updates: Joseph Stalin, sleeping during car rides, and more

Here are three updates from people who had their letters answered here in the past.

1. My manager named Joseph Stalin employee of the month

I followed your advice, and mentioned without going higher than her that I thought the email was insensitive, and that I’d prefer to be excluded from similar emails should they be sent in the future. She didn’t react great, stating that this was a joke about the working conditions. I left it at this point, as felt I’d said my piece.

This wasn’t the end of the situation though. There were 4 members of the team, out of 14, who all submitted their resignation letters within the same week, and the manager has been dismissed. Of the people that left, 3 were from Poland, and the other was a Ukranian lady. all highly skilled at what they do, and were snapped up by a rival as I’m still in contact with them. Speaking with one of them, she had sent the original email to HR as part of a leaver’s questionnaire. The director for our business unit has been pushing a diversity and inclusion agenda for months now, and has stated that there will be zero tolerance on issues such as this, so without knowing the ins and outs I can only assume HR have taken this course of action. A lot more has come out of the woodwork, such as some personal friends being given jobs by her, falsifying documents sent to our clients to make performance look better than the reality, renting a spare room in her house to one of her direct reports etc.

Thank you for taking the time to reply to my email previously, and for all the advice you give! Whilst I’m not at a management level yet, it’s within my ambitions and the blog gives me great pointers on what not to do!

2. I fall asleep during car rides with coworkers (#2 at the link)

You published my question about whether or not my coworkers think I’m rude for falling asleep in the car on field visits.

I’ve been back at work for about a month and a half, although in a different office with different coworkers. I told the people with whom I work the most “Just so you know, I tend to fall asleep when I get carsick, but I do my best to stay awake!” and they were both understanding.

Some of the commenters mentioned that this would be a good time to ask questions about the job, and I’ve definitely taken that to heart. I’m asking more questions and getting more perspective, and when I’ve been in the car with the same guy for 12 hours in the last two days, we talk about TV shows and movies and the town we live in. It’s definitely been a slightly uncomfortable process for me — I’ve got this weird notion that asking questions is Rude and Invasive but I’m working through it — but I’m glad I wrote in and started putting in more deliberate effort.

Also, I’ve finally been cleared to drive the work vehicles! I much prefer driving to sitting in the passenger seat, and lucky for me, my coworkers are the opposite. I think I’ve only fallen asleep in the car maybe three times this summer, which I will consider a success!

I’m going into my senior year, and even though the job market is uncertain, I’m actually looking forward to the job search, armed with the probably hundreds of hours I’ve spent reading your archives! Thanks so much for all you do!

3. Where do you start when you inherit a bad employee?

As expected, Elaine was promoted to the manager position, and she has honestly been a dream–she’s pleasant to work with, she advocates for our department, and she’s been extremely flexible during COVID.

After she took over, there were signs that she was managing Newman pretty closely. They had a few closed-door meetings, and I overheard her check in on some of his projects. Elaine was discreet, so I don’t know what she told him in private, but he complained about the amount of oversight. His work improved in some ways, but he also dropped some major balls (which affected all of us, so we found out about them). Shortly after that, he announced he was leaving to take a different job.

It feels like a good resolution. Newman got to keep his dignity, Elaine seems to have upheld high standards, and whatever she did made him realize that it wasn’t a good fit.

{ 158 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Venus*

    3. We recently had a bad employee leave when their new manager started to watch them closely. Same as you, I don’t know the details, but it was clear that the new manager is a million times better than the old one for many reasons, and this resolution seems to be the best for everyone. The bad employee gets a new start elsewhere, the manager doesn’t have the added work of compiling documentation to fire them, and the rest of us are better off without a bully.

    Reply
    1. Hills to Die on*

      I’m glad it worked out for your company. I get the impression that Newman will continue to have issues elsewhere and blame this company for the job not working out. Perhaps we will hear about him in another post from another OP someday.

      Reply
    2. Artemesia*

      We had a receptionist who wouldn’t learn to use a computer, wouldn’t do some of the necessary tasks that were not getting covered etc.(not her job description yadda yadda — and we had low need for a ‘receptionist’ who couldn’t also do these other things) We had a new high level employee who within a week was raising this issue with the boss. The lousy receptionist had been there forever and protected by the excellent AA (except for this). The new guy insisted that she cover things not getting done and learn to do simple computer based tasks — she retired. Turns out you don’t have to always fire people who are worthless — you can manage them to do better or the very process of being expected to do the work leads to them moving on.

      At a university the same process resulted in retirement of a couple of tenured faculty who were not intellectually productive but loved the low teaching loads (to allow research time) of tenured faculty. New guy looked at their failure to produce and publish and assigned them heavy teaching loads of undergrads similar to non-tenure track faculty hired to teach (full time with benefits rather than exploiting adjuncts). As soon as they had to actually do work, they retired and opened up their lines for new young productive scholars. Some older tenured faculty are amazingly productive, but there are always a few that use it as a no work sinecure.

      Reply
      1. Wendy*

        I worked at a medical clinic (my dad was one of the doctors) throughout high school in the late 90s. The office manager still did everything by hand, in black and red pen. I set up a template in WordPerfect to print off mailing labels of just doing them all on the typewriter and that gave her major anxiety even though she wasn’t the one who would have to use it. She had the perfect personality to run an office and about 40 years of experience, but she just… couldn’t handle the transition to medical records being digital. Unfortunately, she also had a severe health issue that meant she couldn’t afford to retire and not be on the company’s insurance.

        The clinic owners kept letting her stay “one more year” because she kept saying she was about ready to leave the computers to someone younger, but she kept not leaving. None of them understood computers either. Only my dad had any interest/ability for business stuff, so he ended up basically doing her job for her.

        The owners finally chose to sell the business to a local medical corporation a few years back when my dad retired. The new conglomerate had to choose to not carry over the (now in her late 70s) office manager’s job. She still had not learned to use a computer as of 2017.

        Reply
    1. Myrin*

      I don’t think so; it’s tacked onto the end of the sentence about the resignation letters that “the manager has been dismissed”.

      Reply
      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        I do see that now, my bad for skimming! (It still took me three tries to find it, dang. Today is a Day.)

        Reply
      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Some people think this kind of sh*t is funny. Seriously…this is also why people make “Fem Nazi” or “Hiel Hitler” jokes. They think they’re edgy and awesome, barf.

        Reply
      2. Pen keeper*

        I think she thought it would be funny just because it´s so random. Like, I mean it would´ve been funny if she awarded someone like Guy Fieri instead of showing support for mass murderers. But I don´t know… I also can´t wrap my head around how she thought this was a a good idea.

        Reply
      3. Jennifer Thneed*

        There’s no joke. That’s the standard fall-back of people who say rude things and are called out on it: “It was a joke”. (It’s often followed by something else rude, like “Jeez, lighten up” or “don’t be so sensitive” or “what’s your problem?”)

        (Or, she legit thought it was funny and she would have laughed if someone else said it, in which case, she’s still a garbage person but it’s a different flavor of garbage.)

        Reply
    1. EPLawyer*

      Not surprised that the manager who thinks making Joseph Stalin employee of the month as a joke was doing other bad things.

      But this is what happens, good people leave when you have bad management.

      Reply
      1. Archaeopteryx*

        She sounds like Miss Bearly, from Arrested Development, who was in love with Saddam Hussein. Glad she got the boot!

        Reply
        1. anonn*

          that is one of my favorite episodes- i had a professor who acted like that with some questionable political figures and it cracked me up.

          Reply
      2. Not So NewReader*

        Yeah that remark was so far from the norm, I wondered what else was going on. Where would a person have to be in their head to think a joke about Stalin is funny. The thinking got distorted some where along the line.

        Reply
    2. Rose*

      I like how she specified it was a joke to OP… did she think OP was unclear on if Stalin really worked there?

      Reply
  2. Bored Fed*

    In light of the Holodomor, I can easily see how someone with ties to Ukraine would see a reference to Stalin as equivalent to how someone with a Jewish background would see a reference to Hitler.

    Reply
    1. Observer*

      The reality is that for Jews of Eastern European extraction, Stalin is only marginally better than Hitler. He murdered entire communities.

      Reply
    2. Archie Goodwin*

      Yes. The fact that there were three Polish immigrants and one Ukrainian on the team pushes the whole thing way beyond the bounds of “in poor taste” into the realm of “colossally insensitive”. That’s just…*shudder*

      Reply
      1. Kimmybear*

        This. Had that been in the previous letter, I wonder if the initial reply would have been stronger.

        Reply
        1. emmelemm*

          Same. I mean, it’s one thing for me to see a reference to Stalin (upsetting and gross, but not specifically traumatic to *me*), but *knowing* that you have a number of employees on your team for whom Stalin is more than an abstract historical figure and doing it anyway… the mind boggles.

          Reply
          1. Pomona Sprout*

            Exactly. The use of Stalin seemed so random without this context; that was actually a big part of the wtf-ness of the whole thing. Knowing what we know now puts it in a completely different and much more disturbing light.

            Reply
      2. Sis Boom Bah*

        Yes, colossally insensitive, but to the point of possible actual malice. There isn’t an excuse for that kind of ignorance.

        Reply
      3. Coder von Frankenstein*

        Or “deliberately targeting specific employees.” Given everything else this manager was doing, I don’t think she deserves the benefit of the doubt that it was accidental.

        Reply
    3. Helvetica*

      For a whole swathe of Eastern Europe, that remark is distasteful at best at all times. My country was occupied by the Soviet Union for 50 years and Stalin’s reign was particularly harsh and terrible and it is telling that most political jokes in the Soviet Union/about it, came about after Stalin’s regime. Because at that time, jokes got you literally murdered.

      Reply
      1. Archie Goodwin*

        Before emigration, my mother had a friend who would preface every joke with, “Do you want a ten-year joke or a twenty-year joke?” His father would always freeze up. Even after Stalin’s death…he would say, “Dad, it’s OK. He’s dead.” And his father would say, “Still, I wish you wouldn’t say such things.”

        Reply
        1. Amy Sly*

          Reminds me of my favorite USSR joke.

          It’s the day after the Warsaw Pact has been signed. One Pole says to another, “Comrade, are the Russians our friends or our brothers?” “Why Comrade,” the other says, “The Russians are our brothers!” He then looks around furtively, and whispers, “You get to choose your friends.”

          Reply
            1. Amy Sly*

              The Great Courses has a series “The History of Eastern Europe” taught by University of Tennessee professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius, and he peppers the course with jokes from the time periods under discussion. (It’s where I learned this one.) He also teaches on “Terror and Utopia in the 20th Century” and has completed one part of a three part series on the rise of Communism. He’s one of the best teachers they have for 20th Century history.

              Reply
              1. Archie Goodwin*

                I think you may have told it in the last thread, actually. Because I’d never heard it, and I told it to my Soviet-refugee mother that evening, and she enjoyed it.

                One she told me I always liked – I think it was from a 1960s 0r 70s cartoon about the purges:

                [1938: person reads down the list of names]
                Traitor…traitor…traitor…
                [1960: person walks down a row of headstones]
                You’ve been pardoned…you’ve been pardoned…you’ve been pardoned…
                [1965: person walks down a row of headstones]
                You’ve won the lottery…you’ve won the lottery…you’ve won the lottery…

                As she says: Russian jokes aren’t funny. They’re just true.

                Reply
                1. Heffalump*

                  In a similar vein, at some point Robert MacNamara, who’d been Secretary of Defense for part of the Vietnam war, admitted that he and his colleagues had been wrong about the entire thing.

                  Shortly afterward I saw a cartoon based on the famous photo of Mary Ann Vecchio, the young woman shrieking in horror over the body of one of the students killed at Kent State. In the cartoon she was saying, “Wake up, MacNamara’s sorry!”

      2. Heffalump*

        From the 50-year time frame I’m guessing that you or your ancestors are from one of the Baltic states. Am I right?

        Reply
      3. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

        As a second gen descendant of Baltic inmigrants, I’d be offended to the point of considering resigning on the spot. The last time I was that angry is when some coworkers at ex-job speculated about my “true” nationality, because apparently my lastname and my face didn’t “match” for them.
        I hope those coworkers have better jobs now.

        Reply
    4. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Yeah, the large number employees from eastern & central Europe turns the Stalin thing from stupid to actively hateful.

      Reply
      1. TeapotNinja*

        I’m surprised nobody punched the manager in the face. My jaw dropped on the floor after reading about the Polish and Ukrainian employees. That manager shouldn’t be managing people anywhere.

        Reply
    5. TheX*

      I should note that what the manager did would sound just as offensive to many Russians of Slavic ethnicity as well.

      Reply
    6. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      One of my coworkers once said “Germany, Poland… It’s all the same, right?” And I gave him The Look.

      Reply
      1. Chinook*

        Saying “Canada , US…same thing” deserves The Look. That coworker derved a punch to the face or someone bursting into tears.

        Reply
        1. Archie Goodwin*

          My preferred response would be, “I dunno. Ask ’em in Gdansk.” But that would probably fly over his head.

          Reply
  3. Sabine*

    #1 – this story is so bizarre. I can see someone doing this at like, my work-study back in college in the history department (and the joke would have been: random historical figures, not look at how rad totalitarianism is).

    Just for my own curiosity, I really wonder about the dynamics of the department and where the office is. That 3 people are Polish and 1 was Ukrainian makes it seem not just like a joke in poor taste, but an intentionally loaded comment under the guise of humor.

    Reply
    1. Cordelia Vorkosigan*

      That 3 people are Polish and 1 was Ukrainian makes it seem not just like a joke in poor taste, but an intentionally loaded comment under the guise of humor.

      This. Like, just nominating Stalin as employee of the month is bad enough — doing it when you have multiple Polish/Ukrainian employees under you is a different level. Yiiiikes. I’m glad she was dismissed.

      Reply
    2. Seal*

      That’s why context and knowing your audience matters when making a joke. There may well be a situation where listing dictators as past employees of the month is funny (although none comes to mind, especially not as a manager!), but in the OP’s case this clearly wasn’t it.

      Reply
    3. Red Tape Producer*

      I made a comment during the initial post that the manager could’ve chosen a number of different dictators, it’s not like despots were limited to the USSR (Mao, Castro, any of the Kims, ect). I had a feeling this was intended to target a group of people under her, and lo and behold…

      Reply
      1. anonn*

        right. and the fact that it was putin and then stalin is even weirder. i wonder if the team is not even in the US?

        Reply
    4. CM*

      I have to admit, while I vaguely knew about the history in a “learned it in history class” way, I was ignorant about how brutal Stalin’s regime was and how much it still affects people until I read the comments to that AAM post. When I first read the letter I thought, well, maybe she’s even more ignorant about that and meant it as a silly joke. But no — not only did she double down, she knew there were people on her team for whom it was very personal, AND was doing all kinds of other shady things.

      Reply
      1. UKDancer*

        I think a lot of people don’t know about his actions. We studied the Holocaust extensively at school and British history of the same period but we didn’t really study Russian history past the revolution. History kind of ended with the arrival of Lenin.

        I only actually learnt about the Holodomor when I went to Ukraine on business and read up on the country. I went to the memorial and museum in Kyiv and it was difficult to stop crying at the scale of the death and the appalling things that were done by Stalin and his regime.

        Even before I knew that I would have had the sense not to make jokes like this.

        Reply
        1. Zombeyonce*

          My US public school education was apparently so terrible that I’ve never even heard the term “Holodomor” until I read it on this page today.

          Reply
          1. KoiFeeder*

            My US private school education didn’t teach me about the Holodomor either, so I think this is an America problem exacerbated by the “politicians keep embezzling the money that’s supposed to go to public schools” problem.

            Reply
              1. MayLou*

                All I learnt in UK GCSE History was WWII and a tiny bit about WWI. Almost all the history I know is from the internet. I knew Stalin was bad but that’s almost entirely the extent of my knowledge about him.

                Reply
            1. Amy Sly*

              Well, it was covered up by the USSR for decades, and the New York Time’s reporter for the USSR at the time (Walter Duranty) was actively denying it. “Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda.” — NYT, 23 August 1933.

              He also attacked the journalists who tried to get the story out like Gareth Jones. There’s a new movie about it called Mr. Jones. Better have a strong stomach if you decide to watch.

              Reply
            2. timeforlunch*

              In my US public high school, I had to “be” Stalin for a “Bolsheviks on Trial” history class game, and boy did I take it on the chin from the Ukrainians, and with good reason. He murdered 3.9 million by starvation. He had a lot to answer for with respect to the Poles, too, from the invasion to the murder of tens of thousands of prisoners of war.

              Reply
            1. MysteryFan*

              Me too Willow! I took several Russian History classes, and I knew of the massive famine due to collectivization, and the branding of small farmers who resisted as Kulaks.. but the term Holdomor was never used. I wonder why?

              Reply
          2. it's-a-me*

            Don’t feel too bad about it, my Australian Public Education equally never brought it up, I learned about it on reddit.

            Reply
          3. Keymaster of Gozer*

            UK here, embarrassed to say I’ve studied a bit of Russian history on my own (nuclear power related) and never heard this before. But going to read up about it now so I’m informed.

            (UK history teaching when I was at school was crop rotation, industrial revolution, 2 world wars and a bit on elizabethan times. That was it. We didn’t even cover anything in other countries. Not even the US)

            Reply
            1. Ponytail*

              Industrial Revolution, oh yes. I don’t think it’s legal to teach in UK schools without covering that (am being sarcastic!) and bloody crop rotation.

              Reply
              1. UKDancer*

                I don’t remember doing Industrial Revolution at school or crop rotation.

                We did the Romans, the Tudors and Stuarts and then large amounts of World War 1 and 2. I remember a lot of time building an air raid shelter and learning about women at war. We did something on the rise of fascism in Germany and I think Italy as well.

                Then for my A Level I picked the revolution and enlightenment module. We did the English civil war and the same period of history in France covering Louis XIV-XVI and Austria covering Maria-Theresa and Joseph.

                In my university vacations I worked in a local castle as a guide so I read a lot more about history then, as well as reading a lot of historical romances.

                It was only when I started travelling to Ukraine and Georgia and Poland that I started learning about their history and experiences and what effect it’s had on the countries. I also discovered that I really like this part of the world so I wanted to know more about it.

                I think history at school is limited because you can only do so much of it so they tend to stick to the more popular things.

                Reply
          4. Perpal*

            To be fair, we are kind of label happy; I’m half ukranian and I’m not terribly familiar with the word Holodomor until now (I probably heard it, just didn’t “learn” it); just knew that the soviet union liked to show promotional videos of the happy Ukrainians harvesting wheat while taking all the food and starving them to death. And doing unsafe things with nuclear power factories because everyone wants to look good and no one wants to report that something is out of whack and needs checking. And then don’t tell anyone what happened, tell them they’re just going away a few days so they leave all their stuff behind, etc etc.

            Reply
        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          The US sticks with their glorified US History requirements. “World History” is an elective and spotty, the best we get is mandatory “Geography” classes. So for a minute, kids can sometimes point out Russia on a map but don’t know a darn thing other than “Wow it’s big” and whatever their family members have maybe spewed at them over the years. Sigh.

          I only know world history from my own self teachings and beloved friends from around the world thanks to the internet being a huge connection tool in my life.

          Reply
          1. KaciHall*

            90% of the history I know I read about in a Danielle Steele book (or similar historical fiction) then studied more in depth once the internet was a thing.

            My husband hates it when I tell him WHY I know the answer to questions on jeopardy. It’s inevitably a romance novel or a fan fiction.

            Reply
            1. UKDancer*

              Yes. As a teenager I read an awful lot of Jean Plaidy and other historical and romantic fiction. As a result I developed a strong interest in some historical periods especially the English Civil War and the Wars of the Roses and a lot of knowledge. It’s useful for pub quizzes.

              Reply
          2. Not So NewReader*

            Technically speaking, world history should be called European history because it’s not actually about the world.

            Reply
            1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

              That’s not entirely accurate… I mean, regular level World History is probably more of a “western civilization” class, but AP World History covers Chinese dynasties, the mongols, I remember doing a project on the Tokugawa shogunate, trade routes and civilizations in Africa, along with Europe and the Americas. Maybe I just had a really excellent teacher but we covered a huge variety of time periods and locations.

              Reply
            2. allathian*

              True. I’m in Finland, a country that was a Russian Grand Duchy between 1809 and 1917. We had a lot of Russian Imperial history (because we shared it) and some after the revolution. Still, that pales with the amount of Swedish history we read, because Finland was a part of Sweden for at least 600 years (the exact date is hard to determine because there were only a number of “tribes” for a lack of a better name, until the Swedish kingdom was established at different dates depending on location). Sámi history was pretty much ignored, I’m sad to say. But thanks to native people’s movements, my son’s generation is better off in this regard.

              All that said, we had no African or Asian history, apart from some colonial stuff, even if we didn’t have any colonies. American history was taught very much from the European point of view, although we did learn something about the ancient civilizations in Central and South America. But North American native tribes, who didn’t build huge cities or hoard gold treasures were pretty much ignored, except as rivals of the European settlers of the Wild West.

              Reply
          3. Edwina*

            And if your classroom uses the Mercator projection map, with the U.S. in the middle and Russia cut in half, you don’t even realize how big it is.

            Years ago, in my early 20s, I traveled to East Germany, and seeing maps with the USSR in the middle was a complete revelation to me.

            Reply
        3. Chinook*

          That so contrts with Alberta grade 9 Social Studies where USSR/ Russia is one of 2 countries we study that year. I got to cover it in 1988/89, which made for interesting geography tests and permission to update our textbooks based on which nation became known as ex-Soviet on th news the night before.

          As a result, studying about the atrocities gave context to the current events as did hearing the stories of classmates’ parents about why they escaped 10 years earlier.

          Reply
      2. Perpal*

        I think for a while most of the markist communism regimes were REALLY GOOD at propaganda, and a lot of people like the idea behind them. It’s only been a few decades later that the horrors are being revealed, and the fact that it’s easy to politicize makes it circulate weirdly.
        Half my family is of Ukie backround and the awefulness of the soviet union was something I was raised aware of. I remember once I was talking to someone from russia about it and was surprised when their response was “at least we had hope then!” – I think some of the more mainstream russians didn’t have it as bad, and at least it felt like there was a vision of the future. When it collapsed some of the good things about the system collapsed too, ie all the public vaccination programs went down and you saw a surge of diptheria etc. tl;dr – I think it was a horrible system but some suffered worse than others and some still see the appeal of the ideals that were espoused.

        Reply
  4. Coder von Frankenstein*

    “A lot more has come out of the woodwork, such as some personal friends being given jobs by her, falsifying documents sent to our clients to make performance look better than the reality…”

    So this manager really did regard Stalin and Putin as models to emulate.

    Reply
    1. Observer*

      Yes.

      I had commented on the original post that you have to wonder whether she has authoritarian tendencies in the workplace. The answer seems to be an unqualified yes.

      Reply
    2. Cary*

      #3-

      In the OP, Newman sounds spectrummy. Doesn’t get the real idea of what he’s supposed to do so he introduces features that don’t actually fit; gets obsessively interested in some little detail (such as the unnecessary feature) and pours all his energy into that instead of what he should be doing; implements sloppily, perhaps due to poor executive function; fails to realize his joke idea is offensive (and/or says things that are so off-the-wall people assume they were intended as offensive jokes when they weren’t even jokes)…

      Ever since my HFA husband was fired for his HFA traits a couple months ago, we’ve been trying to figure out what if anything he could ask for as accommodations so that he won’t just be repeatedly fired. I’m similarly curious how such a person could be managed so they could be a useful employee. Misunderstandings are misunderstandings; you can’t magically just stop having HFA.

      We’re both feeling very discouraged right now, rather like the LW who worried about their ADHD making them unemployable (https://www.askamanager.org/2018/02/what-if-i-cant-succeed-in-the-world-of-work.html)…and the thing is, ISTM Alison’s response was geared for a “normal” person who just isn’t that bright but who still has normal executive function and social skills. Not so much for a person with ADHD or HFA, IOW a more specific, “apparently minor” disability that nevertheless apparently causes a lot of problems in work environments.

      Can these problems ever actually be addressed or is such a person doomed to just constantly move from job to job, always to the relief of former coworkers?

      My husband got zero feedback until he was put on a PIP. (His official “manager” only spoke with him for performance reviews because he wasn’t on any of his projects. When the PIP began, this manager was charged with overseeing it and informing husband of it, but when he informed him he still didn’t even know much about it yet because, he said, it was HR’s idea, not his.)

      I read over the PIP documents and they were a list of HFA traits so IOW–though they didn’t realize it–basically “Quit having HFA.” (Example: “You were told to do X. You did X. While yes, it could be argued that what you did was literally X, you should have known based on context that actually we wanted Y.”) He then took initiative to figure out how to prevent such problems, which involved obsessively emailing everyone for clarification after clarification (he was on all remote projects), which he really hated because it took people forever to get back to him…but it seemed to be working. He got zero feedback during the PIP except that he passed it (there were many weekly meetings that recorded only that he, his manager, and the HR lady met and everything was fine), and then they fired him a couple months later because (according to the manager), “No one wants to work with you and everyone thinks you’re incompetent.” He had worked very, very hard to stay because this was almost the only job in his field in this area, and this is where he grew up and is also near my ill, elderly parents (for whom we’ve been grocery shopping), so neither of us wanted to move.

      It’s really hard to judge what lesson to take from this–anywhere from “HFA makes you unemployable no matter how otherwise skilled you are” to “We were making too many medical claims on the company’s self-funded insurance” (we were making a lot) to “One specific person took against him and there was nothing anyone else could do” (not only did his manager claim “this was coming from HR,” also the HR lady claimed “this was coming from above her and there was nothing she could do” (?)).

      Weirdly, every former coworker he’s asked for references has agreed to provide them. It’s as if the “No one wants to work with you” claim wasn’t actually true. I mean…who would provide a reference for a guy already safely fired and gone if they really thought he was impossible to work with and incompetent? Wouldn’t you say you weren’t the best person to ask for a reference in that case? He almost didn’t ask anyone to be a reference at all because HR had him so convinced he was universally seen as a bad employee and everyone would turn him down, and then everyone he asked *agreed*…

      I’ll tell you, in my everyday life with him: The guy is smart. I mean he tests as super smart, but also, he *is*. He has lots of outside the box ideas for how to do things better, and the majority of them initially hit as “Oh god, stop with this ‘creativity’ and just do the darn task and move *on*,” but if you actually give them a chance, about half the time they actually are very useful and–just brilliant, efficient solutions. Then the other half of the time they actually *are* useless obsessing over unnecessary details. But *he can’t tell those apart* (that’s often said to be the essence of HFA–“not getting the point”), and so if he’s going to share with others the benefit of his brilliant ideas, he’s also going to be suggesting pointless wastes of time, and he needs a job where…that can be managed, I guess?

      Well, this rambled, but my main point remains: “Newman” does sound potentially spectrummy there. And stories like this make me really wonder if there’s any place in the working world for people with HFA. Sometimes it seems they just *are* annoying to work with and everyone just *is* happy to be rid of them, and nobody seems to really know what can be done to better manage them or what accommodations can help.

      Reply
      1. WS*

        Yes, but this is the point about better managing – people with autism are entirely able to learn, but if they get no feedback, they’re not going to magically pick it up through social cues. Direct, clear management means getting that high-powered brain to focus on more necessary things and fewer tangents, while still allowing time and consideration for those often useful tangents. Your husband tried to take this action himself (the emailing about details) but it really should be his manager’s job to work with him on those details before he gets off-track. That’s the same for anyone in a workplace, just an autistic person is more likely to working hard on the wrong thing, and an NT person is more likely to be either building social capital or slacking off.

        Reply
      2. MayLou*

        We can’t possibly diagnose a character in a letter, but in terms of your husband, my advice as someone who is waiting for assessment but definitely has some kind of neurodiversity going on, and who at the age of 28 finally got her first “proper” job (by which I mean with a boss, didn’t crash out before the probation period ended, enough income to (almost) live on) is that it is hugely about finding the right workplace.

        Smaller places (less likely to have a lot of strict policies that are hard to comply with) with a good understanding of diversity and genuine openness to supporting people, work which allows flexibility in approach and values the upsides of neurodiverse thinking, access to an objective and independent work coach, and careful management of paid time off to avoid burnout are all the factors that I think mean I’m succeeding in this job for the first time ever. It is possible. It is not easy.

        My organisation doesn’t even have HR. We have someone who does payroll and we have policies but there isn’t a department or a specific person. I can see why there might be downsides to that, but the upside is that my manager is the person who makes decisions about how to deal with my quirks, and she also sees the advantages of them in my work. I’m frequently called on to resolve some random issue or improve workflow through a technical solution that I research, test and implement. It’s not in my job description but she saw my aptitude for it and allows me space to do that stuff. If we were more constrained by a rigid structure (as I have experienced in previous jobs), I would struggle.

        Reply
      3. Coffee*

        It sounds to me like your husband’s review is quite different from Newman’s (i.e. Not following quality control procedures vs your husband’s manager being bad at managing). I think some of Alison’s posts about how bad workplaces warp your thinking might be helpful.

        I won’t lie, it will be a factor that makes his work life harder for him, but I also think his workplace sounds unpleasant. He might find a support group helpful for people on the spectrum to talk about what work types are good for them?

        Reply
  5. The Vulture*

    Okay, #1 is SO BONKERS and I think it doesn’t get enough credit for how absolutely bananapants weird it is. I think it is more perplexing than hexing your coworkers or starting a dress-code petition amongst the interns, or starting a duck club, or hanukkah balls. LIKE. WHAT.

    I find it particularly offensive on the topic of humor. Like, okay, it must be a joke, but it’s…not funny…and then she explained it was about the working conditions? Which for me raises just as many questions? I just have a real thing about jokes being used as a get-out-of-jail-free card, like, even if it’s funny, doesn’t mean it’s fine, and if it’s not funny, just, how’d people get the impression you can label a controversial/weird statement as a joke and we’re all A-OKAY? EURGH.

    Reply
    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      I’ve seen the “Beatings will continue until morale improves” poster in several workplaces and I’ve always found it offensive. If you have to explain to someone why it is offensive then it makes it worse that they find it humorous.

      Reply
      1. Amy Sly*

        If it’s anything put up by management, absolutely.

        If it’s put up by employees (e.g. in a worker bee’s cubicle) because as far as they can tell, that’s what the leadership actually believes, well, that’s the kind of black humor people tell to keep themselves from lashing out in rage or despair. Coping mechanisms for dysfunctional situations are themselves dysfunctional in normal situations.

        Reply
        1. Archie Goodwin*

          That’s the thing. I actually enjoy a lot of Soviet-related black humor, and am happy to roll with it as necessary. But I’d never do it without knowing my audience. And I HAVE engaged in it before, with coworkers from the Eastern Bloc; but we have by that time established a baseline of understanding between us, so we’re all on the same page.

          Reply
            1. LifeBeforeCorona*

              The Boss makes a dollar
              I make a dime
              That’s why I poop on company time!
              Someone actually got fired for posting this on their FB page but that’s another kettle of fish.

              Reply
      2. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I am curious what is offensive about that poster/sign/saying? I don’t think most people that display such a poster actually think beating employees is okay and in fact would argue for the opposite. The point I have gotten from that is many companies want “good morale” but then go about ways that achieve the opposite effect, forced retreats/ team bonding events/mandatory HH’s etc… instead of focusing on things that actually build good morale, like fair pay, good benefits, upward mobility.

        Reply
        1. Coder von Frankenstein*

          I think the problem is that it’s basically equating bad workplace policies to domestic violence.

          Reply
          1. Akcipitrokulo*

            Domestic violence never occurred – and I’ve seen it for many years.

            It’s always seemed to me as when employees could be beaten. And the disconnect of management thinking they can punish their way out of bad situations.

            Put up by an employee – not offensive, but cause for concern. Put up by a manager – YIKES!

            Reply
        2. LunaLena*

          I think that a poster like that that is meant to be dark humor can easily come across as passive aggressive or “it’s funny because it’s true… we don’t QUITE beat people here, but we come close, hoho. Ain’t we stinkers, hoho.” There’s a poster in the video game Portal 2 that I thought is quite funny and considered getting a copy for my office – it’s titled “Karla the Complainer says ‘My Boss is a Robot'” and then goes on to extol the virtues of robots. It’s funny in the context of the game because the company that made it is a parody of a sexist 1950s research lab where anything goes (including replacing people with janky robots) as long as it advances SCIENCE. But if you didn’t play the game, you wouldn’t know this – all you’d see is a poster that looks a lot like old retro workplace safety posters and shows a woman complaining about her boss. In the end I chose not to get it because I didn’t want it to look like I was passive-aggressively complaining about my boss (who is an awesome boss, incidentally) and I didn’t want to have to explain every time someone noticed it that it has nothing to do with my actual workplace, I just think it’s funny because 1) context and 2) the deliberately wonky artwork cracks me up. On top of that, my boss had just joined our team and didn’t know me well enough to know that this was not a reflection on her, just one of many video game posters I choose to decorate my office with, and I didn’t want her to feel unwelcome. Even now, when I think it’s quite likely that she’d think it’s funny and wouldn’t take it personally, I wouldn’t put it up just because I wouldn’t want people to get the wrong idea. I’d feel the same way about a “Beatings will continue…” poster.

          TL;DR – I don’t think it’s about a poster being offensive, but what it might unintentionally convey to someone who is new to the environment or doesn’t have the context to realize it really is just a joke.

          Reply
        3. Mill Miker*

          In my experience it comes down to who’s posting it, and how true it is. For it to actually be funny, I think the workplace has to have a good enough culture that people don’t actually feel that way, and it’s just weird workplace humour.

          If it’s true and the employees are posting it, then it can still be funny, but it’s gallows humour and a sign that you need to get out.

          If it’s true and the bosses are posting it, then it comes across as “Ha ha, get it? The joke is I’m terrible and you’re all miserable! Now laugh or else.”

          Reply
          1. Not So NewReader*

            I have never heard it referenced in good work places. Toxic workplace reference this sentence often. It could be just my experience though.
            It’s pretty dark humor and happier workplaces just don’t seem to think of this stuff.

            Reply
        4. JSPA*

          It seemed a lot funnier when the people posting, and at least some of the people reading, could be blissfully unaware of how much actual beating down of citizens by police or private security, happens shockingly often in the US.

          I think I stopped cracking a smile sometime soon after Rodney King. Because “oh, this is like Disney pirates, or cartoons, not real beatings” just didn’t slot in the way it used to do.

          Reply
      3. Khatul Madame*

        Whatever you do, don’t go look at Demotivators at despair dot com. You will get very, very offended.

        Reply
        1. Kathenus*

          I LOVE the Demotivators! I used to print out small versions of some of the meeting-related ones and put them outside our conference room at a past job to see how long it took someone to notice, such as the one that says “Meetings – None of us is as dumb as all of us”.

          Reply
      4. jsv*

        But that at least makes sense as a joke. I cannot figure out the joke here at all. Every way you look at it it’s just not funny, even as dark humor.

        Reply
    1. bluephone*

      Saaaame! I don’t know if I’ve had too much experience with awful people or what, but like, I could almost maybe see how a joke about Stalin being “employee of the month” could maybe happen (not saying that it’s right, just saying that like, everyone’s brain is clearly wired differently). But then I’m like, “no it’s not even a good joke. It’s not even a ‘joke’ at all.” Like, The Simpsons once did a “mussolini made the trains run on time” joke but also pointed out that he actually didn’t, which is what made the exchange funnier (while also calling attention to the fact that he was a dictator after all). Stalin Boss is nowhere near that level of subtlety or finesse. It’s just both dumb and offensive which is somehow worse than being either dumb OR offensive???

      Reply
      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        The funnies employee of the month poster that I’ve seen was the office dog because he’s been a “good boy”. Complete with his photo and company ID.

        Reply
        1. MayLou*

          Have you seen the Penguin of the Month board from the National Aquarium of New Zealand? It is glorious.

          Reply
      2. Amy Sly*

        Same. As I mentioned on the original thread, I can see the possibility in humor from the juxtaposition of terrible people and the reasons someone makes employee of the month. (e.g. “Vlad Tepes — increased stake-holders”) The humor from that is incredibly dark and totally inappropriate for the workplace, but almost all humor derives from subverting expectations. And well, there are definitely expectations to be subverted regarding terrible people.

        But you still have to make it a joke. “Stalin” is not an instant punchline.

        Reply
        1. DarthVelma*

          The Vlad Tepes thing make me laugh so hard I scared the cat. :-)

          You win the internet for today.

          Reply
          1. Amy Sly*

            I went through several examples before I settled on that one as the most likely to be received as humorous. Stalin, Hitler, and Beria are just too recent to joke about in world-wide company.

            Reply
            1. DarthVelma*

              New rule for jokes about terrible things that happened in the past – if the people involved have not been dead for at least as long as Vlad Tepes…it’s still too soon. *snort*

              Reply
              1. Amy Sly*

                I might shorten it to “if any living person was or personally knew one of their victims.”
                That way we can add “Maximilian Robespierre — reduced headcount.”

                Reply
                1. Archie Goodwin*

                  Don’t forget Marat – best argument for taking a shower I’ve ever heard.

              2. LT*

                What’s that old saying? Tragedy + time = comedy? I guess the greater the tragedy, the greater the time needed.

                Reply
  6. Observer*

    Yes, halfway competent HR would react pretty strongly to having *4* people out of a team of 14 leaving in the same week. But, I have to say that these people seem only HALFWAY competent – why on earth did it take so long for the problems to start showing up?

    Even what the OP originally posted should have been throwing up some flags. What they write now? Also, why did 4 people feel like they had to leave without ever talking to HR about it? I would hope that I forwarded that email to HR and / or my Grandboss, it would get taken care of IMMEDIATELY. The fact that they clearly didn’t have that confidence says a lot.

    Reply
    1. Chinook*

      Considering the background of the 4 that left, I can see that they thought nothing HR could do would make them want to stay longer than they had to. It was probably the last straw in a haystack of subtle issues that were just crossing ghe line. And I don’t blame them for not wanting to stick around to complain,

      Reply
  7. Threeve*

    LW #2, if you were my coworker I would tell you to nap away. I love falling asleep in the passenger seat on road trips. I also hate talking to people while I’m driving.

    Reply
  8. NW Mossy*

    Wait, so you’re saying that a manager who thinks Stalin as employee of the month is hilarious also demonstrates poor judgment in other areas of their job?

    *shocked Pikachu face*

    Reply
  9. EPLawyer*

    LW2: Also, I’ve finally been cleared to drive the work vehicles! I much prefer driving to sitting in the passenger seat, and lucky for me, my coworkers are the opposite. I think I’ve only fallen asleep in the car maybe three times this summer, which I will consider a success!

    I really hope you weren’t driving when you fell asleep those 3 times? kidding, kidding. The paragraph just struck me as hilarious. I’m glad it all worked out. I also want to add that questions are NOT “rude and invasive” in and of themselves. I hope you get more comfortable asking questions about work at least.

    Reply
    1. PeteAndRepeat*

      I had to read it twice and laughed at that! Also, I understand what OP says about feeling like asking questions is rude and invasive. I’m sometimes uncomfortable asking people questions about themselves, just because I can be shy and a bit socially awkward. But! Asking questions and being interested in someone’s work, opinions, likes and dislikes, etc. is how you form relationships, including with colleagues. I’ve found it helpful to let the other person take the lead, respond to a couple questions first, and then use that as a jumping-off point to reciprocate.

      Reply
      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I’m always far too frightened of asking a question that turns out to have an embarrassing answer, like Archie in A Fish Called Wanda when he says
        “Wanda, do you have any idea what it’s like being English? Being so correct all the time, being so stifled by this dread of, of doing the wrong thing, of saying to someone, ‘Are you married?’ and hearing, ‘ My wife left me this morning,’ or saying, uh, ‘ Do you have children?’ and being told they all burned to death on Wednesday. You see, Wanda, we’re all terrified of embarrassment. That’s why we’re so – dead. Most of my friends are dead, you know; we’ve these piles of corpses to dinner. But you’re alive, God bless you, and I want to be, I’m so fed up with all this. I want to make love with you, Wanda. I’m a good lover – at least, used to be, back in the early 14th century. Can we go to bed?”

        Reply
  10. Dittany*

    I’m still trying trying to wrap my head around #1. Like, even ignoring the STAGGERINGLY TERRIBLE JUDGMENT on that manager’s part, the joke doesn’t even make sense as ~edgy~ comedy. Wouldn’t Stalin be the CEO in that scenario?

    Reply
    1. jsv*

      I’ve been trying so hard to figure out the joke but I just don’t get it. If you’re going to make a wildly offensive joke that causes four of your employees to quit, it should at least be funny.

      Reply
  11. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    #3 is giving me so much life right now. We’re in a similar transition phase and I pray our Newman just leaves without a fuss as well. But I don’t know we’ll be that lucky, the writing is certainly the wall though.

    Reply
  12. LT*

    Totally off-topic, but letter #1 reminded me that ‘the Death of Stalin’ was amazing. Hilarious & horrifying at the same time.

    Reply
    1. UKDancer*

      Definitely, I thought Death of Stalin was brilliant and incredibly funny and horrifying.

      Also I have a massive crush on Jason Isaacs so his take on Zhukov was amazing.

      Reply
    2. Not Australian*

      I was just coming here to recommend it; it makes the point very clearly and is the blackest of black comedy.

      Reply
  13. Anonny*

    Even without the Stalin thing, I feel it’s kinda crass for a manager to joke about their employee’s working conditions.

    Reply
  14. Elaine this time*

    I’m Elaine… Any suggestions for how to word such effective (and non-public) redirects? For context, I am also 20 years younger than Newman and have been hired into/promoted to at least one, probably two, jobs Newman wanted.

    Reply
    1. Tabby Baltimore*

      Okay, I’ll take a turn at this. Scenario: you’re in the office, and see that Newman has drafted and sent a document with specific wrong content/has written and sent an email with questionable language/learned he has completed a step wrong (again) in a routine process. You come up to him and (using Alison’s phrasin) say something like “Newman, I need you to something differently when it comes to this content/this kind of language/this step. Instead of [whatever he did], I want you to do [Y] instead. Can you do that?” Admittedly, this is probably how I would phrase a public re-direct. A private re-direct might include using another one of Alison’s many useful phrases (“Newman, this is an example of what we talked about.”) that I think might work especially well when he speaks unprofessionally to his co-workers.

      Reply
    2. WS*

      Be clear and direct. Instead of “Newman, this joke isn’t appropriate,” say, “Newman, jokes about people’s bodies are not appropriate, don’t make them.” If he protests and says, “But Jerry makes jokes about people’s bodies!” listen to that, and see if Jerry’s jokes are also inappropriate (but Jerry is more charming about it, in which case have a chat to Jerry as well), or just that Jerry has better social skills and can pick his audience. If the latter, “If you can’t tell which jokes are appropriate and which aren’t, it’s better not to make them.” No judgement, no argument, just a clear “No.” And this goes for all aspects of his work: while he’s learning to interpret what the company/customer actually wants, supervise closely. He will eventually work it out or move on.

      But more to the point, Newman can probably learn all of this, but not immediately and not without carefully testing all the boundaries. You’ll soon be able to see the difference whether he tries to not be offensive (and sometimes fails for a while as he learns) or just doesn’t care and does what he wants.

      Reply
  15. Choggy*

    #3 is my dream! Just got a new manager, and he was very candid with me that he was told about one of my coworkers who is awful. I can see him being right on top of him, and can also see coworker feeling the pressure, but I’m sure he’ll crash and burn because that’s his nature inside and out. My former manager never did anything about him, and she was so tuned out by the end (she moved into a different role in our dept and still managed us) that he only got away with more. I am planning on sharing my feelings with the new boss to see if he really wants me to be forthright and honest with him. I can see so many signs of my coworker just continuing to do the bare minimum, and truly hope the new manager can get rid of him once and for all.

    Reply
  16. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    OP1, I feel like rather than being deliberately targeted at your Polish and Ukrainian colleagues (as some of the other comments have suggested), your manager is (or was…!) just so unaware of life and history outside of her own bubble of understanding that she didn’t even really see how that would be offensive to people from those countries (further to how offensive it is to anyone normal from any country, really.) Of course, I can completely see how that actually is offensive so I’m not dismissing their reaction by any means! (I think that’s obvious but you never know)

    Based on your update and reading the original post I get the impression she has a pretty superficial understanding of the “bad guys” of history, like… “Stalin and Hitler were bad guys… let’s put them into this template as a sort of statement about the working conditions.”

    (I also get the sense, as a UK-er, that this letter came from Western Europe somewhere, but could be wrong about that.)

    I don’t think there’s a direct link between “nepotism” (is that the right word?) for giving jobs to friends rather than the most qualified people, and the use of Hitler and Stalin on the graphic. Rather I think they are more likely to both be symptoms of a more general un-aware-ness of (in short) how things are in the real world, a sort of short-sighted and uninquisitive view of everything.

    I do wonder how she came to be a manager in that company and whether she had any management experience beforehand.?

    Reply
    1. Social Commentator*

      Except it was Putin and Stalin… I think that makes a difference. Putin idealizes Stalin and has successfully tried to cultivate Stalinist nostalgia.

      Reply
    2. TK*

      Hiya, OP here for the Stalin letter. Can confirm this was in the UK.

      Her experience beforehand was as a team leader, and at the time recruitment was done internally. No idea about the other candidates for it. Can’t really speak about prior performance, as working from a different office I only ever had brief interactions with her.

      Reply
    3. Not So NewReader*

      I can see where she did not understand the vastness of Stalin’s impact. So her choices would 1) read and find out before making a joke or 2) don’t make jokes about things you don’t understand, even if you think you DO understand.
      The management 101 handbook should read: “Everyone is NOT you. Do not assume they are.”

      I worked with folks helping them to gain job skills. One day a person used an expression that is not appropriate in the workplace … about another supervisor. The real problem was that she was correct. (The expression meant the person was a severe slacker.) So I had to explain to her that she could not use that expression on anyone. I decided to ask her to explain what that expression meant. oh my. oh my. She finally landed on she did not know what the expression meant. Since I could tell by her beet red face that I had made my point, I simply said, “Then don’t be using expressions if you do not know what they mean.” The end. We never revisited that expression OR anything even remotely similar ever again.

      I can’t say how many times this rule of thumb- do not say things if you do not know what they mean- saved me when I was starting out in the workplace. I watched others turn red, though because they did not follow that rule of thumb.

      Reply
    4. ceemploye*

      Hard, hard disagree. The fact that four employees resigned afterwards makes me convinced that they had all been targeted with ethnicity-based harrassment for a while, and this incident just happened to be egregious enough for others to notice. Saying “oh this bigot didn’t mean it” downplays the nastiness that is often levelled at minority employees.

      And for context, I’m Polish and if a Western boss did something like that, my first instinct would be to chalk it up to ignorance and tell them why the “joke” was inappropriate. Or, if I didn’t think have any faith in the boss, but still thought the company was decent, I’d talk to HR. The fact that they all quit instead means that they knew their boss couldn’t be talked to, and that the company wouldn’t support them either.

      Reply
      1. Marthooh*

        Yes. I don’t see a reason to give this person the benefit of the doubt. Nobody in the comment section for the original letter could figure out how an employee award could be linked to Joseph Stalin, even as a bad joke. That’s because it wasn’t meant to be funny, it was simply meant to offend, and the fact that the OP had several Polish and Ukrainian coworkers makes that even clearer.

        Reply
  17. CoveredinBees*

    Am I missing things from previous updates? On earlier update posts they used to be tagged directly to the updates on the bottom and now they aren’t. I know this post is too soon to attach to the previous ones but it doesn’t seem to let us find posts that were updated in the archives now.

    Reply
  18. Cary*

    Reposting since I linked to the earlier discussion I mentioned and it probably got caught in a spam filter…

    #3-

    In the OP, Newman sounds spectrummy. Doesn’t get the real idea of what he’s supposed to do so he introduces features that don’t actually fit; gets obsessively interested in some little detail (such as the unnecessary feature) and pours all his energy into that instead of what he should be doing; implements sloppily, perhaps due to poor executive function; fails to realize his joke idea is offensive (and/or says things that are so off-the-wall people assume they were intended as offensive jokes when really they weren’t even jokes)…

    Ever since my HFA husband was fired for his HFA traits a couple months ago, we’ve been trying to figure out what if anything he could ask for as accommodations so that he won’t just be repeatedly fired. I’m similarly curious how such a person could be managed so they could be a useful employee. Misunderstandings are misunderstandings; you can’t magically just stop having HFA.

    We’re both feeling very discouraged right now, rather like the LW who worried about their ADHD making them unemployable…and the thing is, ISTM Alison’s response there was geared for a “normal” person who just isn’t that bright but who still has normal executive function and social skills. Not so much for a person with ADHD or HFA–IOW a more specific, “apparently minor” disability that nevertheless apparently causes a lot of problems in work environments.

    Can these problems ever actually be addressed or is such a person doomed to just constantly move from job to job, always to the relief of former coworkers?

    My husband got zero feedback until he was put on a PIP. (His official “manager” only spoke with him for performance reviews because he wasn’t on any of his projects. When the PIP began, this manager was charged with overseeing it and informing husband of it, but when he informed him he still didn’t even know much about it yet because, he said, it was HR’s idea, not his.)

    I read over the PIP documents and they were a list of HFA traits so IOW–though they didn’t realize it–basically “Quit having HFA.” (Example: “You were told to do X. You did X. While yes, it could be argued that what you did was literally X, you should have known based on context that actually we wanted Y.”) He then took initiative to figure out how to prevent such problems, which involved obsessively emailing everyone for clarification after clarification (he was on all remote projects, thus the emailing), which he really hated because it took people forever to get back to him…but it seemed to be working. He got zero feedback during the PIP except that he passed it (there were many weekly meetings that recorded only that he, his manager, and the HR lady met and everything was fine), and then they fired him a couple months later because (according to the manager), “No one wants to work with you and everyone thinks you’re incompetent.” He had worked very, very hard to stay because this was almost the only job in his field in this area, and this is where he grew up and is also near my ill, elderly parents (for whom we’ve been grocery shopping), so neither of us wanted to move.

    It’s really hard to judge what lesson to take from this–anywhere from “HFA makes you unemployable no matter how otherwise skilled you are” to “We were making too many medical claims on the company’s self-funded insurance” (we were making a lot) to “One specific person took against him and there was nothing anyone else could do” (not only did his manager claim “this was coming from HR,” also the HR lady claimed “this was coming from above her and there was nothing she could do” (?)). “Next time ask for accommodations” seems like the most obvious lesson, but now we’re back to “What accommodations would even help?”

    Weirdly, every former coworker he’s asked for references has agreed to provide them. It’s as if the “No one wants to work with you” claim wasn’t actually true. I mean…who would provide a reference for a guy already safely fired and gone if they really thought he was impossible to work with and incompetent? Wouldn’t you say you weren’t the best person to ask for a reference in that case? He almost didn’t ask anyone to be a reference at all because HR had him so convinced he was universally seen as a bad employee and everyone would turn him down, and then everyone he asked *agreed*…

    I’ll tell you, in my everyday life with him: The guy is smart. I mean he tests as super smart, but also, he *is*. He has lots of outside the box ideas for how to do things better, and the majority of them initially hit as “Oh god, stop with this ‘creativity’ and just do the darn task and move *on*,” but if you actually give them a chance, about half the time they actually are very useful and–just brilliant, efficient solutions. Then the other half of the time they actually *are* useless obsessing over unnecessary details. But *he can’t tell those apart* (that’s often said to be the essence of HFA–“not getting the point”), and so if he’s going to share with others the benefit of his brilliant ideas, he’s also going to be suggesting pointless wastes of time, and he needs a job where…that can be managed, I guess?

    Well, this rambled, but my main point remains: “Newman” does sound potentially spectrummy there. And stories like this make me really wonder if there’s any place in the working world for people with HFA. Sometimes it seems they just *are* annoying to work with and everyone just *is* happy to be rid of them, and nobody seems to really know what can be done to better manage them or what accommodations can help.

    Reply
    1. Not Australian*

      Maybe, but we can’t – and we’ve specifically been asked not to – diagnose someone via the words of a third party in their letter, tempting though it may be. It’s really not the reasons for their actions that are the problem here but the actions (or inactions) themselves.

      Reply
      1. Cary*

        Yeah, not diagnosing Newman, just focusing on the issues his story brought up for me. Others are talking about “their Newmans” too.

        The reasons aren’t the problem (for the employer), but they are the key to solving the problem (especially for the employee)–that is, if it can be solved. Which is what I’m starting to worry about…

        Reply
    2. Cedrus Libani*

      I have seen this sort of thing work in startup-land. A bright-enough, business-minded person forms a partnership with a brilliant oddball. The innovation largely comes from the latter, while the execution is entirely the former.

      It’s much harder in an established company that mostly cares about incremental advances. They don’t need genius, they need it done on time, on budget, and to spec. There’s no incentive to protect the Newmans.

      Reply
  19. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    Oof, #1. The Polish and Ukranian employees make the joke way worse. And here I felt bad when the grocery checkout woman asked me what I had been watching stuck at home.

    “The HBO Chernobyl miniseries! It’s cool and interesting, I can’t stop watching!” I said. Then I was super confused when she started glaring at me.

    Until she deadpanned, “I’m from Ukraine originally, it was a huge tragedy.”

    Now I won’t go shop there again, ha. Open mouth, insert foot.

    Reply

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