal work week and laying out for your boss what you’ll have to give up. You can give them options of doing say, X, Y, & Z, or A, B, & X, and then letting them come up with a plan. That’s their job, after all.

    2. Ann Onny Muss*

      I wonder if LW’s boss is like managers I’ve seen who intentionally understaff because they think it makes them look good. “I’m such a great manager. I have 3 people doing the work of 10.”

  20. Iris Eyes*

    LW#3 As you start to gain some traction in your search what if you started setting some boundaries and pushing back? You are actually allowed to do that. If they are already short staffed and can’t hire someone then its not likely that they are going to fire you just because you draw a line. And as you are already looking so what if they fire you?

  21. Trek*

    OP2 It sounds like Frank is showing everyone his true colors and literally doesn’t believe the rules or cancellation policies apply to him. I think you have a way out and I would continue to keep your distance.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Yup – this is the sort of person who continually gets a polite “so sorry that doesn’t work” fade into the sunset, with the answer always variants on the theme of too busy, doesn’t work for our schedule, etc, etc.

  22. anon4this*

    “I am sorry if you feel that we have created an insensitive environment. You have shed a lot of light on how this office can communicate in the future.”
    I would’ve responded: “Don’t worry, my glassdoor review will let others know what sort of “environment” to expect. Here’s to hoping you don’t get blinded by the light!”
    Seriously OP, I’m glad you’re in a much better workplace now, thanks for the update!

    1. AKchic*

      I wouldn’t even warn them of the glassdoor review. Just post it, complete with their emailed response admitting that they did it and the non-apology that essentially admits that they will continue doing it to the next person (victim).

  23. Wherehouse Politics*

    This isn’t necessarily advice, just what I’d personally do regarding OP#: I’d immediately follow up with that reply from her employers that “I’m sorry that YOU feel xyz” is not a proper apology. They are apologizing for her (and implied) faulty perception and reaction of what had happened, not truly apologizing for their crappy, insensitive, unprofessional behavior. Then I’d connect that passive non-apology-apology back to their passively admitted faults in communication as yet another one, then say my version of good day, I mean GOOD DAY SIR.

  24. Former Employee*

    It always amazes me when I read about a group of supposedly grown people ganging up on someone. Then I remember what goes on at the rallies held by the current POTUS and I’m not as surprised.

    Separately, Happy New Year to all. And here is a link to a video of Mairi Campbell singing “Auld Lang Syne”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_GYCZGwUZuw. (For SATC fans, it was her version playing in the background when Carrie was dashing through the snow going over to Miranda’s on New Year’s Eve in the first SATC movie.)

  25. PopJunkie42*

    LW #3 – your response here could’ve been written by me. It’s a bit uncanny. I’m about 7 months into a job with a crazy workload and no balance. It’s also opened up my eyes. Has been hard to struggle with “do I just need to accept this and work harder?” but fortunately I have enough experience to know that other positions aren’t like this. I am also looking at part-time work (30 hours) and work-from-home situations because of it! While I’m a hard worker and have prioritized moving up and up and up in my career, now I’m realizing I’d prefer to have something manageable that I can leave at the end of the day. Best of luck with your search and don’t feel bad at all about leaving it behind…

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