updates: the interrupting boss, the surprise criticism, 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. Can I ask my boss to stop interrupting my presentations? (#3 at the link)

I’m pretty sure I wrote this right after one specific incident in which my boss sat in on a customer meeting which was, for various reasons, more complicated than usual in terms of presenting, and I found myself getting really frustrated at him constantly interrupting. I basically did the (mental) equivalent of throwing my hands up in the air, sitting back and letting him run with it.

In the years since then, I’ve observed that…he does this to everyone, and sadly, often doesnt add much of value. I’ve seen him interrupt to give wrong information (which I’ve had to correct), I’ve seen him interrupt his boss to add information (which she was going to provide anyway), and interrupt another member of the team (male, before the commentariat get into it) to add information that boss thought made him look important, but was 100% irrelevant to the discussion at hand. I cant recall a time when an interruption was actually helpful to the situation at hand.

Some commenters picked up on issues which I have observed throughout my time here: it definitely feels like it undermines whoever is presenting, he doesnt do a good job of developing team members in general so there is never any concrete feedback that someone could work on, and for me personally, knowing he is going to be in any presentation I have to give makes me more on edge as I wait for the inevitable interruption. As I got more comfortable in my role, I felt better about either cutting him off when he started or just rolling with whatever he said and continuing, but for what its worth, I have gotten compliments from other people in my company on my presentation skills and ability to answer difficult questions at any point in a presentation from clients…whenever he isnt present.

I probably should have tried some of the suggestions in terms of giving him more direct feedback, but I’m not sure it would have stuck. After I wrote to you, I had a long stretch where I either wasnt doing presentations or he wasnt present when I did, so it didnt feel like it was worth it to raise the issue. I did read the comments when it was posted and it was definitely helpful to know it wasnt just me being sensitive! And some of the advice to reflect on whether I could improve my presentations was also helpful in terms of reviewing my performance and are things I’ll definitely keep in mind for future.

Either way, this wont be an issue for too much longer as I’ll be moving on to a new position in a few months, and am looking forward to a new challenge and a hopefully non-interrupting boss!

2. Criticism in my annual review came out of the blue — and it didn’t come from my boss

When I wrote you, I already knew it was a toxic workplace. My direct manager knew the feedback was BS, but advised me to do the work and keep my head down. The commenters were right in assuming that they were trying to get rid of me. Someone guessed that the director had received one negative comment about me and tailored the feedback to this one encounter. This review came right after I returned from maternity leave. I don’t think any of the higher ups expected me to come back, and were incredibly surprised when I scheduled my returning shifts.

I wasn’t totally shocked about the book reports, as childish as they were. Everyone had to do them, but theirs were related to the field. The next year’s review was more predictable, no surprises, and everyone in my department was asked to do the same weird, demeaning tasks that year.

On the bright side, I never had to finish those tasks because I found a new job! Shortly after I posted, I knew I had to jump ship. I had many interviews, but none of them seemed to work out or be the right fit. A year and a half later, I finally found the elusive dream job for me. What was better, I negotiated a higher salary thanks to tips from you. I’m now in a different part of the country with family, have work-from-home options (even before the quarantine), get sent to amazing continuing education opportunities, and consistently receive glowing reviews about my customer service skills and work ethic. My current boss and grandbosses really care and make it a point to get to know my strengths and help me reach my goals. Best yet, I was hired for my excellent communication skills and I frequently write public pieces for the company.

3. I accrue way more vacation time than I can use

I had previously written in back in September of 2018 about accruing PTO so quickly but not being able to use it. I successfully scheduled a long vacation (~6 months in advance, as suggested by the commentariat), and got to enjoy a week at the beach with my family, which also happened to coincide with my birthday. Despite the trip falling during a busy month, my manager signed off on it, no questions asked!

My partner was relocated for work about 6 months after my letter was posted and I chose to leave DC and move with him to our new city. Using AAM as a resource, I negotiated a remote work contract and remained in my position until October of 2019. I was paid out the accrued PTO in my bank when I left, which was almost a month. I was absolutely shocked that I received the full amount, but incredibly grateful for the time to reset and get in the right headspace for a job in a completely different industry. I’m doing well in my new role, which is at a small tech company! We are working from home due to COVID-19 and I’m relieved to have those few months of telework experience under my belt to help keep me on track.

While I know I’ll likely never experience such a generous PTO policy, I’ve stayed on top of scheduling time off in advance. I’m very much looking forward to taking another vacation with my partner once it is safe to do so.

Thank you again for not only answering my question, but continuing to be a huge resource as I move forwards in my career!

{ 14 comments… read them below }

  1. Artemesia*

    The first LW had a great insight — people who do this are all about themselves and being important. Years ago I was working in Kuwait running a 3 week training program and the boss of the trainees participated. He would ask these very technical questions and my first thought was ‘I am a woman and he is trying to put me down or show that I am incompetent.’ He also would constantly add suggestions that were almost invariable just plain wrong. I had a very participative instructional style which was a bit foreign to the group and had carefully designed the activities so that no one would be ‘wrong’ because it is a high face culture and so I made sure that the activities expanded use of the concepts without a risk of loss of face. He still managed to say stupid and wrong stuff.

    After one highly technical question, I responded with ‘that is a wonderful and very sophisticated question, but it is a bit beyond the scope of what we can do here today, but one approach might be (then I tossed in a simple statistical process); let’s talk about it you and I at the break.’ At the break I wandered over to where he was with his team and he had the flip chart out and the normal curve on the chart and was lecturing the group about the technique I had mentioned and I realized, that no, he wasn’t trying to put me down — he was trying to establish that he was equally expert and only was in the class, not to learn, but to support the group. It got easier after that. I also knew to make reference to his experience (he had an MA psych from a US university) and he positively glowed when I did that. It helped me also to not immediately take this sort of thing personally — it is almost always about them not you.

  2. Mimmy*

    #1 – I can relate to the interrupting boss. My work doesn’t entail presentations, but when we have meetings, one of the supervisors has the tendency to interrupt. It seems like she’s been doing it a lot more since our Director left a couple months ago. Much of what she says usually adds little value to the discussion. Artemesia above is right – I’m sure a big part of it is an attempt to sound important or to make a name for oneself.

    Doesn’t make it any less annoying though. All we can do is roll our eyes.

  3. I'm just here for the cats*

    #3 I’m glad that this was in here. It was great to read the original letter and the follow up. I feel like I’m in a similar boat. I started a new job this last summer and it’s 10 months but I get the full time PTO so I get 1 week vacation, 1 week personal time and we acquire 5 hours of sick leave every 2 weeks. So not only do I have the summer off I also get like 2 weeks per year. When I started I had no idea what I was going to do, as I knew I wouldnt be able to use it all. I’m single and my family doesn’t do the bug trips, mostly because of my mom’s work. And I don’t feel like going somewhere by my self.

    Unfortunately, I used all my time up except 4 days this January when I had a gallbladder attack. I was in hospital for 4 days right before we opened after holidays and was out for 2 weeks for recovery. So I was VERY thankful for the PTO policy. Not sure what I’m going to do next year when it resets.

    1. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian*

      Stay-cation?
      Planned mental health days?

      I like to use some of my time off to just spend a day either laying around the house, or catching up on things, depending on need.

      1. Ghost Town*

        Agreed. It is very nice, and reassuring, to know that if you wake up one day and just can’t, for whatever reason, you have the time to take off. So you can run those errands, take that appointment, do that housework, relax, catch up on sleep, whatever.

    2. allathian*

      I’ve never had a problem finding things to do on my time off! I work in the public sector in northern Europe, so we have a lot of time off in comparison with most employees in the US. For us, it’s more a matter of when, not if, we get time off. With 15 years’ seniority working for the government, not necessarily the same employer, I get 38 days vacation every year (PTO, I can use it as I wish) and this does not include sickness leave (unlimited, although my employer is only liable for the first three months, after that, it’s paid by social services at 60% salary, even if in my case it’s taking money out of one pocket and putting it in another…). Because I live in a country with a state church, government is shut down for a number of Christian holidays, including minor ones like Ascension Day and Pentecost. I enjoy taking time off, so I don’t mind, but I do think it’s a bit unfair to religious minorities, especially as I’m secular (not agnostic because that implies a seeker, not atheist because that implies a profound conviction, I just don’t care either way). People in office jobs are allowed to work all the days of the week, the requirement is that there must be at least one 36-hour period every week when we don’t work. That doesn’t help those in customer service, who must take the days off that we’re officially closed. That said, I’m not sure if my Muslim colleagues work on Christmas Day and Easter, I don’t know any of them well enough to ask, because we don’t work together and it’s a big org.
      Anyway, I think that because we get so much time off, there’s less pressure to fill my vacation days with interesting activities. I’m a homebody and need a lot of me-time, so I’m perfectly happy just curling up on a couch with a good book on a day off. If I have a week off, I won’t just sit on the couch all the time!

    3. NewRBT*

      I currently have 6-1/2 weeks PTO saved up. I just moved to a position with more flexible hours. I’m leaving at 1PM tomorrow for a dentist appt, and while in my old position that would have meant taking at least 3hrs PTO, in this one it’s just a shrug and a “make it up some other day”. Which is absolutely WILD to me, that I’ve spent the last 2-1/2yrs with no flexibility in my daily schedule while this new department is just “get your hours in and your work done”.

      I have no idea how I’m going to stop those 6-1/2 weeks from ballooning into 3 months, especially since PTO is a bit difficult to get approved at the moment.

  4. BW*

    I don’t think I’ll ever get over Americans defining a whole week off as a “long holiday”, but I do recommend making a week off in a row a habit – it’s really the minimum to reset. Our labour code actually incentivises employers to give everyone at least two weeks in a row per year (we get enough vacation time to take 4 weeks + random days, and up to 6 months medical leave as needed).

    1. Belgian Anon*

      Haha, same! My country has 20 legal days (sick time is separate), and many companies offer more. 1 week is a short vacation and one month is somewhat common! And many EU countries give more days than that…

    2. Magenta*

      Yeah when I read that the LW scheduled a “long vacation” I was expecting 3+ weeks. Where I am 1 or 2 weeks would just be normal and in no way exceptional, just the time off you take to recharge.

    3. Environmental Compliance*

      It’s a weird cultural thing. Previous jobs would have been aghast at me taking 2+ weeks off. 1 week would be long. Now where I’m at, after a miscommunication about a furlough, my boss was apparently totally fine with me taking 3 weeks off with <3 weeks notice. So that was cool (and so was finding out the furlough email didn't actually apply to me, which is a relief).

  5. Persephone Underground*

    LW #1 – While it’s helpful to see this wasn’t gendered behavior (I’ve seen blowhards like this that do this to everyone as well) as the individual on the receiving end, I think it’s also something where managers could stand to learn that their audience matters. Obviously this manager didn’t write in, but in a similar situation (especially in my field, tech) it might be worth pointing out that it’s a bad look to undermine your subordinates, and an especially bad look to do that to women subordinates who already deal with social bias when trying to be seen as an authority on a subject. It’s not that you should treat them differently, but have some awareness of where people are coming from to not put your foot in it. E.G. I never called my husband “my boy” as short for “my boyfriend” as I sometimes used to do with an ex, because he’s black and you just don’t use that term with black men.

    1. OP1*

      OP1 here, absolutely.

      While there have been good things about this position and my boss in general, I’ve definitely taken a lot of info about what not to do from this position, and your feedback about impressions and how you come across to others is definitely one of them.

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