updates: the coworker pajama party, lying about layoffs, 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. How do I shut down coworkers who demand an explanation for my occasional wheelchair?

I think by now people have gotten sort of used to seeing me in my wheelchair; those people who still make (often SHOCKINGLY) rude comments, I just glare at or ignore. After being brushed off by HR in regards to reasonable accommodations, I went to my supervisor, who went straight to my department head, and once she spoke to HR, I magically got everything I needed very quickly! Asphalt was added to the doors to my building to lower the thresholds, the time for the elevator doors to close was lengthened, and the auto-closing arm was removed from my apartment and office doors. Unfortunately, I’ve run into other issues in that I’ve used up all my sick time due to disability-related illness, but that’s sort of a moot point right now because we’re working from home. I did use this opportunity to make a presentation to my department about disability accommodations and what we can learn from this shelter in place time to keep making things more accessible for employees and students. I don’t hope to be at this job for terribly long, but I’m glad I advocated for myself. It was so great reading everyone’s comments and thoughts and made me feel very supported!

2. What do I wear to spend the night with 49 random colleagues? (#2 at the link)

While your advice and that of your readers was great (and gave me good ideas that I planned to use), the event in question was meant to happen late Feb-early March and was cancelled due to the outbreak. Perhaps it will be reinstated in the next year or so and I will have a more interesting update for you all then.

If you don’t mind printing such a boring update, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who offered advice, especially to commenter Zircon who correctly guessed that I would be attending a Noho Marae (common in NZ, although not something I had ever encountered in a professional context), and gave me some extra advice from a shared cultural perspective. I understood when I wrote in that I would be receiving a U.S. based workforce perspective, but as my main concern was just clothing choices and my colleagues had been remarkably unhelpful in that regard, I thought it was worth a write in (and it was!).

3. My boss wants me to lie about being laid off (#4 at the link)

As a piece of context for this update, we got working notice in lieu of severance so I was with the company for a while after officially getting laid off. (This was not a pleasant experience, watching the team slowly and quietly shrink each week was upsetting and demoralizing)

It was thankfully not a bid to contest unemployment, my boss was just very concerned about the company’s reputation.

After our initial conversation where she asked me to say I was leaving of my own accord, I took some time to think about how I wanted to handle it and set up another meeting to talk with her, it’s a small company and I had been a part of it since some pretty early days so I wanted to help my boss through the process as best I could. I explained that I would prefer to use some sort of “restructuring” “agility improving” etc. language with my current clients and that we could put a positive spin on the changes, get ahead of any bad PR. She didn’t really want to budge and asked if we could put off making an “official” communication about it to my active clients until my second last day because maybe I’d have another job by then – I wasn’t thrilled about that as the whole benefit of working notice is being able to smoothly transition clients to other team members, but I agreed and decided to just go forth setting up my own meetings with former clients and industry contacts in the meantime. Many of them were shocked and offered to try and find me a space at their organizations which was honestly an incredible feeling. As the date to tell my active clients drew near she asked if she could be the one to send the message – at that point both my feet were basically out the door and I had a plate full of opportunities so I just didn’t care much anymore. Predictably, she used ambiguous language about my leaving that implied it was my choice to “move on” from the company. I was able to connect with my active clients (many reached out to me directly) after that point to explain that I was looking for opportunities and open to freelancing and to keep me in mind. (Don’t worry, I checked, it’s not a violation of any agreements I signed to freelance for them).

I had a follow up battle getting my, and other former team members, photo/bio/info removed from the website (many moved into freelancing so they didn’t want to be professionally associated with the company). They eventually removed my info after lots of bugging, but left every other former staff member up – a current employee verified for me that it wasn’t a matter of not having the time or resources to execute the task, they just didn’t want remove everyone from the page. They eventually just took the “team” page down altogether.

Looking back on that letter you can really see how angry I was, and it wasn’t just at being asked to lie about being laid off, but that workplace had gotten so toxic and unstable. I was crying almost every weekend because I was dreading Monday. I was frustrated because it used to be a job I loved and this situation really just felt like a final slap in the face.

One thing I didn’t mention in my original letter was that I had been planning on quitting anyway, A few months before being laid off I got in touch with another company and I happily started there not too long after I was laid off. I’m so much happier with wonderful, smart, business savvy bosses who are committed to helping me grow and succeed. PSA – if you’re crying on weekends because you’re dreading Monday, quitting is long overdue – you deserve to not hate your job.

{ 58 comments… read them below }

  1. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

    #3 really nails half this website with this comment: PSA – if you’re crying on weekends because you’re dreading Monday, quitting is long overdue – you deserve to not hate your job.

    I am so glad, OP to hear your situation is much better.

    1. Fulla*

      1) I love your user name!

      2) This is a lesson I’m still having to learn after working in a professional capacity for almost twenty years. No job should make you so miserable that you’re crying on the weekend!

      1. Minocho*

        it’s crazy how that kind of stuff sort of sneaks up on you. It’s happened to me a couple of times. I’ve started setting up “canary in the mine” situations to watch out for after I’ve gotten familiar with the position, to help me recognize when I need to pay attention and re-evaluate. One such rule I set up at a consulting job was that we would be supported heavily by the company in order to maintain the mandated 90% billable rate. I need to not be doing dumb administrative stuff if I’m supposed to be 90% billable.

        Two years later, our admin was fired, and we were told there would not be a replacement – and we were still supposed to have 90% billable hours. I started looking for work immediately. this was later 2008, so it took me a while, and the entire department was closed down before I found another position, but I’d been months looking before they shut us down, because I’d set up a rule before the pressure cooker situation started messing with my definition of normal.

    2. Batty Twerp*

      This is something I needed to have spelled out to me. I may even stick it on a yellow sticky, just to remind myself to not let it get that far (again)

    3. Kathlynn (canada)*

      Also “if you are having frequent bad dreams about your life, you need to change it”. When I left my last job, I was having what I describe as “anxiety* dreams” almost every night *because they were anxiety fueled, and not scary-terror like a nightmare is for me.

      Now, when ever I have an anxiety dream I analyze what I remember about it. Some times it’s just past trauma surfacing (Can I please stop dreaming about being forced to move back to my “home town”). Others are related to work, but not with the same frequency as at my last job. Very situational, like right now, I’ve had more of them, because I have a lot of work related stress (because I don’t know when I can get back to work. And it seems like stuff has changed in my absence. Thus I’ve had a couple of related dreams). Sometimes the meaning is clear, sometimes not so much.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        I’m pretty sure “anxiety dreams” is the actual terminology for what you describe. If nothing else, that’s what I call mine, lol.

        Mine aren’t that normal, though. Mine are like “oh, you’re stressed? enjoy dreaming about getting rabies and then being shot by an anti-vaxxer.”

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          I just googled, and it is the actual terminology! I never knew that before…and boy howdy, I’ve had some humdingers in my time.

        2. kathlynn (Canada)*

          Well, they aren’t like Normal-normal. But weird twisted twilight zone versions of normal.
          like weird, not accurate bus routes from HS. Customers refusing to leave the store for 5 hours so I can’t close and go home. (I can’t explain the odd parts).
          I even dreamed that I took my car and illegally drove it from my old town to my now home. And had a 10 minute drive IRL turn into a 15 minute walk because of some weird dream short cuts. (as soon as my brain figured that out it became a dream staple). That walk should actually take at least 2 hours.

          There’s just no falling off of Super Nes Mario world versions of f children’s wooden playgrounds floating among the clouds that I fall off of and wake up anymore. It just retains the not-real part of those dreams.

        3. Quill*

          My favorite is “you know that body part”
          Yes, brain, I know that body part (whichever one you’ve picked out tonight, so… fingernails?)
          “but CENTIPEDES”

          And I wake up at 4 AM with all the grace and poise of an angry porcupine.

      2. Quill*

        anxiety dreams: nightmares’ smaller, more annoying cousin.

        (Can I never have anything to do with a school again, consciously or subconsciously? Thanks.)

  2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    LW1 – I’m so glad that they listened and reacted appropriately in the end, but it’s frustrating how hard you had to work to get there!

      1. Did you read the syllabus?*

        LW 1 – I wish your experience wasn’t such a common one. I’m so glad your supervisor had your back and that you’ve been able to advocate for yourself. I truly wish we lived in a world where advocating for accommodations wasn’t a job in itself.

      2. ToS*

        If HR does not have an accommodation process, that’s a huge red flag for inclusion. I’m so glad your chain of command was savvier and got it done.

        We’re heading into the 30th anniversary of the ADA, which covers employee accommodation in Section 1…, so as the Talking Heads say, this ain’t no fooling around…we don’t have time for that now!

        So glad it worked out, and that you shared your experience because clearly your clueless coworkers are better at perpetuating harmful stereotypes and stigma than practicing inclusion.

  3. 3DogNight*

    #3, your last sentence is spot on. +1000 for this! I’ve been there, and it’s awful. I’m so happy to hear that you’ve gotten away!

  4. LloydDobbler*

    I love the updates.
    And more examples of the pandemic actually being HELPFUL in alleviating issues or helping people delay them for now made me wonder— how many people are going to use this time to re-evaluate their jobs. Maybe more a topic for open thread I realize, but thought of it again today.

    1. filosofickle*

      It keeps coming up for me, too. Many moons ago I was laid off in the dot-com bust. I had the “great pause” then that others are feeling now. I was suddenly off the treadmill and began to question everything I’d never questioned before. It was brutal to get dropped like that — with a brand new California-size mortgage and 30% unemployment in my industry — but it changed my life for the better. I learned to work for myself. I loved working from home. I built a life around what matters to me. Many people don’t have this kind of freedom and privilege, but for those who do this is an important moment.

  5. WellRed*

    Someone is going to have to tell me what “agility improving” means.

    Great updates, all around.

    1. Mid*

      It’s usually business-speak for “trimming the excess” or “shedding dead weight” or “we’re doing things on a bare bones staff now” depending on the company. It’s not always as negative as I just made it sound though! It can also be used when you’re combining what was previously multiple roles into one/fewer.

    2. JSPA*

      Most correctly, I believe it means, “we expect to pivot fairly suddenly towards some new focus, new goal, or dramatically different set of processes. We’re not sure of the details, nor the timing. We’re holding onto a small set of people who are some combination of early in their careers and ‘jack of many trades’ types, to free up cash, open up future hiring, and make sure we can slot the people we’ve retained into any of many possible job descriptions.”

      It’s for preparing to surf, lightly, through (or ideally, float over) an expected major disruption.

      Think of a company that’s just brought a large one-off / unique product to market, for example. They’re not sure how much of what they do next will be unexpected levels of product support, how much will be searching for their next big thing, how much will be a few smaller products. Or maybe a major patent is running out. Or maybe new regulations mean that their core product will cease being produced, or have to change dramatically, and they have not decided whether to make the change, fight the regulations, and/or jump on board the new alternative (“we’re now a wind-energy company and investing in retraining!”). Or their single competitor had become three, all diving towards the bottom of the market, and they have to decide whether to join in, go high, branch out, or effectively tread water and hope the other three take each other out.

      And, eh, of course, that means it’s also used by pretty much any company that’s going through any tight spot or restructuring (or–[grrrr]–outsourcing), and thinks they sound a lot cooler / sexier / edgy-yet-in-control, if they borrow that wording.

  6. Conundrum*

    I happened to notice that my coworker didn’t record *2* sick days he’s taken this year on his time sheets. We all have access to each other’s accounts… I was legitimately checking for something else and it caught my eye. Admittedly I should have moved on rather than looking more closely. There’s no way I can bring it to light without making myself look bad, and probably messing with the very casual system we have in place that he’s clearly abusing. Ughh. I shouldn’t have looked, and now I just need to stew in it. :-/

    1. LW1*

      I’m curious: Why does it bother you?

      I’m asking in good faith here, hoping to help.

      1. JSPA*

        I suppose that as long as finances are tight, “someone got paid for days they didn’t work” feels like, “and thus the business is closer to going under / more of us are at risk of being laid off.” Then there’s the more general, “is this the start of a slide, and if so, how bad might this get / should I still think of him as generally dependable / if someone somehow finds out I knew and didn’t say anything, will I be on the hook for conspiring.” And, “man, if people mess with the generous system, are they going to crack down and make it a lot more of a pain to record time off.”

        But frankly, most of this should be dealt with as “how do I handle unexpected anxiety,” not, “how do I handle my coworker’s reporting.” Then can tighten up whether or not coworker fudges. Coworker can prove to be ongoingly dependable and broadly honest in all ways that affect you directly (or not), regardless. The business could go under on the basis of paying one employee for two extra days not worked…but only because any business could go under, if they’re running perilously close to the edge.

        Alternatively, if someone’s so desperate for time off that they individually resent someone for taking what they’re not officially entitled to, that’s more a tip off about their own need for more leave.

        But frankly, this is like hearing “private” noises while walking past someone’s house. Just, y’know, keep on walking, and find something else to think about.

      2. Jen*

        Wondering the same thing. They don’t actually know that their coworker is abusing the system. Surely Alison has answered enough letters like this that we know to MYOB.

    2. Esme*

      ugh, yeah I think your instinct to stay out of it is correct if you aren’t his manager or really *directly* impacted. For my sanity in that case, I’d have to invent an unlikely explanation and mentally check that off the list of things to think about. Maybe tell yourself he must have an arrangement that you don’t know about, so that’s that (explanation can be incorrect/unlikely as long as it allows you to move on mentally).

      1. LW1*

        It’s also quite possibly true! I’m LW1 and I have an invisible disability. Like I said, I’m almost out of sick time. My manager has helped me to work to get things covered and moved around if needed so I don’t hae to record sick time (like if someone who’s not on call agrees to take my shift, for example). He could definitely have an agreement, or an illness you don’t know about, OR have worked from home while he was sick. Lots of possibilities and unless his frequent absences directly affect your work, it’s probably best for you to stay out of it. (And if they do, you just need to address the effect on your work and how to solve that.)

    3. Amaranth*

      If it helps settle the disruption to your peace, consider the possibility he meant to go in and log the dates and is just suffering quarantine-brain. It doesn’t mean you need to remind him, but also might ease your feeling of unfairness. Or, possibly he had permission to take those days as comp days for whatever reason and you’re not in the loop.

    4. Alternative Person*

      I’ve been there. At a previous job, junior co-worker was blasting through the very generous limits of our ‘just enough ambiguity to be practical’ hours system. I knew it was happening because I always keep my eyes open and my mouth shut and I stewed about mentioning it to the manager but decided not to because it would have ended in an argument and not fixed anything.

      In the end, it got to the point the whole branch got audited. Head Office cracked down hard, the hours system got very strictly defined and everyone lost out. Said co-worker and their friends had the audacity to complain the company was stealing their salary, but the reality was the salary was being corrected to the level of work they were actually doing and they had effectively cost everyone else money. That person flounced dramatically about two months later, but frankly, they were lucky that the company didn’t try and sue them.

      (I know its not the kindest thing, I got the impression they were making plans based on the inflated salary and without it they were likely over-leveraging themselves and management let it go on far too long, but they had to know they were pushing the very limits of how the system worked because they had to calculate exactly how much they could claim up without tripping the hours limit on their contract and they were recording their timesheets far, far out of the norm)

      1. AntOnMyTable*

        People taking advantage can definitely end up having an impact on everyone. That is why, at least mentally/emotionally, it isn’t always so easy to MYOB.

  7. TootsNYC*

    PSA – if you’re crying on weekends because you’re dreading Monday, quitting is long overdue – you deserve to not hate your job.

    I had that job, only with crying every morning because I was dreading going to the office.

    But I had the only insurance, and the only income, for a family of 4. And I couldn’t get an interview, let alone an actual job.

    1. SweetestCin*

      Had that job. Getting out of bed was IMPOSSIBLE on a good morning.

      Same with the insurance, and the income at that point. I was getting interviews…but the actual job took a while….

    2. Mimmy*

      This is giving me flashbacks to a very short-term job I had where I too was crying every night. This was almost 20 years ago. That’s how traumatic it was.

    3. filosofickle*

      My first “real” job went fine for the first year or so. Then I began dreading Sunday nights, because work on Monday. Then Saturdays, because that meant Sunday was the next day, then work on Monday. Finally, I couldn’t even be happy on Fridays because Monday still felt right around the corner. Every day of the week I dreaded my job, even on the weekends! It took about 6 months to find a new job.

      Not long after, my brother asked me when you know it’s time to look for another job. I told him by the time you’re asking, it’s time to be looking. Finding a new job takes months or more, if you’re not looking before you’re truly miserable there will be a lot of sad Fridays.

      1. Quill*

        Did that at Pig Lab From Hell. Should have quit the first time I had a panic attack in the supply closet, but there you are.

  8. Cruella De Boss*

    LW1…With stories like Gypsy Blanchard coming to light, the fact that there are those willing to fake an illness for attention have made many skeptical to the invisible illnesses. My grandmother had lupus, about 30 years before any celebrity ever did. Her mystery symptoms often sent us to the hospital. Many people always thought she was faking her symptoms for attention….even our own family members.

    I am sorry you are having to deal with small-minded people!

  9. Miss May*

    That’s such good advice at the bottom– your job should never make you cry.

    1. Amy Sly*

      My rule of thumb: every job has days where you want to drink when you come home. If that’s every day, start looking for a new job. If you want to drink before you go in, quit as soon as possible.

  10. MCMonkeyBean*

    I hope one good thing that can come out of this pandemic is way more employers realizing that accommodations they previously claimed were not doable are actually completely workable if they just stop thinking of them as optional.

  11. Sacrificial Pharmacy Tech*

    “PSA – if you’re crying on weekends because you’re dreading Monday, quitting is long overdue – you deserve to not hate your job.”

    Now that I think about it, I think I’ve only ever had two jobs (out of seven) that *didn’t* make me cry. Including my current job where I’m crying basically every day. Unfortunately, I don’t see being able to get out in the near future with everything going on right now :/

  12. Zircon*

    LW#2, I’m glad that my comments gave you a new perspective – not that it’s really helpful in deciding what to wear. That’s always a dilemma for a noho marae, especially in summer. Loose, cotton, long sleeve pjs is my go to – and atm I’d have to go and buy them new!!! I hope you and your whanau are doing well in our lockdown. Mauri ora.

  13. Kezia*

    I know it’s meant to be funny, but the “coworker pajama party” title is actually really culturally insensitive. That is not what spending a night at a marae is about AT ALL. I don’t expect Alison to know that, but this is the second post and it was discussed at length in the first post comments.

    1. Zircon*

      Recognise though, that the first letter did not say it was a noho marae. LW described the event, and to anyone outside the country, it would seem very weird, and pretty horrible. They don’t have our perspective and understanding. Because New Zealanders have mostly experienced a noho marae, we recognised it, and gave some alternative points of view. Cultural humility involves as all looking at both our own and others’ cultures through different lenses.
      Alison could edit the title to ‘co-worker pyjama party that turned out to be a cultural experience’, but I still think that people from other countries would throw their hands up in horror.

      1. Kezia*

        Definitely do recognise that – and I’m not expecting anyone to understand without any context, but plenty of context was given in the comments to the first post. So sticking with the “coworker pajama party” line in the update strikes me as offensive.

        1. NL*

          You’re assuming Alison reads all the comments (and remembers them months later) which I doubt she does.

          1. Avasarala*

            In this instance though, the LW update explicitly included that info from the comments.

        2. PollyQ*

          I believe Alison deliberately keeps the title of the original letter for updates so that a search turns them both up. I like Zircon’s suggestion of amending it, though.

          1. PollyQ*

            Ignore everything I just said — “pajama party” wasn’t used in original letter, and LW’s update made it clear that it was a formal cultural ceremony, so yes, Alison shouldn’t have introduced that phrase.

    2. Batgirl*

      Hm. Though the OP wasn’t really asking about the cultural aspect; she understood that part well. She was asking what was appropriate to wear around co-workers in any kind of overnight sleepover situation.

      1. Eukomos*

        This is a good point, there are other situations where you can end up sleeping in the same room as coworkers, happens in my field/locality for completely different reasons. The why and whether that’s good can be endlessly debated, but the point of the question being posted here was to figure out what the business casual equivalent in night clothes is.

        1. ToS*

          Yep. I likely missed the first post, but am having the through that scrubs are the original work-clothes-you-can-sleep-in as numerous doctors-in-training and medical professionals have proven. I have actual pajamas that resemble them but are disguised by a sunshine pattern all over them. I would totally pack them for a work retreat.

      2. Tui*

        If someone wrote in for advice about what to wear to a funeral they had to attend in a professional capacity, Alison wouldn’t title the update “The coworker shindig”.

  14. Database Developer Dude*

    I’m absolutely gobsmacked. I’ve only had one job, anywhere, where I’d be required to sleep in the same room as coworkers, and that job required uniforms….military uniforms. Other than that, I’d be That Guy ™ who got beligerent.

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