updates: none of my coworkers have contacted me after my layoff, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, when I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. None of my coworkers have contacted me after my layoff

I was the OP of the “none of my coworkers have contacted me after my layoff” post published 10/31/19. I appreciate it! Seeing that others went through the same experience was healing in itself. Though I never did hear from anyone in my department, I did keep in touch with a few others. I think it’s either human nature or our busy lives (or both) that cause people to disengage from relationships with those they no longer see on a daily basis – the wonderful exceptions being those rare bonds that form over something other than work.

I’ve been very fortunate to be hired by another company a couple months ago, with good people and a challenging position. This time, however, I’m careful not to read too much into work relationships. When the day comes that I leave (hopefully of my own accord!), I’ll have a better understanding of what and what not to expect. With time comes insight, and hard lessons are often the most valuable.

2. I can see a coworker doing work for me incorrectly over her shoulder — can I step in? (first update here)

I wanted to update you again on the situation with my [EX!] boss, after everyone’s lovely advice and empathy last time. I didn’t reply on the post, but reading everyone’s comments really helped me, so thank you.

First things first… I am no longer working for the crazy toddler boss! I’ve been in a new role for about a month now, back in the industry I started out in and missed dearly. I am a little overqualified for the role, but it’s a lovely place to work and I’m just grateful to be somewhere normal, with friendly coworkers and actual HR processes.

After I handed in my notice things got so much worse at Old Job. My manager gave me a list of 30 tasks to complete in my 4 weeks, I completed all of them other than 3 in less than 2 weeks [by the end, I completed almost double that]. When I told him that I wouldn’t be able to complete one task due to outside circumstances [the person I needed to speak to not being available], he flipped out, calling me lazy and saying that I was just making any excuse not to do any work at all. For the first time, I stood up for myself and pointed out just how much work I had been doing to get him, and the company, into a good position before I left.

The next morning, I came into the office and all my passwords had been changed. I couldn’t access my files, emails etc. My boss then proceeded to completely ignore me when I tried to speak to him about it – as in, he wouldn’t make eye contact and left the room whenever I approached him. It was pretty humiliating and I was ready to walk out, but his business partner intervened. They spoke privately, and I think his partner probably pointed out to him that he needed me, because no one else knew how to do most of the work I was doing. My boss then gave me back my passwords, called me into a meeting room and just acted like it had never happened! He asked what I needed to speak to him about, seemed totally confused about why I thought he was upset with me, and then just said it was a standard security process.

For my last two weeks we had no contact at all. His business partner stood in as my main manager, while he continued to refuse to speak to me unless he absolutely had to. At my leaving do he refused to buy me a drink because ‘I wouldn’t appreciate it’ [I couldn’t care less about this, it just seemed hilariously petty] and refused to shake my hand when I left, having hugged everyone else.

On my last day I had a meeting with his partner where I told him everything that had been going on, including screenshots of messages he had sent me. He was shocked and upset – he knew he had a temper, but didn’t realise how much was happening in private. I’ve since heard that he has reported Old Boss to their board of investors and he has been on best behaviour since then, though no one knows what action was actually taken, as his responsibilities have stayed the same. I expect he just got a warning.

Thanks again to you Alison and all of your commenters for your support. I’m still suffering from some of the after effects from this job – I get really panicky any time I think I might have done something wrong, even if it’s just a really standard or minor piece of feedback on some content. I’m working on it and things are looking up!

3. My boss punished me by removing the tools I need to do my job

My boss eventually gave me back my access and I continued to work there for another 5 months. During that time I was listening to Allison’s advice but trying to tough it out because it was a very meaningful non-profit. I ended up quitting because I was working approximately 80 hours a week and it severely impacted my health, to the point I went to the ER for stress-related heart palpations. My coworkers and I approached our boss to express our exhaustion. She the told us, “If you don’t like it you can resign.” We sat there stunned to which she followed up with “haha that’s just a joke.”

I resigned the next morning. I truly take Alison’s advice with me as I’m still hoping to settle back into my career after a year of searching. But I no longer have stress related health issues and am so happy!

Thank you to Alison and everyone who gave such good advice! (P.S. For everyone who told me to go to HR, our HR was even worse.)

{ 60 comments… read them below }

  1. Kay*

    Letter Writer #1: What you wrote here: “This time, however, I’m careful not to read too much into work relationships. When the day comes that I leave . . . , I’ll have a better understanding of what and what not to expect” is really important and a good reminder for me.

    I definitely have read too much into my past work relationships and still do once in a while. I need to work on this.

    1. Rachlette*

      OP1, if you want to continue friendships you have made in previous workplaces, why not pick up the phone yourself, instead of waiting for other people to call you? You’re the one who left; you need to make an effort to keep up your relationships.

      It’s not just friendship, either. This is a big part of networking.

      1. sunny-dee*

        The OP didn’t leave of her own accord; she was laid off. It’s not like she chose her exit date and had time to say goodbye. I think she was expecting to hear from someone the way that you would kind of expect to hear condolences like you would after any other life event.

        1. Artemesia*

          People are often conflicted about whether this sort of contact is perceived as rubbing salt in old wounds — ‘Hi, I still have a job, sorry about you.’ It may be a misjudgment but it is a common concern — we have had letters here on this.

          And if you want co-workers to be friends you have to cultivate friendships with them i.e. get together weekends, host dinner parties or picnics — just generally do friend things outside of work — otherwise they remain acquaintances.

          1. sunny-dee*

            Oh, I get that reasoning and that that’s why people didn’t contact the OP. I was just answering Rachlett who seemed to be blaming the OP for leaving and not understanding why she wanted people to reach out to her.

      1. sunny-dee*

        Because it means that she’s consistently misreading the meaning of relationships and she wants to recalibrate per emotional reactions so that they reflect reality.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      Work friendships are a bit like college friendships. I had a close-knit friend circle in college. We were together for hours every day. The group was so important that for about two years after I graduated I would drives hours to spend weekends with them. But of course that only works for so long, if only because they gradually drift off, and even if the friend circle remains, it gets new people you don’t have that connection with. So they evolved from the people I hung out with constantly into Facebook friends, long before Facebook existed. I miss the closeness, but I also know that even if we all got together today, it would be a reunion where a bunch of middle aged people talked about the old days. This would be all and good, but not the same thing.

      Work friendships are similar, but frankly lesser. My college friend circle was entirely self-selected. It was a large school. This was the small group I chose to spend my time with, and who chose to spend their time with me. Work friends are selected from the people who happen to work in the same building as you. You spend a lot of time with them, like those college friends, but most likely your work is all you really have in common.

      This is not to say that work friendships are nothing. They help you get through your day, and you help them get through theirs. This is a big deal. But it is not itself permanent. I have been very fond of many people I worked with. Out of all of them, there are exactly two I see regularly despite no longer working with them.

      1. Sam.*

        I’d actually compare them more to high school friendships. It’s a limited pool of people, and you often become close out of proximity, not necessarily because you’re the most compatible people in the world. I didn’t keep in touch with high school friends after graduation, not because I didn’t enjoy their company and appreciate their friendship at that time in my life, but because we had become friends mostly due to a certain set of circumstances that no longer existed. I think that’s the case for many work friendships, too. (College friends were different for me – as you say, they were friendships of choice, not convenience, and so I’m still close to some of my college friends almost 15 years later.)

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Fair point. College friends sprang to mind because they were more meaningful to me. I miss that experience. High school friends were as you say, more about proximity, and making a virtue of necessity. Both high school and college friendships are like work friendships in that they spring up from a specific environment. Many don’t survive the passing of that environment, and those that do evolve into something else.

          1. allathian*

            I didn’t have any friends in my class in either junior high or high school. I hung out with people from other classes who were my kind of nerdy, uncool outliers, who’d happily sit in a corridor during recess reading a book and who became my friends. I went to the same college as some people in my class, and while they were never really my friends in HS, they became really good friends in college. I did find other friends in college, too, but those people from my class in HS are still among my best friends today. We have history stretching back more than 30 years.
            I’ve had good work friends in the past. That said, none of these friendships have survived either me or the other person switching jobs. We remain friendly if we meet at a networking event, etc. but I’m very bad at keeping in touch. Partly I suspect because I’m not active on any social media, not even LinkedIn, even if I know that I probably should have a profile there.
            These days, if I’m entirely honest, I’m not even particularly interested in cultivating friendships at work. This is probably because I’m fairly introverted, and normally I get all the socializing I need from spending time with my extended family and monthly or so meetups with my non-work friends. Of course, things are somewhat different now due to COVID, but the basic principle applies.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Friends for a reason, a season or a life time. I have found so much comfort in that saying.

      Those life time friends are not that common.
      Additionally, when people go to retire they suddenly end up with no social circle or no connections. This is because the people are work are, you know, still working full time.
      While I have many former cohorts that I think of fondly and have a friendly relationship with when I see them, I only have a handful of former cohorts that I see regularly. I think this is pretty normal.

      I hope you kind of chuckle, OP. Did you ever turn this into a math problem? I worked 40 hours a week, plus drive time brought me to 50 hours per week. Dinner, laundry, dishes. pets was AT LEAST another hour and a half when I got home. This brings us to 7:30 ish. After that came inlaws, parents, sibs, etc. By then it was pushing 9 pm. If I was not in bed at 10 I was going to crawl through the entire day the next day. I called this the hamster wheel. Connecting with one friend during the week was a major accomplishment.

  2. Clorinda*

    LW3: You are awesome. “If you don’t like it, you can resign.” “Okay then!”
    Good for you!

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Oh my god OP3 — what was the fallout after that? How did ‘joking evil’ boss react? How many people did it take to replace you?

    2. Magenta Sky*

      The full conversation should have been:

      “If you don’t like it, you can resign.”

      “Ok, I quite.”

      “Ha, ah, I’m just joking.”

      “I’m not. Good bye.”

    3. The Other Dawn*

      The only thing that would have made this better is if OP resigned right then, rather than the next morning.

  3. Sara without an H*

    OP#3: …trying to tough it out because it was a very meaningful non-profit.

    One word: don’t.

    No matter how much you believe in an organization’s mission, you do yourself and everybody else no favors by putting up with abuse. Too many organizations exploit their employees’ idealism. The AAM archives are full of awful examples. Do not EVER enable this kind of behavior.

    Glad you’re out and hope you’ll soon find a rewarding job working for sane people.

    1. Rachlette*

      But the letter writer has seemingly been out of work for a year — she says, “I’m still hoping to settle back into my career after a year of searching.” I am not sure she got the last laugh.

      1. Lena Clare*

        She says that she no longer has stress-related health issues and is so happy! I’d say that is a win, and that she got the last laugh.

      2. Swiftly Tilting Planet*

        It’s not about getting the last laugh, it’s about taking care of her own mental & physical health.

    2. Elan Morin Tedronai*

      “trying to tough it out because it was a very meaningful non-profit.”

      … So was Operation Smile.

        1. lazy intellectual*

          One of AAM’s most famous letters is one where the OP and 20 other job applicants had to cook dinner for an employer as part of the interview process. It turned out to be about Operation Smile.

          1. lazy intellectual*

            Ack I made a mistake. It’s not “20 job applicants”. OP, along with other applicants, had to cook dinner for “20 people”.

    3. lazy intellectual*

      I avoided working for nonprofits for a long time because of this reputation. Luckily, I found an awesome one.

  4. Lena Clare*

    OMG are workplaces 2 and 3 the same? It’s appalling that there is more than 1 boss like this.
    LWs – I am glad you’ve got out of both of those places. Hope things continue on the up for you both.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Yeah, passive-aggressively blocking people *who work for you* from doing their job by depriving them of the necessary tools is a special kind of self-destructively spiteful.

      1. Swiftly Tilting Planet*

        My mother would have called it “cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

    1. irene adler*

      One would hope so. I sure do.

      It’s not like they were bringing up something petty. And the response-even couched as a joke- trivialized the issue.
      Employee exhaustion is real. And must be taken seriously by any employer.

      AND, I noticed the OP did not indicate if anything concrete was said by the boss in regard to a remedy for the exhaustion. So I have to believe this issue was not addressed. Shame on that boss. It would serve her right to have every one of her employees just walk out the door.

      I sure adore OP#3’s style!

    2. Generic Name*

      I sure hope so. One of the best days of my career was when one of my coworkers and I both submitted our resignations to our boss on the same day. It was a coincidence that we quit on the same day, but it was no coincidence as to why we were quitting.

    3. Vanilla Nice*

      You would think that companies would get the hint, but sadly, the desire to rationalize away serious problems is strong. I once resigned from a toxic job within two weeks of six other employees (in a 40-person division). You would think that losing close to 20% of your staff in less than 10 business days would be a huge red flag to any competent leader, but upper management’s reaction was all “Employee turrnover is normal. We look forward to welcoming new co-workers soon. Back to business as usual.”

  5. Looking forward*

    I’m LW/OP #1 (a guy, for what it’s worth). I thought about calling, but felt and still feel it wasn’t my duty…I was the one let go. However, enough time has passed that I see everything clearer – the human frailties of others along with my own. Just because I think I would have called if the roles were reversed doesn’t mean I should judge others for not doing so. Could have been “survivor’s” guilt, fear of portraying the company as apologetic in these litigious times, or just life happening, who knows? It doesn’t matter, I’ve moved on. Trust me, keeping business and personal separate makes life much simpler.

    1. Fikly*

      I might consider that rather than getting caught up in whether you should have to do something, you think about whether doing something would make you happier.

    2. Glitsy Gus*

      I think you hit the nail on the head here. It sounds kinds of negative when you say it, but really it isn’t. It is totally possible to have friendly, jovial relationships with your coworkers, and still keep in mind that 90% of what you have in common is your job. That was really one of the best life lessons I ever learned.

      If a real friendship is meant to happen it will, but remembering that it is literally no hard feelings when you leave and drop out of touch with almost everyone, except maybe as LinkedIn contacts or something along those lines, removes so much stress and unnecessary hurt feelings.

  6. Valegro*

    Lw3, doesn’t it feel good to put their money where their mouth is? I got to do that at my last job. We had a “morale meeting” during which we had to rate what we thought our morale was as well as the person standing next to us. Boss looked FURIOUS when he read the results and told us we could leave if we were that miserable. Two of us did within a couple months and he was absolutely shocked and in complete disbelief. I’m not sure why he was that confused considering he cancelled one of our “morale building” events and scheduled another when 1/4 of the staff couldn’t attend.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      We had a “morale meeting” during which we had to rate what we thought our morale was as well as the person standing next to us.

      I’m sorry, whatnow? That’s a pretty crappy thing for your boss to do. And I have to say, I’m also surprised that he was confused when people resigned…if you have to have “morale building” events in the first place, that’s a pretty clear sign that something isn’t right. I’m glad you’re out of there!

      1. Valegro*

        Someone brought it up on our anonymous meeting topic list, though they thought the support staff had the morale problem and not the professional staff. The whole meeting was bizarre and very much “the beatings will continue until morale improves.” Basically we were ungrateful to be employed and get to work 70+ hours a week and have our higher quality equipment taken away if the boss thought we misbehaved. The low quality stuff worked, but was ancient and had mechanical issues and using it actually made us look worse to our clients. I left and now make more than $20k/year more for less than 40 hours a week.

  7. Mr M*

    I was laid-off after 24 years at the same company. Never heard one word from people I worked with for decades and that was 8 years ago…

    1. Former Employee*

      I am guessing that they were as stunned as you were and didn’t know what to say at that point.

      Once enough time had gone by, it probably seemed awkward to them to contact you and say they were in such shock at what had happened that they had no words at he time.

  8. Matilda Jefferies*

    #3’s boss: “If you don’t like it, you can resign.”

    #3: “Okay, sweet! Seeya!”

    I mean, of course you always had that choice, and of course you didn’t need her permission. But it must have been extremely satisfying to have that conversation the next day! So glad you’re out of there, and that your health has improved as a result.

  9. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    OP1 (not contacted after layoffs) Happy to hear you made peace with it. I left a company in similar circumstances: was going to be laid off but I found a new position before the actual date, gave my notice, left a month later (after a lot of “emergency” handoff work, canceling previously agreed PTO etc) and despite my best efforts there were some things left unresolved as we just ran out of time to hand them over. I made the offer to be available “off the record” (without payment etc) to hand over the last few things gracefully, and the offer wasn’t even acknowledged; just totally ignored.

    I saw then that the people remaining just wanted to cut ties “as soon as asap” and not have any remnant of the “prior” situation left behind so that they could move on cleanly.

    I was also on the other side of this situation, where 2 of my team-mates (out of 4) were unexpectedly laid off as part of a larger layoff event, and I didn’t know what to say to one of them (the other was easy as they had been expecting and preparing for it for weeks, but the first one was taken by surprise) … I am useless with “words”, empathy, knowing the right thing to say. Even “sorry” is hard for me. And still I let this hang-up cloud my interaction with this person where we had previously had a fairly close relationship. I turned away when they were clearing out their stuff and disengaged. Shame on me. “I had somewhere else to be”… studiously at my desk, huh.

    But then she said later that she felt (and I agree) that she had been suddenly “shunned” just because of this announcement. I started to try to apologise and she said something like “I know how it is, so I don’t want to hear it”.

    I am not sure at this point how much (if any) guilt or “survivor’s guilt” I ought to feel when interacting with someone who has been laid off like this.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Just a tidbit I have learned: There is nothing wrong with prefacing any comment with, “I am not good at saying this stuff, but I felt strongly that I wanted to say something…. [fill in with some very short expression of regret or concern.]”

      There is nothing wrong with saying, “Gee, I am not good at this.” It can be touching to hear that someone was so concerned/caring that they decided to override their own feelings of awkwardness. And the last component, keep the core message short and keep it simple.

      This template is useful for many situations that come up. But we can’t control how the person reacts. This is difficult. Sometimes all we get is the peace of knowing that we tried to say something. Sometimes years later the person still remembers and we find out they appreciated it. But most times we just dunno.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah, that’s really great! My first thought was that I wished they had resigned on the spot as an immediate response to “if you don’t like it you can leave” but after I thought about it a second more, the next morning is actually way better. It makes it clear that it isn’t a heat-of-the-moment decision, that you took a moment to consider and then thought “yes, leaving is the best thing after all I think.”

  10. Lysine*

    LW 2 if my boss made it impossible for me to work after I gave notice I’d just sit at my desk and continue to take a paycheck until my notice was up. Why do them the favor of trying to get into my computer if my employer is the one who made that impossible. Why go above and beyond for a boss who is actively preventing me from working?

  11. Malty*

    I’ve also worked somewhere whose response to team problems was ‘you can always resign’ – it’s just another way of saying ‘I don’t want to manage’

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Or a way of saying, ” *I* dunno how to manage and *I* have no plan on learning any time soon.”

    2. Over It*

      I was once told by the company CEO that if I didn’t want to work 80-hour weeks “for a few more weeks” after working 80-hour weeks for months that there were plenty of people who would line up for my job. And I had 3 kids between the ages of 5 – 10 who hardly ever saw me. This was during the last economic downturn so what he said was true but who says that?? He was a horrible person. He’s also the guy who would refer to us as “organic resources” in meetings that we were in. Just thinking about him ~12 years later still makes me so angry.

  12. No-Contact*

    This isn’t a specific response to LW#1, but more of a general feeler for others’ opinions.
    At my workplace, when someone is fired or let go (we don’t get to know specifics, we just know it’s not the person deciding to quit, as quitting works differently where I work), our director essentially takes a bunch of us aside or sends a mass email and explaining that “John is no longer part of our company.” But we are specifically told to NOT contact the ex-employee unless they contact us first in order to “respect their privacy.” Is this unusual?

    1. Fikly*

      It’s usually the employer trying to cover their own butt.

      It would be unusual for you to have to follow that direction, however.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        And also to try to head off the tactless busybodies who feel that it’s their right to know EXACTLY what happened to the person they couldn’t be bothered to consistently say hello to in the coffee room when they worked there.

        I don’t know – my spouse has been laid off twice. I know that the friends (socialized outside of work) that he made at Lay-Off #1 reached out after he left and took him for a man-that-sucks beer, but no one at Lay-Off #2 did and he would not have wanted them to either. The few times he had to go into the office to transition work or to return equipment, it was very awkward – people just don’t know what to say other than, “I’m so sorry” sometimes and are afraid to say something that’s going to rub salt in the wound. (Lay-Off #2 actually ended up working out in our favor in a very significant way – a contact at that organization referred my spouse for a job that had higher pay, more flexibility, and better benefits. He’s been there for nearly a decade.)

  13. Former Employee*

    #3: “She the told us, “If you don’t like it you can resign.” We sat there stunned to which she followed up with “haha that’s just a joke.””

    I think it would have been really interesting if everyone had turned in their notice the next day. Could the organization have survived or would the manager have had to back down/back off?

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