updates: the coworker who lashes out, the dunce caps, and more

It’s the last week of “where are you now?” time at Ask a Manager, where I run updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are five updates from past letter-writers.

1. How patient do I need to be with a coworker with mental health issues who lashes out at me?

Around when my letter was posted, I left Minerva’s assistant Ted a thank you post it for a task he helped me with. Minerva was furious. She said I had to check with her before communicating with Ted. This is not the first time she’s been territorial with “her” direct reports.

I confess I completely lost my shit at this point. Minerva seemed genuinely shocked by my reaction, particularly when I told her to stop being a bully (she said she never bullied anyone – lol).

Afterwards I went straight to my boss to hand in my resignation. I found myself sick with stress from constantly worrying if some small thing I did or said had offended Minerva. It didn’t help that my boss expected me to be careful to avoid conflicts; rather than simply telling Minerva to stop being a jerk.

My boss offered me paid sick leave to deal with all the accumulated work stress. After some therapy I realised I do want to stay in my job, but trying to work things out with Minerva was no longer an option. So as a condition of me staying in the company I no longer work with Minerva in any capacity. I have blocked Minerva’s number. So no more panicking when I see her name on my phone.

One of the reasons why I struggled to draw firm boundaries with Minerva was because – well, I have a young child with mental health episodes. I felt compassion for Minerva’s struggles with keeping emotions in check. But I also realise it’s wrong to excuse her behaviour for this reason. It was helpful to read comments from AAM community who had their own mental health battles; but clearly did not expect others to accept abusive behaviour. Thank you for posting my letter, and the input from commenters. My work life is so much easier now that I don’t have to tip toe to avoid Minerva’s outbursts.

2. How do I escape an exit interview with my terrible boss? (#2 at the link)

Your feedback and the readers’ feedback really helped me to better assess the situation and my options. As several commenters requested for this, here is the update.

Unfortunately, there is no happy end – well, except for the fact that I am finally starting the new job next week! Notice periods here are really long and the last three and a half months have been really difficult to get through sanely at work.

Good news first. The forced feedback meeting actually never took place – I guess, my boss came to some sense at least.

Bad news is that he not only ignored my feedback – he wrote me a really bad final internal evaluation and used every piece of feedback I gave to show me that I am so wrong and my whole approach to work and life and everything is bad. To give you an example of the ridiculousness of this: I do not take responsibility or make decisions since I always want to discuss with the relevant subject matter experts for any major new concept and not with him (who is new to this field and not interested in any details at all). I am not courageous to make mistakes since I complain about him letting inexperienced people completely mess up important projects for our customers (and also talk to other people and expect others to do the same for major decisions – such a strange approach in a strongly collaborative, highly complex environment apparently that this can be used against me twice). I suck at training people because I give them feedback when they are taking the wrong direction and do not just let them waste hundreds of hours billed to the customer to invent a square wheel.

I could go on and on – this is so ridiculous. I just hope that HR and any future boss will see through this as in some points he is contradicting his own past evaluation from 5 months ago and actually just promoted me right before I quit. Overall he is smart though – most of the ridiculousness was delivered verbally with the written evaluation only containing generic statements about my deficiencies. I am so happy that I only have to suffer in this toxic environment three more days. It has really screwed up my brain though in the ways you have already described in some previous posts – it will take me some time to not be on the watch the whole time and document every step of every important interaction.

3. My boss doesn’t seem to want my husband to visit me on a work trip

It’s been a bit over a year since I wrote in in a panic about a request I had made to meet my family dog along with my husband on a work trip, and I know everyone loves updates so I thought I’d write in.

Unfortunately, your reply was posted while I was on my work-trip, so I wasn’t able to implement your advice before the weekend of work. I definitely learned a lot from your advice, and the readers comments. Most importantly: it’s not standard procedure to have significant others with on a work-trip. I had thought from my previous employment (admittedly dysfunctional) that this was standard, not a special request or something above and beyond. I see now I was wrong-headed in my thinking, and will take this as a learning experience.

I was, thankfully, able to apologize profusely to my boss after returning back to the office, and, mostly, mitigate the damage I had done. My contract was extended twice, until funding was down to nothing, so I like to think I was doing something right.

I believe some, if not all, of my bad decision making in this case came from the fact that my marriage was unraveling, and I was desperately trying to pretend it wasn’t. I am now (quite happily) divorced and happier than I every have been, or every thought I could be. I now know to put more separation between work and personal life. Thank you again to you and your readers for all your help!

4. Low performers in my office are paraded around and forced to wear dunce caps

It’s been a while since my dunce cap days, but I thought the readers might appreciate an update. I was fired from the dunce cap tech company and taken a job at a nonprofit. My new job was a 10% pay cut (though with better benefits) and I was unsure of how it would work out because I’d never worked at a nonprofit before.

I’m happy to report that everything worked out better than expected. Not only was my new workplace normal and sane, but it ended up being a great environment for me and I found out that I really love working at a nonprofit. In my first year here I was able to expand the program I manage in a way that was beneficial for both the company and the community we serve and I ended up getting a 15% raise because of it.

Thanks to the really good medical benefits provided by this job, my husband and I were able to seriously consider starting a family and now our first child is due in the spring! We’ve decided to relocate closer to family and I will be leaving this job after the baby is born. My boss was disappointed when I told him but only had positive things to say about me and my work in his recommendations. Because of this, I already have a job lined up at nonprofit in our new city that I’ll start after maternity leave– and it’s a majority remote position with flexible hours.

Thanks Alison and commenters for being the voices of reason when I was trapped in the dunce cap hellscape and for your well wishes upon my escape. I’m chalking this whole experience up to “everything happens for a reason” and am looking forward to the professional and parenthood challenges that await me in my new city.

Update to the update:

Somehow my husband and I survived a cross-country move with a new baby! My maternity leave ended in September and I started at the new nonprofit that month. Onboarding during the end of the year has been a little chaotic but I feel like I’ve got my feet under me and am looking forward to leading a few new projects in 2020. My daughter is now 8 months old (how?!?) and, in my very biased opinion, is the sweetest baby ever. Life’s good!

{ 104 comments… read them below }

  1. MJ*

    #1 – I’m appalled that there hasn’t been any repercussions for Minerva and her behaviour – and that, obviously, the bad management persists.

    1. jm*

      i agree. it must be so demoralizing for employees to watch minerva get away with everything short of murder to the point where management changes other people’s jobs to avoid her abuse rather than cut her loose. i wouldn’t be surprised if concerns about liability had a role in keeping them inactive, but isn’t this why PIPs exist?

    2. Apocrypha Apocalyptica*

      Yes, I agree. It’s really bad practice that management are allowing LW to move roles instead of dealing with Minerva. The whole thing is just…icky.

      I feel like LW might actually work in my place of employment, though. Sadly, there is more than one employer who behaves like this and mine is one of them.

    3. Kendra*

      Agreed. I’d never claim managing someone with mental health issues is easy, but speaking from the side of the employee with those issues, you’re not doing them any favors by letting them run off the rails like this, even aside from what it’s doing to the rest of your staff.

      When I’m having a depressive episode, I generally have to look outside myself to recalibrate to normal thoughts and behavior, because my brain is lying to me about what constitutes “normal.” If Minerva has a similar issue, and she’s not been getting any useful outside feedback on the way she treats her coworkers, she’d likely have an extremely difficult time noticing it or correcting it.

      (This is not to say Minerva’s not responsible for her own behavior, just that management pretending it’s not happening makes it even worse for everyone, including her.)

    4. Lena Clare*

      It’s also bad that the LW completely “lost her shit”. Things should never have gotten to that stage. Maybe Minerva’ s behaviour got to where it is because of work stresses and nothing was ever done to support her either, so now here we are that both of them are behaving completely inappropriately.
      Management here are appalling.

      1. The Supreme Troll*

        No, things should never have gotten to this point, but the OP should have “lost her shit” on Minerva much sooner! I know this sounds rough, but I tend to believe much more that Minerva has been coddled rather than left unsupported. I say this because in her responses, she comes across as very oblivious to her communication.

      2. Observer*

        Please, let’s not blame the victim here. And it does not matter how or why Minerva got to that point. Her behavior is totally unacceptable. Also, despite the over the top “apologies” she clearly does not see that her behavior is unacceptable. And management is NOT taking effective measures to reign her in.

        1. Vicky Austin*

          As someone who has personally experienced mental health issues, I disagree that she doesn’t realize her behavior is inappropriate. When mentally ill people have outbursts of the type that Minerva has, they are not thinking rationally. They know their behavior is wrong, but their mental illness takes over to the point that they can’t control it. It’s only after they’ve calmed down that they realize how inappropriate they are. They are often embarrassed and ashamed by their behavior, which explains why Minerva kept apologizing. People with mental illness such as her do not like having outbursts any more than you like being the recipient of her anger. But in the moment, they genuinely can’t control themselves any more than they can control themselves not to throw up when they’ re sick to their stomach.

          1. Anonymous at a University*

            Yeah, but Minerva is also not taking any steps to correct this problem, such as looking for therapy, since the outbursts keep happening, and she also was taken aback by the OP snapping at her, which seems to indicate that she believes everyone should just put up with it. I would understand, in that situation, that she can’t help it, but I also wouldn’t think I have to put up with being bullied because she “can’t help the bullying.” I would speak to my supervisor and try to do something like the OP has done, or else start a job search, because that would negatively impact MY mental health. My own health is a lot more important to me than sympathy for someone who just keeps on lashing out at other people.

            1. Greta*

              We don’t know that Minerva isn’t going to therapy. She might very well be. I agree that the workplace isn’t handling it right, but I don’t recall reading that Minerva isn’t trying to get help. Mental illness takes a long time to heal. It’s not like she can just make an appointment with a therapist and she will immediately be cured.

              1. Anonymous at a University*

                That’s true, but it still doesn’t change my stance from, “What Minerva is doing [whether therapy or not] is not working, and she needs to change it, rather than expect everyone else to put up with her outbursts.” I really don’t like the implication that because Minerva MAY realize she’s not reacting appropriately and she MAY be taking steps to correct it, no one should be able to do anything in response or have a negative reaction while her issue drags and on. For that matter, Minerva has no idea who around her has a mental issue or trauma that is exacerbated by her screaming, but she obviously isn’t letting that stop her.

                1. Working Hypothesis*

                  “Isn’t letting that stop her” isn’t necessarily an accurate picture of the situation. “Doesn’t have a whole lot of self-control in these moments,” is probably closer. That *still* doesn’t mean it’s wrong for other people to react unhappily or angrily to her, or refuse to work with her, or fire her for that matter — her employers should have taken a much harder stance on her behavior a long time ago, and let her go if she couldn’t rein it in better, because ADA compliance does not require that you allow someone to abuse your other employees on the regular.

                  My objection is simply to the false statement “Yeah, but Minerva isn’t taking any steps to correct the problem.” According to the LW, Minerva is. You’re right that it doesn’t change the responsibilities of the office to keep her from attacking other staff while she deals with it, but if you’re going to claim something directly contrary to the facts in the letter, I’m going to say so.

              2. Working Hypothesis*

                As a matter of fact, the original letter to which this is an update said explicitly, “I believe Minerva is undergoing mental health treatment.” While we do not know exactly what information leads the LW to believe this, policy here is to believe the letter writers about the facts of the situation. And the LW thinks Minerva *is* getting treatment. As you say, it can take a long time to get better.

          2. Mr. Tyzik*

            I don’t think you can make a blanket statement about how people feel and what they know. My experience in a prolonged manic episode was different in that I thought I was normal and everyone else was toxic. Turned out I was the toxic one and didn’t know it. Took a couple team changes, a hospitalization, and therapy to figure it out. That was 4 years ago and I’m in a much happier place but I still ache over the damage.

            I find empathy with Minerva in that she may not know what she is doing. I don’t absolve her, she just may be stuck in disordered patterns like I was and is in need of help; unfortunately she needs to come to that realization somehow and it may be a hard one.

            1. Greta*

              I don’t absolve her, either. Her mental illness is an explanation, not an excuse. The fact that she apologizes profusely every single time indicates that she knows she is behaving inappropriately. I am glad to hear that your mental illness has been cured.

      3. Turtle Candle*

        Hm, while I agree (and I think nobody else would) that nobody should be pushed to the point of ‘losing their shit’ at work, I think that the implicit equation of both of them as ‘completely inappropriate’ is unfair to the LW. Lashing out at coworkers on the regular is not at all the same as “I was being yelled and abused for weeks or months and finally snapped.” I agree that management really failed, but there’s a big difference between “I lash out whenever anyone does anything I dislike or even implies criticism” and “I finally got fed up with the person who calls me a useless liar and gets angry when I send a thank you note.”

        I think most people at some point in their lives have lost their temper, but that’s very different than consistently, chronically doing so and taking it out on everyone around you.

        1. Collywood*

          I agree. I worked for a guy who acted a like like Minerva is described. Unreasonable outbursts followed by ridiculously friendly, apologetic behavior. I finally snapped, started crying, yelled back at him and said I was leaving for the day. I don’t feel bad about that. (Hated that I cried, though.) I don’t think we should hold people to a must be professional all the time no matter what the provocation standard. Especially when they are dealing with clearly abusive behavior.

        2. Turtle Candle*

          Oh good lord I hate meaning-changing brain-os. The parenthetical in the first sentence should be ‘and I think everybody else would.’

    5. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I’m horrified that Minerva has and still has direct reports. If she is this terrible to a peer, imagine someone under her power? I’m glad the OP is away from her, but feel terrible for Tony and everyone who works for her.

      1. The Supreme Troll*

        Yes, I deeply sympathize with the misfortune of those working under Minerva. I think the company has bent way, way, way too backwards out of fear of a lawsuit for discrimination. But, like I had said earlier in August, the company only needs to make reasonable accommodations that will allow Minerva to do her job at 100%. Beyond that, the company isn’t expected to compromise with Minerva on anything else…obviously, including abusive behavior of any sort!

    6. Rebecca*

      Right? I work with a more muted version of Minerva, but still – management will never reign her in, and joke to just ignore her nasty gram emails (as in, reply all, include upper management, shed bad light on situations that could be used as a teaching moment, but instead simply belittling and embarrassing people instead). I’m over her crap, and made up my mind, the next time I get a nasty gram from her, I’m going to call her out on it, replying all on the same email. My manager advises not doing this, as it will just make things worse, and I’ve said over and over that people like this need to be dealt with and not allowed to run roughshod over everyone and anyone because “that’s just how they are”. Enough already.

    7. Jules the 3rd*

      I’m glad it’s better for you, OP, really, deeply glad – you deserve it.

      But your boss sucks and isn’t going to change. You might want to make sure you’re watching for other flags of dysfunction.

    8. kittymommy*

      I’m horrified that Minerva and her behavior has not been dealt with. I’m happy for the LW but what about those who actually work for this woman (or may not have the authority/ability to achieve the same type of allowance that the LW has been given)? This woman is a bully and maybe this is going to come off as mean, but have mental health issues does not excuse that!

    9. Bunny Girl*

      I’m always appalled but never surprised. It’s been my experience that no matter how awful a coworker behaves, they somehow never lose their job. I don’t think enough people/managers are comfortable having the hard conversations and then following up with consequences for people who just act like wild animals. It’s really sad and it’s certainly made me wonder why I bother.

    10. New Job So Much Better*

      I’ve seen that happen at a prior job– the difficult person had something on one of the senior execs.

    11. The other Louis*

      I work somewhere that is (not) dealing with a Minerva. It is neither kind nor ethical to say that the solution is for Minerva to rein herself in. She can’t. But it’s just as unkind and unethical to say other people have to put up with it–Minerva doesn’t want to be this way.

      Management needs to put in some guardrails for Minerva–set up what amount to codewords for her (“If someone says ‘X,’ you need to end the conversation and resume it when you can do so professionally.”) and rules (“Do not call anyone after work.”).

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        Minerva doesn’t want to be this way, but the responsibility for how she is behaving is on her, not on anyone else. Sometimes, you have responsibility for things you can’t control and that sucks, but it still doesn’t give you license to pass off the responsibility onto anybody else.

        I’ve got a chronic illness that causes me to miss more days, and sometimes do less work on a given day, than most people do. I’ve been fired from jobs because I couldn’t keep up with their needs before, and it was no fun, but it was also entirely their right and responsibility to do. No matter how sick I am, I am still responsible for getting my work done and treating the other employees right. On the occasions when they could afford to give me some slack, they did; when I was working in a place which couldn’t afford to do that because they needed more work out of me than I could give them, they let me go. That was no fun, but it was still the right thing for them to do. All it meant was that I, with the particular needs I have, wasn’t a good fit for that job.

        If Minerva can’t control her behavior, then she’s not a good fit for any job which involves having reports or working closely with colleagues. She’d do better in a work-from-home situation or one which allowed her a private office and tasks that didn’t interact with other staff very often. Behaving decently to other staff members is absolutely a legitimate “core function” of any job which interacts with other staff members in the first place; and if you cannot perform a core function of the job, they can and should fire you without the ADA entering into the picture. Reasonable accommodations don’t include letting you beat up other human beings, whether physically or verbally.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Yes. I used to volunteer for a nonprofit that quite rightly and appropriately prioritized accessibility. This is a wonderful thing and I applaud it and encourage it wherever I volunteer. But… they had a person who really wanted to be a coder, and she had some coding chops, so they brought her in to work on a chunk of the website code–a one-person job, but one that by definition had to integrate with the rest of the website code.

          Her anxiety was very bad. (I have anxiety myself, so I am sympathetic.) It was so bad that she could not work with the other teams because their asking her for information freaked her out (she was afraid her answer would be wrong; a kind of intense imposter syndrome) and she couldn’t work with QA (she took bug reports too harshly and, again, freaked out). Her freakouts weren’t abusive, they were more on the lines of shame spiral meltdowns, but it made it impossible to work with her. She could deal with request for information or bug reports if she was handled with kid gloves, but not if they weren’t shrouded in layers of reassurance, and while nobody was mean on the bug report system, they were pretty straightforward (“On Chrome this button overlaps with the border”) which was more blunt than she could handle. She was, based on conversations she was a part of, getting therapy of some kind, but she still couldn’t deal with normal interteam or QA conversations.

          One of the people in charge decided that the way to manage her was to take her off the bug report system, take her off the chats and emails, and be… for lack of a better word, her handler. She would take the stuff they asked for/told her about and soften it like crazy and present it, and then bring back any other information to the team/respond to the bug reports/etc. herself. This was absolutely an act of attempted kindness. She didn’t want to say to the mentally ill, extremely eager and well-meaning, coder, “we’re taking this project away from you because you can’t handle the required amount of feedback.”

          Shocking no one, when the rollout happened, it was buggy as all hell. Because she couldn’t do the job. It’s not that she was a bad person, or deserved bad things to happen to her, or wasn’t trying, or didn’t mean well. She just couldn’t do a chunk of website code because she couldn’t interact with the team without freezing up or bursting into tears over very standard things. She was quietly taken off the project and assigned a project that was lower profile and less mission-critical; I’m not sure what happened after that. (We found out later that she’d gotten her coding skills, which were pretty good, in a highly unusual three-man shop that actually required very little in the way of team interaction.)

          I hope she got some help, but yeah. At some point… you can’t accommodate. I don’t mean legally (although that’s also a consideration, but one for staff lawyers), I just mean, at some point, you can’t do the job. In that case, the job included ‘working with other developers and QA.’ In this case, it means ‘not lashing out at people (especially when you have direct reports, yikes).’

      2. Observer*

        I think you are putting some inappropriate responsibility on management. Also, you have no idea if this will even work.

    12. Prof. Space Cadet*

      None of us work with Minerva or the LW, so it’s Just speculation on our part about why management is responding the way they are.

      I will say that the LW’s description is a huge red flag to me. The fact that the company didn’t accept the LW’s offered resignation and accepted the “no contact with Minerva” as a condition of their return suggests to me that management recognizes Minerva as the source of the problem. That’s very weird.

  2. MJ*

    #4 – Congratulations on the update… and congratulations on the update to the update. Wonderful news!

    1. Observer*

      Yes, this is as good as it gets. We all knew that the old workplace was never going to change, so I’m happy you got out and are doing well.

  3. Bonnie McMurray*

    I’m still not really comfortable that having your significant other piggybacking on your business trip is in any way inappropriate.

    1. Bonnie McMurray*

      To whit, my 23 year old roommate at a national accounting firm got me to tag along on her business trip for the weekend because it was the same cost as her flying home anyway.

    2. Daisy*

      I don’t understand what OP ‘apologised profusely’ for at all. Seems very normal to me. If there’s an evening business dinner or late work then the boss can let her know that, but beyond that I can’t see the issue.

    3. Np*

      Same here. In fact, we are actively encouraged to ask our significant others if they want to come along because a) we work long hours anyway and hardly get to see them, and this is a way of seeing them in the evenings, and b) the hotel room is usually a double room anyway, so the significant other only has to pay for flights and food. I was also encouraged to accompany my SO on a business trip he had to go on for the same reasons (he works at a different place). Different strokes for different folks, I guess!

    4. Kendra*

      After going back and reading some of the original comments, it looks like most of the concern was because the OP was really new to the company (I think it said she’d only been there two weeks?), so she wouldn’t know what was normal for her company yet, and her boss had no way of knowing how big of a distraction the SO and dog would be for her. It wasn’t so much, “never bring someone along on a work trip,” as it was “find out what’s normal first, and make sure you’re focusing on work.”

      1. Sunflower*

        This is totally what I think too. I think since it was a first work trip, the boss wasn’t really sure what OP’s plans were.

        I tend to keep any plans while traveling for work to myself. I know I’m going to do the job I’m there to do- so no one needs to know if I’m going back to my hotel to sleep or meeting up with a friend afterwards when I say I need to jet off.

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        If I recall correctly, it also wasn’t “Hey boss, will there be any kind of networking or other events during our non-meeting time on this trip? Because I was thinking about having Husband and Dog come for a visit during our downtime, but I won’t if I’ll be needed for other things during that time,” it was “Hey boss, I have decided that Husband and Dog will be coming along for part of this trip.” Which is a gutsy thing to do if you’re new to the workplace and don’t know what all your business trips will entail yet.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s not that universal though. Some companies are all in for taking a spouse or buddy, others simply aren’t.

      The OP assumed it was fine and the boss in turn was annoyed by their plans. I think that was what the apology was for most of all. The “I should have asked and not told, it won’t happen again.”

      I’ve tagged along on work trips with various companions. So I’m pro- take your spouse/ someone but that doesn’t mean it’s okay for every business trip scenario.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Yeah, my husband occasionally brought me and our young kids (when he had conferences in Orlando, where the kids’ only great grandparent lived) or later me alone, but he was very much a known quantity at that point.

        At some companies, it is Not Done. At other, it’s unremarkable once they know you aren’t going to be citing “the needs of my family” as a reason to cut out on work stuff they expected their traveling employee to handle. Don’t ask until you both know each other well enough to be confident of this, and then ask-don’t-tell until you’ve been directed that you just have to tell Sally whenever this happens so she can make sure the hotel booking is for 2 people.

      2. Lemon Zinger*

        At my last employer, a colleague sometimes brought her boyfriend with her on work trips (driving in the company vehicle!) and she would have been fired if she was ever caught. I don’t think they do this anymore but it’s an extremely risky thing to do, and not worth it IMO.

        1. Artemesia*

          In my experience was that appearances were key. A new person just shouldn’t do this. You don’t want to give the impression as someone who uses her position to grift. Are trips scheduled because they take her to her hometown to see family? Is she neglected the informal aspects of networking on business trips because she is off with family?

          Once you have a reputation of being effective and ethical, people tend not to care about this sort of thing. But two weeks in and already figuring how to use the position for personal gain? bad look.

    6. Batgirl*

      Yeah I kind of still agree with the OP’s initial assessment that her boss reacted weirdly. Alison’s descriptions of more typical reactions: ‘fine but there may be some dinners you need to attend’ are much better than ‘now you’re going to make me feel rushed’.
      I can’t really get on board with the idea that a boss owns you 24 hours a day during a trip to the extent you aren’t given a schedule, hints or any indication of when your off hours are going to be. Even if you werent having a guest, you might plan to meet a friend for dinner or buy tickets for something.

    7. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

      I got to sightsee in Chicago with my spouse because he said one day, we’re headed to the Windy City for a short conference and a lot of the guys are bringing their partners earlier for the weekend to get out the city. Wanna join in? So I did. Shared the hotel room, travelled back alone. (Don’t remember who paid for the ticked.) It was nice to see the city and eat authentic deep dish pizza.

      It’s not uncommon but you just need to check out the culture of where you are working first.

    8. Lynca*

      I think it’s really more about what the culture is for the workplace, what you have to do on a work trip, and not a judgment on whether it’s appropriate. I mean where I work, it would be out of sync to have your spouse come along on a typical work trip. We don’t have many work trips and when we do they’re typically for emergency problems which will have long/non-standard hours. A lot of people in my field don’t bring their spouses to anything except conferences, even then that’s not common.

      1. Daffy Duck*

        I think it must be a work culture thing. My employer has an annual work meeting (we are all remote) for all employees. They provide all meals and we usually go out as a group for dinner. We can stay home and attend remotely and we can eat dinners on our own, but socializing with the group is encouraged. I usually skip one dinner during the week but make sure to socialize at all the others.

        1. Mama Bear*

          Right, which OP didn’t know at the time, being so new. Here we wouldn’t typically bring a spouse. Work travel is typically as Lynca described and very client-focused.

    9. OP 3*

      This was my thought, this is why I love the advice on this website so much. My dad took us on work trips frequently growing up, and then at my job prior to the one I wrote in about it was expected, so it didn’t occur to me to ask rather than tell about my significant other and then ask about the dog (which was the part I thought was weird). I’m so thankful to this community because it made me realize that I WAS making an assumption, and that the weird reaction was because of having my now ex-spouse meet me there.

      I’m in SUCH a better place now then I was when I wrote my letter, and the advice on this website has helped me excel and get into a field that doesn’t expect you to work 30+ hours on weekend business trips. My ex was was always very discouraging of me switching fields and a large part of the reason I stayed in it. Basically the only thing I lost in the divorce that I miss is my dog.

    10. MCMonkeyBean*

      I definitely think it is a super normal thing to do, but I could understand if some companies prefer you to be more available. BUT I think most reasonable companies would say that if you are living apart from your spouse and they happen to be sending you near them, then of course you should get to see them. It would feel so weird NOT to take advantage of that imo.

  4. Camille McKenzie*

    Of course Minerva denied ever bullying anyone. These kind of people ALWAYS insist that they’ve never been anything but sweet as pie whenever they’re confronted about their abhorrent behavior.
    I’m equally unsurprised that she was shocked when the LW blew up at her. Bullies are always stunned when their victims stand up to them.

    1. Alternative Person*

      Been there. The maybe two times (over a decade plus of working) I’ve blown up at people who act all sweet and nice but were bullying/negging me they have been shocked, shocked, I tell you, fetch the fainting couch, because they were joking/just trying to be helpful/didn’t mean it that way/didn’t think it was an issue.

      (There was also a time in school, I had enough of a bully and hit him with something hard. Not only did he leave me alone from then on, the teacher told him off for lying.)

      1. Quill*

        Child me punched or kicked a lot of my problems, and they went away. (Most of them…)

        Adult me has learned that you can also hit them with a grey rock of “you get nothing from me, not even the time of day, for free.”

    2. Sara without an H*

      I’m ashamed to admit it, but once I blew up at someone who served on a committee I was chairing. He wasn’t a bully, exactly, just extremely negative and hypercritical of everyone. After too much time spent being empathetic and supportive, I, like the LW, totally lost my shit.

      He was floored. And after that he was much, much more cooperative and constructive.

      Looking back, I should have set boundaries much sooner. But damn — it felt good.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      I don’t think anyone goes around thinking “I am going to bully someone today.” They think “I am RIGHT.”

      (The flip side is the people who are told “you misspelt ‘thier’ in this and need to fix it” and hear “I am bullying you because I am mean.”) Everyone can be wrong!

      1. CoveredInBees*

        Yeah. I have two relatives who can be bullies. One has a strong sense of entitlement and thinks he’s being hilarious. The other just believes she is RIGHT and everyone should just listen and obey because she’s telling them what to do.

      2. Pieska Boryska*

        Actually, the flip side could definitely be bullying depending on how it’s handled. Publicly calling someone out in a large meeting versus privately correcting them.

      3. Torgo*

        People exist who bully others just because they can. This is not a comforting thought, I grant you, but we are not a comforting species.

  5. Ann O.*

    OP#3 — I’m glad your update was so positive, but I’m also perplexed as to what happened that you see your request as major bad behavior. I didn’t see the comment thread to your original post, so maybe this is going to lead to a going round in circles. But everywhere I’ve worked, there would be no issue with a significant other accompanying on a work trip, especially if the couple was doing a long-distance relationship.

    1. MicroManagered*

      Yeah that sounded like more of a simple miscommunication than a huge work error in judgment. I would not have even made a point of telling my manager what I planned to do with my free time while on a business trip. It’s none of his business.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      The objections were primarily due to the very short time–she’d only been there two weeks, so didn’t know their norms about family members on trips. And she told rather than asked–again, not the best approach when you don’t yet know the norms.

    3. OP 3*

      Hi! Yes, the comments on the original post were mostly objecting to the “telling” aspect (honestly, it genuinely did not occur to me that would not be the norm in every work place) and that I was assuming a lot being so new to the organization. Hence, the massive apologies when I got back.

      For more details, the company was very small and I was asked to come assist on a weekend business trip. It’s hard to explain without getting into details, but I knew for a fact I would be working from sunrise into the night because of the nature of the work we were doing (think of it like a large party where we were the only ones working). Also, it was only myself and the owner of the company who were there on business- so I think it added to the strange dynamic.

  6. Lena Clare*

    LW2: you’re probably well out of there now, thank goodness!, but I wonder if you weren’t able to use some of your PTO to cover the last few days or even simply…not go in?

    It might have been worthwhile to say to your boss “would it make sense to work the rest of my notice, or should I finish today?” kind of thing.

    God luck in your new job.

  7. Jasmine*

    Ah, the dunce cap place! That was the first post I ever read on AAM (and the crazy example I entice others with). So glad you got out of that house of bees!

  8. Coder von Frankenstein*

    2016: The year of dunce cap boss, chemo boss, and liver boss.

    I don’t know what was going on that year, but whatever it was, it was *bad*. What kind of year is it when dunce cap boss doesn’t even make the finals?

    1. Foreign Octopus*

      I’ve heard this theory floating around that 2016 was so bad because a bunch of time travellers came back to change things but accidentally made it worse.

      1. Sharkie*

        I think that the Cubs being good and winning the World Series created a hole in time and space….

        And the dunce cap thing still happens in 2020

      2. Matilda Jefferies*

        There’s that meme that goes “I’m not saying David Bowie was holding the entire fabric of the universe together but…*gestures wildly at everything*”

        I have to say, this theory makes as much sense as any other, when it comes to explaining 2016!

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          I just googled that (because that is basically my take on what is wrong with the world today) but only got hits that brought me right back here. Would you have a copy of this meme?

          There was also one rebuking Bowie for being such a trendsetter which I loved too.

    2. CoveredInBees*

      Yeah. The year 2016 tried to kill me in addition to all the other awful stuff that happened. Good riddance.

    3. Quill*

      2016 is, coincidentally, my only full calendar year in my own toxic job from hell… something was UP with 2016.

      1. Ali G*

        WTH 2016? That was also the year me ex-job hired the most awful person I ever worked for who ran me out of my job.

      2. Artemesia*

        Up until 2016, 1968 was the worst year I lived through. I am betting on the time traveler theory.

      3. Prof. Space Cadet*

        Heh. 2009 and 2010 were pretty hellish years for me professionally and every year since then has been better at work, even as the rest of the world has gone downhill. So maybe the time-travel thing is onto something.

  9. Persephone Underground*

    Read the original letter for #3 and I’m kinda confused that the LW views this as such a big deal and as something she shouldn’t have even asked. Umm- Alison’s response said it was a totally normal thing to request? Not awful judgement or anything! A few comments said it shouldn’t have been asked at all, and that seemed heavily dependent on culture at specific jobs or in particular industries. Others said they’d never worked anywhere that would have a problem with it! It seems the LW was thrown by the more negative comments and by Alison’s assessment that it should be handled a bit differently into the other extreme, thinking this was so awful! It’s not! It’s totally normal to do something like this, but should still be handled carefully and requested ahead if time with an eye to what kind of availability you’ll need (though honestly, if I’m off the clock it’s none of my company’s business what I do if it doesn’t effect them in any way- I could invite a llama into my hotel room because they’re cute as long as the hotel doesn’t care and I don’t bother my neighbors). But, LW3, don’t beat yourself up for making a relatively normal request, even if you could have handled it a bit better!

    1. OP 3*

      Thank you! I apologized normally after the letter was posted, and then profusely after my direct supervisor sat me down to make sure I understood the importance of proper communications around work trips, at which point I realized it was a VERY big deal to the boss on the trip/owner of the company (one in the same). It was really eye opening to me not to make any assumptions about work culture based on previous workplaces. Lesson learned, I’m in a much better place now in every way imaginable!

  10. J*

    I’m a little confused by OP4. The previous letter said they were in the top 5 and were given cash prizes. This letter says they were fired. Now I’m wondering what happened.

    1. WellRed*

      Well, one doesn’t have to have anything to do with the other. And at a place with this level of dysfunction, nothing surprises me.

    2. PB*

      There was a previous update (link to follow). Basically, they’d tried to push back against the dunce caps. Management got pissed off and fired them.

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I went back and read the original post as well. That job sounded like it was full of angry bees and super subjective – so you could be a top performer one week and a “dunce” the next. The being fired didn’t seem all that shocking to me in that context.

  11. Can I Give You Some Feedback?*

    OP#2. I swear we might have had the same boss. I saw your original letter when I had a similar problem and searched this site for advise. As much as it sucks, your situation helped me get through mine. I followed Allison’s advice to you through the THREE “feedback” meetings after I had already put in notice. I know it might be too late since you said you start soon but if you had time before your new job try booking a spa day just for you.

    Good luck in your next position but remember to keep your eyes open. Your current workplace is so bad that the next job might seem like upgrading from a donkey to a horse when you really need a car. Took me one more job change to get the car.

    1. Op2*

      I am a bit late to this since currently on vacation.. So sad that this is so common! I indeed had a two weeks vacation before starting the new job (yay!) and it still took me quite some time to be able to not mistrust everyone. That is something I already read here, too – bad jobs and experiences really start to mess you up more than you expect.

  12. Observer*

    #1 – You say that you have good management, but I really have to wonder about that. I totally get a company that wants to support someone with mental health issues. But it’s simply NOT ok to allow that to spill over into abuse of other people. The fact that everyone is tiptoeing around her is bad. The fact that she has ANY authority over anyone else is appalling.

    By the way, this could be a useful experience for you as well. People can be judgemental and unfair about mental health. On the other hand, unfortunately, there are people who will insist that teaching and enforcing appropriate behavior in people who have mental health issues or who are neuro-atypical is somehow bad. This is a perfect illustration of why this is bad advice. If you want someone to be able to function effectively in the world they NEED to behave appropriately with people. Of I’m not referring to things that are simply convention with no effect on others. But, the basics of how you treat others.

    Think about it – Even in this job, Minerva may very well wind up doing this to the wrong person, and then all bets will be off. And she’ll almost certainly never be able to move on because who is going to hire someone with such terrible behavior? I also have no doubt that it’s affecting personal relationships as well.

    I realize that you know all this. But sometimes the pressure from well meaning people can be hard – especially when it’s coming from people who REALLY should know better. Having this image in your back pocket can be helpful.

  13. Quill*

    Mostly happy news! I missed some of these but I would like to extend this bit of advice to the LW who is thankfully no longer dealing with Minerva: The responsibility to be compassionate about someone else’s mental health stops at the edge of your own mental health bubble. Diagnosis or not, if you’re feeling sick when you see someone’s name? Interaction with them needs to be removed for your own health!

  14. Anonymous at a University*

    OP 1, I’m glad you were able to get away from that situation, even though it would be much better if the management would just speak to Minerva. I hate when the people in charge just want to ignore this situation. I worked with someone in graduate school who lashed out at people, screamed insults based on race and gender, and grabbed someone and shook it, and we (graduate students) were told we had to put up with it because, “Well, she’s pregnant, and pregnancy hormones are doing this to her, she can’t help it, and she’ll stop once she has the baby.” It’s like, no, I’m sorry, pregnancy does not magically make someone into a bigot who wasn’t already or give you a get out of jail free card for every situation. Then she slapped an undergraduate and the administration booted her out of the program immediately. I always resented that they didn’t care enough to protect graduate students from her and essentially just told us that, “Well, but the precious pregnant lady!”

  15. Hold That Thought*

    LW2 – It is still an internal transfer you took, right? If so, I think you should consider writing a rebuttal to the negative review you received and have HR put it in your file.

    1. Op2*

      Yes, I thought about this a lot (and actually asked another manager for advice about this). The main problem is that my former boss is really too clever. Everything he put in writing is so vague that it is really hard to counter. I decided that it is best to rely on the fact that every smart person will wonder why his (and previous) reviews of my performance was so much more favorable before my decision to leave… Luckily we have regular, formal performance reviews.

  16. Late to the game*

    I wouldn’t have realized asking to meet up with the dog/husband was inappropriate either, OP! Everywhere I’ve worked (small nonprofits) treated the rare work trip like a vacation and family almost always came along, especially if we had a single rooms! And where I am in academia, totally normal. So this was really interesting to read!

    1. virago*

      I think it was more a matter of a) OP #3 being new at that job, and NewJob not knowing how OP would handle the distraction and b) the fact that OP told her boss that her then-husband and dog would be visiting during the business trip — she didn’t ask her boss if they could visit.

  17. VALCSW*

    LW#2–I always look at situations like you just described as proof that you’re making the right decision to leave. Not that there was doubt, but his ‘assessment’ just reinforced that leaving was definitely the right thing to do. Good luck in your new job!

  18. Lalitah28*

    Regarding LW#1: this is basically a manifestation of management and HR failure.

    Although reasonable accommodations are required by ADA law, breach of professional conduct and work norms are not things that fall under reasonable accommodations. If an employee has conduct-related issues that remain unresolved, the ethical thing to do is to require an appropriate leave of absence to get that under control.

    You can do right by the person with mental illness and their colleagues. It isn’t a zero-sum game.

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