updates: the sweat lodge, the mentor, 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. My coworker wants our office to do a sweat lodge ceremony

I’m writing with an update from a few years ago, when the new director over the regional location of my non-profit wanted the staff to do a sweat lodge together, among other over-the-top bonding activities that I was very uncomfortable with.

Fortunately, someone higher up must have gotten wind of the sweat lodge idea and shut that down, because suddenly the the plans were cancelled and Bob was complaining about a lack of support from the C-suite.

Unfortunately, while the sweat lodge was just the most egregious issue, it wasn’t the only one and the tension between me and Bob persisted. I used some of the language you suggested – which really helped me feel more in control of myself and the situation. I was feeling so emotional about everything that I didn’t quite know how to put it into words – thank you! That led to Bob essentially freezing me out and complaining to my supervisor about me, and even complaining to HR! As I said, that supervisor was supportive and stood up for me, eventually just relocating me to the main office so I didn’t have to interact with Bob day in/day out. HR also told him to cut it out.

In the end, though, I decided to look for a new job – it was harder to do my job well from a different office/city and I still needed input from Bob. After a short search, I got a great job that was a step-up in my career back in my home state, where I am close to my family. Not long after I left, Bob “decided to retire” and left a few months later, at the end of the year (about three years before anyone expected him to). My assumption is that, because he had been at the organization for decades, HR decided to gently ease him out. I’m still glad I left though, because I really like the place I work now.

2. How can I back out of a mentoring relationship?

I wrote in years ago (2013—wow!) about how to gracefully withdraw from a mentoring (actually, coaching) arrangement that wasn’t really working out, and sent an update that was run in 2014. I can’t believe it’s six years later, but here we are…I’m still a loyal reader (and recommender) of AAM and appreciate so many things it’s taught me!

The person I was trying hard to help develop moved on to a role in a completely different industry doing something much more in line with her education and interests, and from all accounts is thriving. I’m delighted by that, because she really does have so much to offer in a position she finds engaging and doing work she enjoys, neither of which were true in what she was doing with us. The baggage she had accumulated here wasn’t going to go away; even if she’d grown into a much higher performer, her credibility was pretty thoroughly destroyed. I am so happy that she began somewhere else with a clean slate.

For my part, I still work for the same boss, but have taken on the role of manager of the group in which this person used to work, in addition to other responsibilities. The folks in the group don’t need anywhere near the level of coaching that the former employee did—they’re actually quite autonomous, and my focus is getting them what they need, clearing roadblocks to their ability to get things done, and rebuilding relationships with the other groups we work with to make their jobs smoother; my predecessor hadn’t been particularly easy to deal with. I remember some of the comments relating to frustration with my boss for not just cutting bait back then, and while I felt it as well, there were good reasons that I accepted at the time, and still do now—as with all managerial relationships, you have to remember that there’s information you may not be privy to that influences what’s happening day to day. Sometimes it pays to take the long view, and I feel like this turned out to be a happy ending for everyone.

Thanks to you, and your excellent commentariat, for everything you do. It’s an invaluable resource. Stay healthy, everyone!

3. Employee keeps flipping from great to terrible (#2 at the link)

In true form, things took a bad turn again after a month or two, culminating in her hanging up on an escalated customer (part of her role was to take escalated calls, so this was Very Bad). We had another frank conversation, though this one was the “we will not keep riding this roller coaster. Disciplinary action will be happening next time there is a performance issue” variety. She floated trying to move into another line of business at our company because the one she was in not longer felt like a good fit, and I kindly made her aware that at this point she had damaged her reputation substantially with her poor behavior and attitude and that other LOB’s may not be excited to bring her to their team.

She started aggressively job searching, gave us two weeks, and we are all the better for it. I truly do wish her well.

{ 24 comments… read them below }

  1. It's Bruno!*

    Yeah, I once had an Ops mgr who thought that I should go to dinner and show him around even though I was very upfront about being married and with a kid in school to help with homework…he started freezing me out, writing me up for nebulous “sexual” reasons (HR wouldn’t even give a specific for me to fight) I made it longer than him but, it was stressful.

  2. Kiki*

    I really liked this set of updates. I feel like my major take on all three is that sometimes the best thing you can do for your career is leave.

  3. A Poster Has No Name*

    I suppose it’s not polite to ask about updates to other letters, but was there ever an update to the letter with the CEO who wanted an ADA lawsuit (#1 in the group that #3 was in)?

  4. lilsheba*

    I”m so glad the sweat lodge idea got cancelled. If my work ever did that, I would be forced to refuse. I am very heat sensitive and get sick when I get too hot. I just couldn’t do it.

    1. Quill*

      Yeah. On top of everything else the whole co-opting of a religious ceremony for team building is yikes.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. Besides which I don’t want to see my coworkers in anything except reasonably professional clothes.

  5. AdAgencyChick*

    OP3, glad to hear this person left your organization. It astounds me that low or erratic performers don’t understand that if they want to transfer within a company, their performance and DEFINITELY their attitude in their current position will be taken into consideration and may torpedo their chances.

    Yes, maybe the job is the wrong fit and a different department would be better, but if you’ve demonstrated you’re hard to work with, no one’s going to want to give you that chance.

    1. OP #3*

      OP #3 Here- in this particular case it was mostly social media activity that contributed. Think multiple times daily posts about how much they hate their job and would rather die than show up for another shift. They were also friends with hundreds of people from our organization, and somehow did not put 2 and 2 together that this would impact their ability to move to another LOB. Which was really too bad, because she did have a lot of great qualities and it truly was just a poor job fit. She could have excelled in another role at the company, but shot herself in the foot. Lesson learned, I’m sure.

      1. SemiAnon*

        I’ve met a few otherwise very intelligent and competent people who fail to grasp that repeatedly and publicly slagging off their employer, in professional circles, will have a strong negative on their ability to get hired for a permanent position.

        Their defense, if called on it, boils down to “but I’m right!”. Then they’re shocked and hurt when they don’t get short listed for the faculty job they desperately want, but when someone with a less impressive CV does.

  6. Sara without an H*

    OP#1: Thanks for updating us. I read your original post shortly after I discovered AAM and it confirmed for me that I really needed to keep reading this site. It sounds as though you weren’t the only person who had had enough of Bob. Congratulations on your new position!

    OP#3: I’m glad it worked out. Your post illustrates the need to be blunt, if necessary, and not to prolong the agony with erratic performers. I’m glad yours found something that suits her better. Thanks for the update.

  7. PNW Dweller*

    I’m so glad the sweat lodge was cancelled. I realize Christian holidays are normal vacation days in the US – which admittedly is similar trial for the non-Christian population. Sweat Lodges have a sacred, if not outright religious, connotation that seems to elevate the terribleness in requiring employee participation in the guise of a rope course type outing. If it’s wrong for people to wear costumes depicting Native Americans, using Native American ceremonies to foster cultural growth among employees seems tone deaf on steroids.

    1. PollyQ*

      The difference with religious holidays is that all employees are free to use their day off any way they want. No one’s organizing team outings to, say, Catholic masses.

      1. PNW Dweller*

        Yeah, I edited that out of my comment- I should have left in the fact at Christmas parties people aren’t required to take communion- which would be offensive to people who see that as an act reserved for those who have accepted Christ as their savior (and even that can be different between denominations). And I would find it a misuse of the act if there was a secular form of communion that helped someone find their inner Chi.

        1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          “which would be offensive to people who see that as an act reserved for those who have accepted Christ as their savior (and even that can be different between denominations).”

          Generally, participating in a religious service is restricted to believers, but there’s a pretty wide range of belief among believers. It’s not a binary yes/no situation.

  8. MommyMD*

    People die in sweat lodges. It’s a bizarre work suggestion. I have never liked Oprah since she endorsed that crazy guy who later killed all the people in the sweat lodge under the guise of spiritual cleansing.

  9. Reality.Bites*

    I confess I’m disappointed in the sweat lodge update. Not because it was (rightly) cancelled of course, but because I was expecting more drama from Bob and a more spectacular flame-out.

    Bob has been a disappointment in the role from start to finish. ;)

  10. Coffee Bean*

    I really would love to see a Netflix show starting Guacamole Bob and Sweat Lodge / Yoga Bob. In the same show.

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