I was praised for my insecurities, boss pressures me to reschedule vacations, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. I was praised for my doubts and insecurities

I am a first-time manager who walked into a situation no one was expecting. I had to rely on my boss, grandboss, and HR to help me navigate situations that were almost unknown in my organization. I’ve gotten praise for how I handled it (and for the fact I’m still in the role), but I needed a lot of help. I’ve struggled to find my place and pace in my job, and I have doubts and insecurities about my work that I try to be honest about so they can be addressed.

During a meeting today, my grandboss went around a meeting and personally thanked every manager for how they are doing during the pandemic and the positive things they’ve done. When they got to me, they thanked me for being honest about my doubts and insecurities.

That said, it stung to have that be the thing called out in a meeting in front of every coworker I have. It makes me feel like my insecurities are at the forefront of my boss and grandboss, and that isn’t how I wanted to be seen. I’d hoped that by addressing my concerns head-on I could counteract them, but now it seems like that has backfired and I’m known as a needy, weak manager. I would like to hear someone else’s thoughts, and how you might interpret that kind of call-out.

If everyone else is being praised for accomplishments and you’re praised for having doubts and insecurities, I can see why that stung! I mean, there can be real value in having an honest conversation about those things but … yeah.

Since you’ve had positive feedback from your manager aside from this meeting, it was probably just an awkward choice on her part. But I don’t want to dismiss the possibility that your doubts and insecurities have taken center stage in how they perceive you, rightly or not. Frustratingly, trying to address it risks adding to any perception of you as someone focused on insecurities, which puts you in a catch-22.

It might help, though, to pull back on sharing self-doubts for a while (if you haven’t already) and focus on demonstrating the sorts of things you wish you’d been praised for instead. But for what it’s worth, I would expect a first-time manager to need a lot of help navigating tricky situations that had never come up in the org before — that isn’t weird at all.

2. My boss keeps pushing me to change my vacation time at the last minute

At my job, we pretty much always schedule vacations way ahead of time, so as not to conflict with other people’s vacations and so that the department always has coverage. Yet lately, the week before I am scheduled to be off, my manager asks, makes jokes about, and sometimes even pressures me to reschedule or not take the time. When I say no, she keeps pushing. Once she asked every day for a week and got visibly angry at my refusals. There was also a lot of ”why not? I know you’re not going anywhere anyways!” (I usually travel during my vacations, but COVID….) Today, she even tried to guilt trip me to reschedule as a favor to her, after all the time she spends trying to make sure the company recognizes my efforts.

Frankly, I am furious. This is time that I have earned; I am not asking her for a favor here! Am I overreacting? Has this become some kind of new normal? I have once postponed a vacation due to a company-wide emergency, but I refuse to do so just because we are busy and she has not ensured adequate staffing ahead of time.

You are not overreacting. Time off is part of your compensation package, just like salary, and you’re entitled to use it. Asking someone to reschedule their vacation should be a very rare thing; I can’t imagine asking for it on multiple occasions. It does sounds like your boss is assuming your plans are infinitely flexible if you’re not traveling, but it’s still not okay.

You have two options, both of which involve continuing to refuse. One option is to just keep refusing and ignore your boss’s pushiness. Keep saying, “nope, sorry, I have plans I can’t change” and let her stew in her own frustration. The other is to keep refusing but also address it head-on — as in, “Recently you’ve been pushing me to cancel or reschedule my time off right before I’m due to leave. I make a point of scheduling it in advance, and once I do, it’s hard for me to change it. You’ve seemed bothered by that lately, so I want to make sure we’re on the same page going forward that once my time off is scheduled, I’m planning around that and won’t be able to make last-minute changes.” Or even: “I find it really unsettling when you push so hard for me to change vacation plans that I scheduled in advance. I don’t mind you asking if it’s an emergency, but if I tell you I’m not able to do it, can I ask that you respect that and not continue to push the issue?” (Depending on her response, you may need to escalate in seriousness from there, but this is where I’d start.)

3. Did this company fumble my rejection?

After job searching for months in a new industry, I landed a job interview at what seemed like a great company. I originally applied for two separate positions, one business development representative (BDR) and one account manager, which I had more experience with and was considered higher level than the other position.

I really hit it off with the interviewer, and he told me he was moving me along the track for the account manager position, taking me out of the running for BDR. I then had a second interview, where I was again told how qualified I am and received great feedback. Finally, I had a third interview (this had now been about a month and a half process) where the interviewer told me I was one of the final two candidates and I would know by a certain date. This date comes and goes, and I know from reading your website not to put too much stock in that. Finally, a week and a half after the date, I received an email attempting to set up an interview for the BDR position. I replied and let them know I was told I was taken out of the pool of candidates for that (I even forwarded them the email that said that), and was waiting on a response for the account manager position. The receptionist, who I had been communicating with, responded with, “Oh, we already filled that position! Would you want to set up an interview for the BDR position anyway?”

I was fuming and did not respond. Am I being oversensitive? I know that it’s common for candidates to be rejected without any communication, but I assumed that after being told I was one of the remaining two candidates and given a date, they would have at least had the courtesy to let me know I hadn’t gotten the job.

Would you have been interested in the BDR position if they’d rejected you for the account manager job? If so, I’d try to put your anger aside and say you’re interested in that one.

It is infuriating that so many employers don’t respond to candidates who have taken the time to interview, even after promising they would. But it’s so, so common that if you hold it against employers, you’ll end up taking yourself out of the running for a huge number of jobs. It’s also possible that the receptionist’s info is wrong, or that they have a reason for not announcing the hire externally yet, or who knows what. Regardless of the reason, not hearing back after you’ve been rejected is so common (and so rude! but also so common) that it doesn’t make sense to get worked up about it. You’re actually better off just expecting it, annoying as that is.

4. We train employees who then leave for our competition

We are in the fire and water restoration business. We spend years training our employees, so when an employee becomes problematic we let them go and our competitors end up getting highly trained employees. Is it better to keep an employee who only does a portion of their job and is highly paid or let them go and build the competition?

You shouldn’t keep problem employees. That will lower your company’s performance over time, and it’ll demoralize other employees and make it hard to hold anyone accountable for their work.

That does mean that you’ll invest in training people who eventually leave for your competition. But that could happen anyway, even if they weren’t problems — and it’s better that your competitors get your problem employees than your stars, no?

5. Should I mention my pay cut to explain why I’m looking for a new job?

I work in an industry that has been heavily affected by COVID-19 gathering restrictions. As a result, when everything shut down in March, non-managerial staff who were not immediately let go received a 10% pay cut. This was supposed to be temporary, but has continued to be extended and now there’s no clear date by which the original pay levels will be reestablished.

At first, I was managing “okay” with this cut to my personal income, but in the last few months my family and I have experienced some big, unexpected life changes that have made it significantly more difficult to survive with the pay cut in place. I am beginning to look for a new job with a higher salary in a (hopefully) more stable industry. If I end up getting any interviews, do I mention that salary cuts at my current job are an issue for me, or do I give a vague “looking for new opportunities” answer?

You don’t need to be vague. It’s okay to say, “We’ve had to make a lot of cuts because of Covid-19, and I’m looking for a company that’s more stable.” (You don’t need to get into it being pay cuts specifically, or how much, or so forth. Just explaining there have been cuts is enough.)

{ 205 comments… read them below }

  1. Mangofan*

    I don’t have anywhere near the management experience Alison does, but given the context the first LW shared in the letter, I would assume that the grandboss was making a well-intentioned but awkward attempt to thank the LW for their honesty in acknowledging weaknesses so that they could address them, rather than trying to hide them, which could lead to much bigger problems down the road. I imagine they were trying to acknowledge that this is a brave thing to do and create a culture where other people feel safe to do that as well. But… didn’t think about how it would come across.

    I imagine it is also the case, as Alison says, that the LW’s initial challenges may in fact be at the forefront of boss/grandboss’s mind! That seems natural, given how many challenges the LW says there have been, but it sounds like boss/grandboss are fine with that, given that they’d expect anyone in the LW’s shoes to have those kinds of challenges. Though I agree that it may be a good idea for LW to tone down asking for reassurance per se, if that’s what they’ve been doing – while continuing to ask for help / guidance where needed.

    1. Courtney*

      I was wondering if this was the case too, it’s how it read to me and how I would interpret that kind of announcement/acknowledgement. Although, being said, I can see why LW would feel uncomfortable with the announcement as a new manager – it’s a bit different than if you’re established and they’re saying ‘well done LW for acknowledging when something was out of your depth, we managed this situation very quickly because you were able to bring it to our attention’.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, I think it’s the context where it happened that made it sting. If it had been a private conversation and the manager had mentioned how much they appreciated the candor, that would be different. It’s doing it in a meeting (a) with a bunch of other people (b) who are all being praised for specific accomplishments (c) while you’re only acknowledged for your doubts. I do think it was likely well meant though!

        1. Mangofan*

          Yeah, I imagine it did feel pretty bad for that reason (and it was a… pretty clumsy thing for the manager to say, at best). But hoping that our read that it was probably well meant can help allay any anxiety on OP’s part that their bosses view them as weak and needy.

        2. gsa*

          I had a Manger that said, “Praise in public, criticize in private”. He didn’t always follow his own saying…

          Regardless, I remember his point and do the same.


          1. MK*

            In this case, though, the grand boss likely meant this as praise not criticism, so it doesn’t apply.

            And I am not sure whether it’s always a good policy. Obviously a manager shouldn’t berate an employee or have performance related conversations in public, but if they never point out a mistake with other people present, they risk giving the impression to other employees, customers etc., that it’s ok or not a big deal.

              1. Uranus Wars*

                I don’t think this was an indication they were planning to fire LW. I think it was intended as “OP did this thing and we were able to be more efficient as a result.” I can imagine seeing this as the same as “X created report Z and it’s made things so much easier to track” but not realizing how it would land.

                1. MassMatt*

                  It probably does not mean they are planning to fire her, but LW is right that the comment was undermining to her as a new manager.

                  I would talk with the boss, assuming they are open to hearing that kind of feedback, and work on developing management skills and projecting a sense 0f competence and authority.

              2. ThatGirl*

                Why do commenters here (not just you) so frequently jump straight to “start looking for another job”!

                1. Diahann Carroll*

                  Well, in some cases it’s because the writing’s on the wall that the letter writer’s workplace or manager sucks and isn’t going to change, so if they can’t deal with that, they need to make other contingency plans.

                  However, this is not one of those situations, so the idea of OP brushing up their resume over this one comment would be a little odd.

                2. ThatGirl*

                  @Diahann Carroll – sure – I get that, and sometimes it’s absolutely warranted. But I also see it in situations where there’s no indication anything is seriously wrong (like this one) and it baffles me. A couple weeks ago in the open thread I posted about people at my workplace freaking out over the vaguest hint of a few positions and was told *I* should start looking for a new job.

                3. Diahann Carroll*

                  @ThatGirl I think I remember that, lol. But yeah, like I said there, I get why the people in your company were panicking even if you weren’t, and I didn’t really see a need for you to job search just like it wouldn’t make sense for this OP. This was more than likely a poorly worded compliment that was also poorly timed.

                4. Oh No She Di'int*

                  I’m with you, ThatGirl. More people than you would think seem to jump to “get a new job” almost as default advice for even the smallest of workplace conflicts. Didn’t like the tacky mug you got for Christmas? Time to get a new job!

              3. Artemesia*

                Me too. I think one you have created a firm image with the bosses it is very hard to move beyond this. One big error can be overcome, but the image of being insecure and needy is likely to be pretty indelible.

                1. Anonapots*

                  Absolutely not the case here.

                  LW, ignore the suggestions that you should start looking for another job. That is not the case at all. It probably felt a bit like a backhanded compliment, but it really does read like your boss was trying to praise your candidness and messed up the delivery. Bosses are people and people are not always 100% articulate in the moment.

                2. Self Employed*

                  I agree with Anonapots.

                  I think this was supposed to be “thank you for your candor” and possibly sending a message that they wished everyone were this honest instead of hiding their doubts. They may have realized as soon as they walked out that they delivered it badly.

            1. RecoveringSWO*

              A firm, “Fergus, let’s step into my office” in public can definitely show other employees, clients, etc. that certain actions are not tolerated. I think that’s the right choice for addressing misconduct in the moment. But yeah, I also got the vibe that management here gave a fumbled attempt at encouraging all of the managers to act like LW did.

              1. tangerineRose*

                ” I also got the vibe that management here gave a fumbled attempt at encouraging all of the managers to act like LW did.” Yeah, that’s what I was thinking too. I think management wishes other managers would be this upfront and was trying to encourage this.

            2. Chinook*

              I am thinking that this was meant as praise as well. Being able to recognize weakness and ask for help is a skill that not everyone has or wants to develop. By highlighting it in a meeting, the boss is saying that it is a good thing and wants others to do so. It is still stinging, though, as no one wants this to be a highlight of their work.

              AAM, is there a better way that the boss could have expressed this idea to the others?

        3. SomebodyElse*

          I took a couple of things from the letter and can imagine why the LW felt the sting, but if this becomes the last they hear about it I don’t think it’s big deal long term career wise.

          o The situation reads as something nobody had experience in and really did warrant the full team participation. I’m imagining something big and legally throny
          o I read the comments as praise for LW knowing that they needed help with the situation and for having the good judgment to pull others in.
          o It sounds like the comment made publicly was a way to tell others that it’s ok and preferred to reach out if they are in a similar situation.

          It’s the last one that makes me think that while it was worded really badly, the manager was trying to convey the LW as an accomplishment. I totally get where the LW wouldn’t see it this way and for sure I’d probably feel the same. But if there aren’t any additional comments like this I think the LW can feel pretty secure that their managers don’t see them as insecure or lacking in judgement.

          BTW- LW tuck this situation away for use for future interview material. From the sounds of it, it’s a good example of using sound judgement and navigating a difficult employee situation.

          1. Lexie*

            I agree. I feel like they were trying to tell the other employees that it’s okay to say you don’t know something or that you are unsure how to proceed. That they would prefer their staff ask for help instead of just barreling into a situation and ultimately making things worse.

          2. MissMeghan*

            That was my read too. That LW1 had a big challenge placed in their lap and navigated it well, especially by addressing gaps that required additional help and by assembling the right people to handle things. Poorly worded, but genuine praise that was meant to show that LW1 provided a good example of what to do when given an overwhelming task to tackle.

        4. Lorelie*

          When I read this, I was wondering if grandboss actually said “doubts and insecurities” or if they said something like candor or honesty about their concerns or some other language like that and the LW only heard “doubts and insecurities because that is how they think of them? If it’s the former, that’s actually a great thing because lots of managers, especially higher up the food chain, have real trouble getting real information on their subordinates concerns. The subordinates tend to want to paint a rosier picture because they believe having concerns might make them look less capable.

          1. To Wit*

            What I wrote to Alison was the verbatim quote said by my grandboss. The whole thank you was along the lines of “you’ve had a really hard first year, thank you for being honest about your doubts and insecurities”. The incident that kicked off my tenure really shook my confidence, but I don’t (usually) think of myself as a bucket of insecurity.

    2. Quilter33*

      Yes! One time I went to a Christmas dinner at my husband’s work. It turned out to be a thing where every single employee was recognized. His boss went on at length about the various amazing characteristics of all his coworkers, then got to my husband and said “he makes me have difficult conversations!”
      It’s not that it wasn’t true, and it probably was technically a good thing because he was helping her to address some issues happening. But, especially after the high praise of everyone else, it was pretty insulting and came across as if she were calling him difficult.

      1. Anon for this*

        I went to a small graduation for my sister’s medical residency. My sister is extremely smart and extremely blunt. When they showed a video tribute where they asked the faculty for each student to name a talent the student had that surprised them, the answer someone gave for my sister was, “She’s able to ask questions that make me question not only my clinical decisions about that patient but my entire career path up to this moment.” The answer was clearly not meant to hurt her feelings, but you could just picture my sister terrorizing all the faculty at rounds!

        1. anonymous medical school faculty member*

          This is a high compliment, honestly — we desperately need these people! Not that we LIKE being called out by our trainees, however . . .

      2. Tafadhali*

        My best friend and I still laugh about our very small middle school graduation, where the division head thanked everyone individually for something as she shook their hands. Most of them were personalized and sincere (although BFF got “Thank you for everything,” the “have a nice summer” of achievement recognition) until she got to me and finally said, “Thank you for being………..so unique.” 13-year-olds know when someone’s calling them a weirdo, lol. (At least I was a proud weirdo.)

      3. Forrest*

        See, I think the moral here is that if you want to give really specific praise— beyond “really great job, exceeded target, fantastically well done”— don’t do it publicly. Because I would take both this and the praise in LW1’s letter as praise, but obviously other people might not!

        1. Lexie*

          But they may have said it publicly to convey to other staff that they would prefer they admit when they don’t know something or aren’t sure about what to do instead just pushing through and possibly making an even bigger mess out of things.

        2. Anonapots*

          I don’t see anything wrong with giving very specific praise in public. It’s far more sincere than “you’re good at your job.” It means your work is standing out and you’re not just a faceless person in the crowd.

          1. Spencer Hastings*

            I think these cases (the LW, the difficult conversations guy, etc) feel weirder because they’re so tied up with personality, or how someone *is*, as opposed to what they *did*. So even if something is meant as a compliment, it may not feel like one if the context around it is potentially negative.

      4. InfoSec SemiPro*

        My boss did express the following gem, while framing it as praise, and acknowledging that it needed the framing. “She never tells you anything she doesn’t think you can handle and do something about – so when she brings you something really hard to hear, it means she has a great deal of confidence in you.”

        I enjoyed hearing it because it is true, and I liked being seen – I don’t bring up challenging things to people I don’t think are able to face it, I’m never just being cruel or unkind. But it means I point out difficult things to the people I respect most. And often that can get confused for just being difficult.

      5. Michael Valentine*

        At a huge org wide meeting, our department had a session where everyone was assigned to say nice things about someone else. Turns out the grandboss was tasked with complimenting me, and when it finally happened, I was regaled with comments like “I’m perplexed by you” and “I don’t know what to do with you.” I mean, she smiled while delivering this message but I definitely flashed back to my childhood, to my mother’s perpetual disappointment in me. My husband and I laugh about it now, but I was embarrassed by the awkward comments that boiled down to “You’re strange.” (FTR, I am strange but I’m also really good at my job!)

        1. AnonEMoose*

          I remember once pointing out to a former boss that I was far more used to people being weirded out by me than they were to being weirded out…and on the whole, if this made them consider a different point of view, I considered this a good thing. To her credit, she actually thought about it and could see my point. We still had a somewhat rocky relationship – not bad, but not great, but it worked out well enough…and I’m still at the company, she’s not.

      6. Artemesia*

        Slightly worse might be something like this. My first year at a really hard job where there were about 90 on staff, the boss wrote a Christmas letter where he went on and on praising individuals. After I have read the first 20 of these I start skimming to find out what he said about ME me me. Get through a couple more pages of names (60 or so) and the letter ends with Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone. Yes, he wrote a detail letter of praise mentioning two thirds or more of the staff individually but left the rest out. I remember my stomach just dropping and feeling like I had been hit with a shovel. I didn’t realize at first that another 20 or so people had been also left out — it felt like just me. It is one thing to praise 6 people for major successes and then be generic. But if you are going to mention MOST people, you have to mention all if you don’t want to inflict significant pain.

        1. Indigo a la mode*

          Yes, I think the “elementary school birthday party invitations” rule applies here: less than half, or all.

      7. Self Employed*

        I’m in some (non-workplace) communities that really value “difficult conversations” because you don’t have growth if everyone pretends things are fine.

      8. TardyTardis*

        At least he was recognized. I ran a seminar for contractors at the base I was stationed, and everything went well. At the time, my then-CO stood up and introduced everyone involved. But not me. He apologized in private, not public, later on. I never quite forgave him for that, and definitely never trusted him thereafter (he also ‘borrowed’ our lawnmower for over a month, and became quite incensed when we needed it back, since we lived on base and had already gotten a letter about our lawn. He was *special*).

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I agree with you, Mangofan. I even thought that it could be the bosses’ way of saying, “And you other people should behave this way also!”

      I know first hand that if I feel super awkward in a situation it is very hard to see other people’s awkwardness and even harder to forgive them for it. I think the boss handled this very awkwardly. He could have gone a different way, “OP had a heck of a situation, we had stuff going on here that the company has never had to deal with before. OP did a great job of pulling everyone together and keeping us all informed of the day-to-day status for the situation. It was a learning curve for all of us and OP exhibited great patience while we each went through our own learning curves.”

      I think time will be kind here, OP. If this is a one time thing, as I suspect it is, you will see that you have landed okay in spite of everything. They may express to you that they are surprised you did not quit because most people would have just quit the job. You may find that they are impressed with your ability to ride the storm out.

      I had one new job where I stumbled every inch of the way through my own storm. I did not create the storm, I was just in it. After the storm cleared, one by one my cohorts and bosses said, “I am surprised you did not quit. Many people would have. We can’t wait to see what you can do once you are fully trained and acclimated.”

    4. Cat Tree*

      This is how I read it. It can be so hard to convince people to ask for help because naturally they want to be viewed as capable. But the alternative is worse, either not getting done or doing it wrong. This seemed like a ham-fisted attempt to improve the work culture and demonstrate to the others in the group that asking for help is acceptable and even good. But so many places aren’t like this that it’s hard to get used to it, especially if this place is still in transition. They could have been more tactful about it.

    5. SillyLittlePittyPat!*

      Also, a possibility is that boss was doing this publicly to hold out OP as a good example for the others. That they shod own up to doubts and insecurities and not hide them. Albeit, this was very clumsy.

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        Yes! Do not Attribut malice where stupidity simple awkwardness is due.
        OP: I feel, live and breathe your reaction. But this insecurity about insecurity is hurting you. Tell yourself that boss meant you are willing to admit you don’t know something (it is true).
        And well done you and good luck in your well deserved job.

    6. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

      When I think back on the superstars I’ve worked with — bosses, peers, subordinates — one thing they have in common is the confidence to say when they didn’t know something or when they weren’t sure about a decision. That shows me that they’re honest, that they’re open to new information, and that they’re secure enough in their abilities that they don’t need to put up a front.

      Without knowing the personalities involved, I’d guess the OP’s boss was getting at something like this, but very very awkwardly! If you want to create a cuture where people feel safe asking for help and admitting when they don’t have all the answers or have made a mistake, it makes sense to praise people for demonstrating those behaviors…but boy is it tricky to get the wording right so folks don’t feel publicly called out, as OP did. Unless you get more information that tells you otherwise, I’d chalk this up to good intentions, terrible execution.

    7. MacKenzie*

      I have to say, at least in my line of work, what the boss said is a huge compliment and shows how much trust they have in you to make sure you are working to your limits etc. I would have taken that as a huge compliment. Especially as it’s often something that people don’t see as a strength so they don’t do it and then trouble happens. Showing others that you value an employee to know when they don’t know something etc is a good thing in my opinion.

    8. lazy intellectual*

      Assuming LW1 is based in the U.S. – American work culture HIGHLY values being self-confident and forward as an indicator of competence…sometimes at the expense of ACTUAL competence. Unfortunately, it rewards people who are self-promoting over people who are concerned with doing things in the best way possible. It’s too bad that LW1’s manager saw her concern for being thorough and doing her job well as an “insecurity”.

    9. Coffee Bean*

      I would agree here. I also think it’s possible that lw’s boss and grand boss were genuinely thanking her for bringing something to light that really warranted attention. Perhaps it was just expressed in an awkward way.

    10. Data Bear*

      Yes. LW, the phrasing and situation may have been awkward, but I think you were being sincerely praised for being honest and self-aware.

      Think about what the opposite would look like: what if, in navigating situations new to your workplace, you had covered up your doubts and insecurities, failed to recognize when you were in over your head, and forged ahead without asking for help? You might have looked strong in the moment, but you probably would have made a big mess that your grandboss and company would then have to clean up. So I think he was probably thanking you for not putting him through that.

      When I did my oral exams in grad school, I got asked a hard question that I didn’t know the answer to. I said as much, and then moved onto what I did know and how I would proceed to try to get to the answer. My thesis committee called that out and praised me for saying “I don’t know,” because apparently a lot of PhD candidates won’t, and try to cover up instead, and that just never goes well.

      There are so many people who cause so many problems because they can’t acknowledge their own weaknesses that being comfortable doing it openly is kind of like a superpower. I will second your grandboss in saying that it’s awesome that you can do that.

      1. Self Employed*

        Regarding oral exams, that is exactly how my advisor prepped all of his students to respond. One of his many admirable qualities is that he knows the boundaries of his knowledge and isn’t going to make stuff up to sound like he knows everything.

    11. Certaintroublemaker*

      Yes. My guess was that management have actually had to deal with more than one “macho man” trying to bluff their way through problem solving, and they want to publicly support LW1’s approach.

      That coded message can feel not great with the wording used, though. Better would have been something like, “LW helped steer a really successful outcome on this unprecedented challenge by coming to us and working collaboratively on how to deal with it. Her honesty about the situation she was in was critical.”

    12. JSPA*

      Especially if things went so rotten in part because the predecessor in the job had failed to flag the early warning signs. If there’s any chance that’s what it looked like from their perspective, or if “PLEASE tell us if there are problems, you will be praised for it” has been a mantra, then that context is hugely relevant, and means they’re thrilled with OP.

  2. Muffins*

    Let #1 reminded me of the time I took on a second staff member’s role in addition to my own, went above and beyond in all of my work, extended the length of my internship to accommodate my boss’s schedule… and then at the end of the summer, when all of the interns got thank-you notes, mine only thanked me for my “bravery” in mentioning to my colleagues that I am mentally ill. I don’t regret being honest about my life and identity, but boy do I regret being part of a toxic workplace.

  3. Tiny Kong*

    #4 Unless your competitors are very different from you, the problematic employees will likely be problematic there too, right?

    It’s one thing if they don’t gel with your culture and they get along with the competitor’s culture a lot better. But if they have a poor work ethic, are bad at the work, are a jerk, etc. then I don’t think that would drastically change at your competitor. Actually that’s bad for your competitors if they can only steal your low-performers rather than enticing your high-performers with promises of a good working environment.

    1. Viette*

      LW #4: do you ever hire employees who used to work for your competitors? If you have, then look, it goes both ways — some people don’t work out at one place and then they end up at a competitor. Sometimes it’s just a better fit that way.

      If you haven’t, then your competitors are clearly not your equals in the field, since they’re only able to hire your problem employees and have never trained anyone that you ever thought was appropriate to hire. So yes, they can keep snapping up your worst employees, and you can keep the good ones.

    2. Sue*

      If the concern is actually that you’ve invested so much in the training and then had to let them go, your best bet is probably to invest in more recruitment to get a better pool and weed out the poor performers as early in the process as possible.

    3. JayNay*

      LW4, you’re training your employees so they perform well at your company. You’re directly getting something out of it – a well-trained worker who’s performing your tasks well.
      Yes, sometimes people leave, and sometimes you have to let them go for whatever reason. But training your employees is part of running a company. It feels strange to be miffed about that.

      1. Angstrom*

        The answer to “What if we train them and they leave?” is “What if we don’t train them and they stay?”

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I don’t think she’s miffed about it.

        People are really reading this letter differently than I am. She’s not miffed about training people or proposing that she not do it. She’s asking whether she should keep problem employees so that they don’t go to her competition after she’s trained them (and the answer is clearly no).

        1. The Rural Juror*

          I worked for a long time in an industry that has a lot of similarities to the LW’s. I completely agree that the answer is a big resounding NO.

          It does sting to train someone in something specialized where you have to learn on the job and work your way up, only to have them jump ship and go to the competitor. Industries where the employees are doing specialized physical tasks can be pretty cutthroat and sometimes poach each other’s talent pools. I’ve gone to work and found out we lost a couple of people off a site because a competitor rolled up and asked them how much they were being paid, then offered them X amount more to drop their tools and head to their site instead! It’s infuriating!

          Even in normal times, the workers tend to ebb and flow from one company to the next looking for greener pastures. You’re spot on that you shouldn’t keep problem employees who will demoralize your teams. You want and need to keep the good ones happy so they stick around!

          1. Chinook*

            having worked as an admin in a field and overall labour environment like that, I can also tell you that word gets around about which employees job hop whenever a better wage comes up and those that are problematic in general. When there is a labour shortage, they will get work because the bodies are needed. But, as soon as things slow down, they are going to be the first ones let go because everyone prefers to work with employees and colleagues who are unproblematic and/or willing to stick with an employer who pays them fairly (so are unpoachable under fair work conditions). When a welding shop lost a contract and went from 50 welders to 10, last in/last out means a lot as does work ethic and professionalism.

            Basically, the guys who are let go or walk out are playing Russian roulette with the job market and are eventually going to get stung.

        2. Brad Fitt*

          People are reading this letter under the title We train employees who then leave for our competition, which seems like odd framing if you read it as Should we keep problem employees so they don’t go to our competition after training?

          I was honestly confused by the letter because LW specifically says they fire the employees for performance issues, like not doing all their work, but the title made it sound like people were bailing on LW for a better offer after being trained.

    4. lucy*

      Surely the biggest question re 4 is, why are so many formerly perfectly okay employees spontaneously becoming “problematic” years into this intensive training programme? If they are (or are show signs of becoming) problematic earlier, the company needs to learn to recognise the signs and either nip it in the bud or fire them. On the other hand, if there’s a genuine problem with multiple employees delivering good work and behaving well for years, then suddenly flipping and becoming “problematic” after this lengthy training, well that just sounds very odd and maybe the LW should look at what in the training is causing all these previously decent employees to suddenly develop problems.

      1. KateM*

        I was wondering, too, whether there’s something wrong with OP’s company, if so many (well, many enough to consider it a problem) trained employees suddenly become problematic.

        1. boo bot*

          Yeah, I was wondering about that, too (I was also curious what problematic meant). Maybe it’s just because of how the OP phrased the question, but it sounds like it’s common for workers to be trained for years, work for a while, then become problematic enough to be let go? I would take a serious look at the period between “work for a while” and “become problematic” and see what might be going on there.

          Not that it’s necessarily the company’s fault – maybe they’re asking a lot in terms of physical labor or hours, and it’s worth it for people who are being trained or in their first few years, but not really sustainable over the long term.

        2. Self Employed*

          Maybe that’s the stage where they’re expected to work more independently or supervise work crews, and not all of them handle the responsibility well? If that’s the case, maybe they could get more random checks during the transition period so they know they can’t slack off.

      2. WellRed*

        Yes! That the OP thinks the issue is problem employees going to the competitor makes me wonder what sorts of problems there are at OP’s company? Is it poor hiring? Poor management? Poor salary? I’m pretty sure the problem is not that the competition hires your “problem” employees.

        1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

          My guess (based on having a tiny bit of a window into the restoration business and similar businesses) is you may have a bit of “the big company drives the accepted pricing in the area where the little guys struggle because they can’t charge enough to cover good benefits AND good pay”, amongst other things you mention. Because if the insurance companies will pay X for task B, you cannot get business if you charge X+$250 even if that’s what you need to charge because your insurance pool is more expensive to match the big company benefits. Sucks but its the truth. (In a lot of construction adjacent industries, you see “the big guys” competing with “the Mom & Pop owned shops” and its a huge struggle for the smaller shops…they figure it out, don’t get me wrong…)

          This letter really almost sounds like its a bit of sour grapes over money sunk into people for training while the competition gets the benefit with not paying for it. I don’t think that poor performers leaving is really a problem.

          1. Artemesia*

            One of the greatest benefits of a universal health care system is for small businesses. I have never understood why they don’t see that and demand it. It would help big businesses too, but especially small businesses. Small businesses have small insurance pools. My husband’s small law firm was paying close to 30K a family for insurance when he retired 10 years ago — the partners were older and they had staff with disabilities or family members with disabilities and it was a small group. Really slammed on insurance.

        2. TechWorker*

          Poor management or poor salary are generally reasons people quit for a competitor, not reasons they underperform & get fired, right?

          1. InfoSec SemiPro*

            Poor management and poor salary can make underperforming staff. Think of all the times people have talked about how being nickel and dimed over time makes them refuse to do anything extra, and then their boss is upset that they don’t have team spirit.

            Poor management alone can be a deep mismatch in what the boss’s expectations are, which means those expectations don’t get met, which is the base of “underperformance”.

          2. Sylvan*

            They can be reasons people underperform and are fired – I’ve seen it at an old workplace. People who aren’t treated well aren’t motivated to perform well.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I would assume this work is tangent to the construction industry. There’s lot of problems in that arena. I read a great article about a year ago that described long work hours, people working in pain with no time to go to the doc or they get on pain killers and have a whole new set of problems. This hit me between the eyes because of a personal friend who ended up incarcerated because they got caught in this loop.

        The loop goes like this: Some jobs are seasonal so you have to make money in season. This means companies (not necessarily yours. OP) demand that people show up for work. Going to the doctor’s is not an excuse for not reporting to work. They manage to find pain killers and pain killers allow them to show up every day at work. It could be that you are hiring people already caught in this loop. It could be that your company is part of the problem. I have no way of knowing. But it would be wise to look for patterns, why are highly trained employees getting fired on a regular basis? Is it because they can’t do the job in spite of all that training OR is it because they have become irresponsible in some manner? Find the actual number for how many people have actually gone to a competitor.

        Annnndd…. I would go as far as looking at the competitor’s online reputation. If the competitor is hiring all these people your company has rejected is it making a difference for the competitor? If so, is it NEGATIVELY impacting them and are they ignoring this fact?

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          “tangent to the construction industry” Fire and water restoration are the crews that come into a building after a fire, the water being from the fire fighting, or a building that simply flooded. There is a lot of cleanup and dealing with mold issues. I wouldn’t think it is seasonal, except to the extent that the company gets business from natural flooding such as hurricanes or rivers going over their banks.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Yup, this. They work year round. I used to reimburse their expenses when I was a commercial property claims adjuster.

          2. Anonapots*

            Yes to this. Had a small kitchen fire. Called FD. Most of the damage was smoke and water, not actual fire.

            1. Self Employed*

              I think my apartment manager has them on speed dial now–we have had a number of kitchen fires that triggered the sprinkler system during the pandemic. Apparently we have some tenants who depended on restaurant food because they can’t cook, and restaurant closures meant they had to try to cook.

              It’s a difficult job and I can see why technique and experience make a big difference in doing the job well so that buildings don’t develop mold or have a smoke odor that never goes away.

      4. Cat Tree*

        I was imagining this as a job that isn’t very desirable so they don’t have a flood of great applicants to choose from. I think it’s a physically demanding job that pays better than retail but not enough to make it really enticing. Of course there are plenty of great employees but not enough to fill all the positions. I think there’s a pragmatic view that you just have to tolerate some mediocre employees because it won’t be possible to find enough great employees to replace them with.

        It’s probably much harder to screen the bad employees from the mediocre ones early in the training process.

      5. AndersonDarling*

        Bingo! I bet an investigation will uncover:
        1. Employees are at a seniority where they were promised benefits (training, certifications, promotions, bonuses) and the company is not delivering.
        2. Experienced employees end up working for “Crappy Manager” and employees can only tolerate the abuse for so long.
        3. There is poor company culture that takes a while to surface. Likely leadership problems, safety violations or ethics, because those things don’t become apparent right away.
        Also, you are talking about a very labor intensive job where people naturally start to break down and need accomodations. If the company does not support their employees when they need to go to physical therapy, or they refuse to accommodate adjusted work for a week while the employee recovers, then the employee will go to a company that does take care of their staff.

        1. RecoveringSWO*

          I feel like for labor intensive jobs like these, there should be an exception to our general train of thought regarding physical wellness activities at work. If pretty much everyone working the job will need physical therapy to deal with back/other issues, would an employer have less turnover if they took 30-45min during work hours and had everyone either do basic PT exercises or exercises an employee has been prescribed for a specific injury? I feel like younger workers might brush something like that off, but more experienced workers may see the value and stay on longer…

          1. Chinook*

            I have seen it and they do. The problem is that this time is not chargeable to a contract, so it is a sunk cost. Trying to convince an owner or manager that this small investment will create better workers and help retain the experienced ones because it will take more money to entice them away from a job that understands that body maintenance is as important as equipment maintenance. Unfortunately, that is something that can only be shown in the long term and most owners want short term results on their balance sheets.

            1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

              There’s also convincing construction workers of the benefit. The announcement of “Stretch and Flex” generally prompts a lot of grumbling and eye-rolling.

      6. Dust Bunny*

        Yeeeeeah, I was thinking this, too.

        My uncle owned a shop and complained endlessly that he’d train people and then they’d leave. But he was an awful boss and stingy with pay and benefits, so anyone who had any self-respect, yes, would leave. He would always insist in hindsight that they’d been problem employees but I’m 99% sure that they were predictably frustrated employees who were tired of being used.

      7. JSPA*

        What, or who, or how.

        Some “automatic next step” tasks don’t have to be the automatic next step for everyone.

        Sometimes there’s a petty Napoleon in scheduling playing favorites, invisibly to the upper management. Or a low-level bully, who’s never overt enough to get caught.

        Sometimes it’s as simple as, the work takes it out of your body physically, and after a few years, it makes a world of difference to be able to have a 4-day workweek, or get started at 7 A.M. instead of 6:30, or have one of the new hires wash the mud off the tires at the end of the day. Or being respected even if they screw up once, so long as they own the screw up, and it’s just that once. People absolutely will walk if after years of 98% solid work, management starts treating them like borderline delinquents / problem cases for the other 2%.

        Sure, you need to fix the problems, but if you’re treating the person as the problem, instead of treating the problem as the problem–then that’s a problem.

      8. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Yeah I’m rather confused about OP’s posting as well.

        When I first started in IS/IT in the early 70’s – companies would spend money to train you in programming, systems, and operations, and send you to schools, and pay any college tuition if it was work-related.

        And then they’d jump ship after two or three years and go and make serious money elsewhere. They realized that it was far more expensive, far costlier and riskier than paying people close to actual market value. The market set the scale for programmers, not the company.

        I suspect that the review process is being used in a punitive or threatening manner there. When companies get into jams like this, they sometimes (foolishly) go into “harum scarum” mode.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Yeah, it’s kind of like when your crappy ex gets a new boy/girlfriend. It stings, but they’re probably just going to be crappy to the new person too, once the honeymoon wears off.

      2. MassMatt*

        We have seen letters and comments where managers have given bad employees good references in order to get rid of them and pass the problem off to new employers. It’s a terrible thing to do but it seems like it definitely happens. On top of employers fearful of being sued for providing honest feedback when asked.

        1. Self Employed*

          I worked at a DoE contractor where an engineer sexually harassed all his female colleagues… turns out he got fired from one of the National Laboratories for sexual harassment there, but his lawyer scared them into letting him resign with a good reference by making a false race discrimination claim. “All the guys do it but he’s the only one you tried to fire!” Given that he was so busy watching pr0n at his desk that his officemate was doing all his work so the contractor wouldn’t miss deadlines, I really doubt that “all the guys” at NatLab were doing the same thing.

          That’s not even why he was fired… but I’d need to put a trigger warning on the full story.

    5. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      Yes. Here’s the real equation:
      Keep bad employees to prevent them from going to competitors = Lose good employees with real options to competitors because they want to work with good people.

    6. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      We had that situation at an old job. Two of my favorite coworkers were hired away not long after I was hired, and one was even hired on the same day I was. After a few particularly toxic employees were poached, the running joke was that the competitor was doing us a favor… until one toxic employee tried to jump ship and failed. We were still tiptoeing around that mine when I left.

      I wouldn’t lose any sleep to it, so long as you’re keeping the employees you want to keep.

    7. The Starsong Princess*

      If the employee is extremely problematic, you should call your contacts at your biggest competitor and do your best to get them hired! Seriously, worry more about your good people going to your competitor. The problematic people aren’t going to them more competitive or turn into shining stars in the long term.

    8. MassMatt*

      After reading the headline, I thought the likely issue was that employees were leaving after training to go to competitors for higher pay/better conditions, and the solution would be to raise pay or otherwise make staying more attractive.

      But LW is talking about employees that are not working out, and asking whether to keep bad employees in order to keep competitors from getting them, which strikes me as very odd, maybe even spiteful.

      Even the best hiring program is going to result in *some* bad hires, but I think the solution to reducing the number of employees who don’t work out after investing in their training is to focus on who gets hired to try to weed them out from the hiring pool as much as possible. Maybe look for people with very stable job histories, or increase reference checks? More thorough questions in job interviews?

  4. Yvette*

    #4 This makes me think of the person who breaks up with someone and then becomes upset when that person embarks on a successful new relationship. Almost as though if you think that they are not worthwhile then no one else should either. If you decide that they were not a good fit for your company does not mean they cannot be successful elsewhere.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think this is so much a case of not wanting to see them succeed somewhere else; it sounds like the LW is concerned that they’re investing in training these people and then their competitors benefit from that training. But there’s really no way around that. (And really, let them have your problem people!)

      1. Mookie*

        If their internal training meets the restoration industry’s standards and has proven helpful for their own employees seeking formal certification, then they are doing exactly the bare minimum a responsible owner should and, moreover, they’re not the ones helping their competitors in any way. And deciding to no longer meet or exceed those evolving standards because an employee trained to practice them might leave is kind of verging on arrogance or ignorance but more importantly is most certainly self-defeating. Unity, affiliation, cooperation, and collegiality tend to benefit most professions and there is no downside to the LW and any other competent business contributing to those efforts both at an employer level and a labor one.

        1. Corinne*

          I’m confused. Where do you see Alison saying anything that makes you think she a) disagrees or b) needs to be lectured in this way? #baffled

      2. High Score!*

        But are they only getting the problem people? We have several banks in town. One bank is responsible for training almost the entire population of banking employees. Why?? Because “Training Bank” has lower barriers to entry and generously provides much training.. BUT the pay is very low and other benefits like parental leave, PTO, insurance are far less than what the other banks offer. So people put up that with to get trained and then go elsewhere for the higher pay and good benefits. Training Bank can’t figure out why they have a high turnover rate.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          This describes another department in my company to a T. We’ll take anyone; after six-nine months, you have your choice of raises, better benefits, etc; all you have to do is interview with a competitor and show off your new skills!

          And we have the turnover rate to prove it, too.

    2. allathian*

      Yes, the whole letter seemed a bit odd to me, to say the least. Maybe the company has a reputation among fairly new employees to the field that they give good training?

      Just because an employee isn’t a good fit at one company doesn’t mean that they should be unemployable elsewhere. Just be glad your stars aren’t leaving for the competition!

      1. The New Wanderer*

        And really, where else are the fired employees going to find work, if not another company with similar jobs? They’re not all going to move away or change industries so of course they land at competitors.

        I agree with the earlier comments about identifying why the fully trained employees are becoming problematic (or clearly defining what “problematic” means – do they start slacking because they feel they’ve made it, are they lobbying for raises due to increased workload, etc.) and working on that in order to stop losing trained employees in the first place.

        1. Mel_05*

          Seriously! I worked for a company that came up with a super vague non-compete. It was originally intended to prevent us from running off with a bunch of clients and setting up our own competing company. That happened to a competitor and it scared our owner.

          But eventually it came to be this thing where they would try and tell us we technically couldn’t work for any other similar company anywhere in the world (this was an extremely local small business) for two years after we left.

          Obviously they didn’t run this by a lawyer and would not have held up in court, but they did run off some good employees by saying they couldn’t have tangentially related side businesses. We weren’t being paid that well, so we all had side gigs. I just hid mine better than other people.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            Yep, my last employer had one of those. It turned out to be an NDA that he was trying to pass off as a non-compete, and it was as vague as “any employer that uses or owns computers.”

            I left my public status as “unemployed” for over 5 years after I left. I’d support making non-compete clauses illegal across the board.

          2. pancakes*

            It’s hard to understand, as a lawyer, why someone would attempt to draft something like a non-compete agreement on their own. Being cheap, of course, is probably the inspiration, but there has to be some arrogance or strange, misplaced pride in the mix as well — of all the things to be stingy about, attempting to draft legal documents for one’s business oneself is a terrible choice.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              My previous employer, I’m pretty sure it was equal parts bluff and hubris. He wanted to present himself as a big shot in so many other ways that I’m also pretty sure it was also to make him feel like the job he was offering me and the company as a whole were more important and prestigious than they really were.

            2. Mel_05*

              It was a lot of cheapness on the owner’s part. And maybe a little bit of not wanting it to be super legal. In the beginning he was really afraid of stepping on our toes or accidentally ruining our side businesses. That changed really quickly though.

              But, it also was just from being really careless of the law. We had a lawyer, so there were a couple times the owner did things publicly that he shouldn’t have and his lawyer called him and said, “You can’t do that.”

              And almost as soon as I started at that company they asked me to violate someone’s copyright. The entire time I worked there I was pushing back on copyright violations.

              1. pancakes*

                Yes, that seems to be quite common too. Many small business owners in the US seem to have just enough experience with lawyers to know they’d be advised not to do what they want to do.

            3. Richard Hershberger*

              Pure Dunning-Kruger. Everyone knows, after all, that lawyer-speak is just a bunch of jibber-jabber to complicate stuff that really is very simple, am I right?

              1. pleaset cheap rolls*

                “As shown in Dunning vs Kruger, you are herewith wheretofore restricted from any and all competitor-action employment, punishable by up to ten (10) cease and desists”

                See – legalesing is EZ.

                1. Richard Hershberger*

                  I was offered a book contract by a small publisher. It clearly was not drafted by a lawyer, or at least it had been modified multiple times by non-lawyers. The critical paragraph laying out the basis for royalty payments was such a botch that I am honestly not sure what the publisher pays. The way it was written, it could be “nothing.” The publisher was not interested in discussing contract language. I honestly don’t know whether this was an attempt to pull a fast one, or just amateur hour pissiness. In any case, no way would I sign that contract.

        2. AndersonDarling*

          Yep. I was wondering what “problematic” is translating to. Are we talking about employees that have injured their backs after carrying 50lb of moldy carpet all day, everyday for the past 5 years? And now they need time off for physical therapy, doctors appointments, and recovery?
          Because if employees are really “problematic,” as in, they are starting fights and mouthing off to customers, then they should be fired before they decide to go to a competitor.

          1. AndersonDarling*

            I just reread the letter and see that the company does let them go and then the employee goes to the competition. Which is even more strange because I don’t care where my employees go after I can them.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              I’ve never fired anyone, and I have no interest in Management, so deo volente I never will… but wouldn’t you be happy to see your fired employee catch on somewhere else, even for no more humane reason than that prevents them from claiming unemployment?

            2. Richard Hershberger*

              I too wondered what “problematic” means here. It could well be that they need to treat for injuries, after which they wisely choose a different employer.

            3. Darsynia*

              I genuinely think that they’re just looking at the numbers and one of two things are happening.

              1) instead of deciding that they need a better interview process to weed out the people they end up letting go after training, they’re training people and then they’re being let go for cause. They’re then dismayed to find that all the ‘blood and treasure’ spent training them is then redeemed by the competitor who hasn’t had to invest anything in the employees to get the benefits of their knowledge

              2) they’re the kind of company someone mentioned in an earlier comment; they aren’t great to work for but have fantastic training, so people are basically gritting their teeth to go through the training and then straight up leaving or even getting fired for things they act up to earn being let go.

              My suspicion is the former. They’re upset that their resources are being used to benefit their competitors in the end. The solution here is to be better at choosing the candidates in the first place! Maybe LW#1 should have a short period of time before training starts where the new hires go through some sort of orientation that could reveal the issues they’re having trouble with later on? It’s completely reasonable to be frustrated at spending your resources on someone or something that ends up solely benefiting someone else. You can’t fix the problem at the far end of the training if the problem is the candidates, in the long run. You CAN fix that by being better at choosing candidates.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      The situation is not that unusual. We have two grocery chains here. One does a good job training people. But people are underpaid and in many instances treated poorly. The people who work there are pressured NOT to shop at the other chain. (???) Well, if you are underpaid you are going to do what you have to do to get food at lower costs, that’s pretty obvious. So the company dialed back on that but they did not try to fix their toxic work environments. Some stores are okay and others are pure chaos. Enter the competitor. The competitor made it their standard to offer former employees of the first store x amount per hour MORE just because they were former employees of the first store. Hey the competitor knew the employee was well trained.

      Good training is just the beginning. And good training does not stand alone as helping to retain employees. My last boss there (also a woman) told others that she did not want a female manager under her (meaning ME). And the company tolerated this type of talk. She brought in her sex toys she was selling and that was okay. My list goes on. I took my good training with me when I left. The next boss was even more toxic.

      There are articles, even books, on all the different aspects of what it takes to retain employees.

    4. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I think this is more like dating where someone invests a lot of time and energy in a relationship, it doesn’t work out, and they don’t want someone else to benefit from their hard work. (Someone I know said this to me once, I swear. She did break up with the guy, but that was her primary reason for keeping him around.) In both cases, the relationship isn’t working out for you, for whatever reason, so let ’em go.

    5. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      Yvette, this is true. At one time I was being chased out of a toxic job situation – and wound up in a FABULOUS one — a large raise, a training budget, better benefits, etc., just phenomenal.

      Being put on probation along with two other guys was the best thing that could happen.

      FOR ME. But toxic management sure as hell didn’t like the fact that two of us ended up in dream situations. We were supposed to be the “bad examples” for everyone else – and it all backfired on toxic company.

      OK I wasn’t a good fit in Toxictown, but was successful elsewhere. I will admit I wasn’t the best employee in Toxic Village, but the fire that was lit under me allowed me to excel elsewhere.

      There is truth to fit, atmosphere, and compatibility.

  5. Brusque*

    #1 for me it sounds like they praised you for your honesty and the way you dealt with your insecurities and not for having them. Nothing is worse than unqualified quesswork and many insecurities are with reason. I spend a great deal of my time coddling customers after they received bad service and wrong information from new employees who of course couldn’t have each and every solution but decided to hide their ‘insecurities’ and told the customer nonsense because they didn’t dare to ask if it’s right. More than once I had to have stern one on ones where I had to tell them after the fact that they are required to ask and avoid mistakes, because then we can avoid useless hassle and unsatisfied customers which is much more important than avoiding questions. So for me that praise is a really important one. You are new in your position. You can’t know everything, being insecure is normal and in admitting that you prevent mistakes and wrongdoings and your superiors can train you. As long as you take their advice by heart and don’t ask the same questions over and over or request them to explain stuff you’ve been extensively trained in it should be fine. If you still get praised for that honesty concerning insecurities after a year and nothing else That would be strange. But for now, being known for honesty concerning common newbie shortcommings is a good thing in my eyes. It shows you are willing to learn how to do things properly instead of muddling through somehow and risk producing mayhem.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      While what the boss said was poorly stated and should never had been said to a group, OP, I think you are probably going to be a very fine employee and I probably would thoroughly enjoy working with you. The reason is because I could trust you to tell me exactly what is going on. I have learned this is nothing to take for granted.

  6. Finland*

    OP4, what if you train your employee and they left to start their own business? They would be your competition still. Also, if the employee didn’t go to a competitor, where would you expect them to go? Should they not work anymore?

  7. Allonge*

    Hi LW1 – I see why you were thrown by this comment, and it was awkward in a way. But it’s really super extra important for new employees and new managers and people in a new situation in general to ask questions when they don’t know something. So your boss was praising a genuinely good thing there.

    Echoing Alison’s advice, two things for you to consider:
    1. for when you have doubts about facts, information – consider looking it up instead of asking somebody first. So if you have an employee having trouble with a policy, you should discuss with your boss after looking up the policy and whatever commentary before you ask your boss about what is the correct thing to do.

    2. for feelings and less easily settled issues (this is probably more where I would put self-doubt and insecurity) try to discuss with people outside of your immediate workplace, especially on the general level. I am not sure I handled X situation well yesterday is ok-ish to talk to your boss with, I am a bad person and a terrible manager is for Friday nights with friends.

    + language matters! Don’t use the words doubt and insecurity with your boss. Instead of saying I am not sure I handled X well, try asking how would you have done it. For better or worse, some people find being “touchy-feely” irritating and therefore it sticks with them more. It’s not right but there we are.

    1. Green great dragon*

      It’s so much better to have a report who lets me know what they’re not sure about before they’ve wasted days or weeks doing the wrong thing, or created problems elsewhere because they did something wrong (and I’ve been explicitly told by bosses they are willing to leave me to get on with things very independently because they trust me to shout if I’m doubting myself). So I can see the argument that they’re genuinely trying to praise you for something they want everyone to do. But! In the context it sounds incredibly disheartening, and the phrasing is giving me pause too – were you actually sharing personal doubts and insecurities, or were you just flagging an issue where you lacked knowledge and experience?

      So I’m leaning towards it being well meant, but terrible communication.

  8. Dan*


    I’m coming at this from a more holistic perspective. Do you have *multiple* problem employees that you are letting go/letting leave? If so, what is making them problematic? Second, you say it takes *years* to train them. At what point are they becoming problematic? Are there c0nsistent traits that you can identify early on and let them go then?

    The way I see it, people getting to the point where you have to let them go/don’t care if they leave should be few and far between. If that’s not infrequent, then I think you have a problem with you screening and selection. Additionally, a multi-year training process is a *long* time. Is there a reason you can’t identify the problem employees before they finish training?

    I’m asking all of these questions because in the long run, if the problem is “you”, then the competition is getting trained employees that they don’t have to pay for, and that’s not a good thing for you if you’re not getting “paid back” for your training costs.

    1. WS*

      It’s pretty common in my industry for people to sign a contract saying they won’t leave the job (presuming no extreme circumstances) for X amount of time after the employer pays for a specific kind of training. X amount of time varies depending on what the training costs are and how high-level it is, but I’ve seen 6 months to 3 years. People do eventually move on, and that’s just life, but it doesn’t sound like this is what’s happening with LW #4 – it sounds like they’re firing problem employees and being mad that after the training they go to the competitors. Where else would they go? Why are you keeping these people so long and training them so much if they’re a problem? Can the training be broken into stages so you might have to let a [one year of training level] employee go and not hang onto them and their problems for however many years the training is?

    2. JKP*

      This can be an issue in my industry as well. What’s worked well for us is to have stages of training. The problem employees flame out before they receive the full training they would need to be competent somewhere else. So even if they go to a competitor or start their own business, they’re only trained on the very basics and still need the more advanced training.

    3. Melody Pond*

      I was thinking about an industry a friend is in . She told me recently that people tend to only stay in the industry for about 5 years and it takes 2 to fully train them. She has had occasional problem employees she inherited but those ones were situations she may have seen coming if shehad been the manager from the start. They are in sales and the employee was not as responsive as needed for the industry either to external or internal leads. She tried PIP but had no positive results. Another simply could not or would not keep up with the changing culture of the business.

  9. Mookie*

    “Building the competition” is a positive fact of life for evolving industries, it’s good for the labor market in that field and it forces employers to invest and innovate or perish. It’s implausible to suggest the benefits only ever direct away from the LW’s company; they themselves most certainly have recruited the former employees of their competitors and are likely the better for it in some instances. This is, to put it mildly, not an example of intellectual property theft in any sense.

    Also, as Alison says, staff that need letting go because they can’t do a significant portion of the job are not providing the material benefit to you that you expect, so what leg up do they give your competitors? Of course, it’s possible this is an internal problem, where roles are too undifferentiated/unspecialized in a way that hinders efficiency, in which case you are also not sending them your best, to coin a phrase.

    “Years of training” often sounds like an undoubtable good, but it could mean many things, including the opposite of what it suggests, like stagnant wages and little promise of regular promotion, which could translate into little motivation to pick up new skills or master core ones. Extended training clearly benefits you in the present and short-term, but is it also costing your employees something they eventually tire of paying for? Perhaps not viewing it as charity, something you’re selflessly giving your employees, might be of some help in re-evaluating your training protocols to include metrics and rewards in a systematic fashion and making those changes transparent, including any outside industry education and certification you pay for.

  10. Djuna*

    #2 – I’d say that behavior was odd anytime, but it’s especially so at the moment.
    Many companies are trying to encourage their employees to use their vacation time this year, precisely because people haven’t been taking time off. They don’t want people to have big unused PTO balances, or for most people to be carrying time over to next year (where that’s possible).

    Time off to recharge is time off to recharge and it shouldn’t matter that you’re spending that time at home.
    Your manager seems to be making any leave request from you into some weird kind of loyalty test, and it’s not right. It sucks whether she’s like this with everyone or whether it’s just you. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this and I hope Alison’s advice helps you to secure your time off.

    1. Sophia*

      Hi, I’m the person who wrote #2.
      Thanks for your sentiments. Unfortunately, our time off does not roll over, so we would just lose any unused time at the end of the year. Due to the nature of the industry, we’re all essential employees and only experienced a small slump due to COVID, which occurred back when lockdowns first went into effect. For the most part, it’s been business as usual.

      1. WorkIsADarkComedy*

        Your manager is a jerk, and tries to bully you. It’s more difficult to stand up to a bully when there is such a power imbalance, but your choices are to stand up to the bully, suffer the continual whining about your schedule and give in, or go somewhere else.

        If you do say a firm no, your boss will be discomfited. Savor that moment.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I’d go with, “Please do not authorize my time, if you are only going to pull it away from me later on. I mean give a clear yes or no from the start. It has happened a few times now that I have had to cancel my vacation. I don’t mind doing that for a RARE emergency. But since this is becoming more common, my suggestion is that we look at vacation time together and agree on a date then stick to that agreement.
          It’s a well-known problem that routinely canceled vacations can end up being that the employee does not get any vacation time during the year at all. Rested employees are happier, more productive employees. It’s in the company’s best interest that we all use our vacation time.”

          1. pancakes*

            That’s ceding way more ground to the employer than they deserve, and needlessly inviting even more troublesome behavior. Approving the time off in the first place is not the problem. The language Alison suggested in her reply is better.

            1. boo bot*

              Yes. I would even drop “I don’t mind you asking if it’s an emergency” from Alison’s suggested response. Sophia (OP#2) has made it clear she’s willing to reschedule in an emergency, because she *did* reschedule when it was an emergency. I would worry that offering it as a possibility now (like offering to let the manager veto her vacation time) would just mean the manager starts claiming that everything is an emergency.

              I agree with Djuna above: “Your manager seems to be making any leave request from you into some weird kind of loyalty test, and it’s not right.”
              You can’t offer to negotiate with someone acting like this, you just have to hold your ground.

              1. Lexi Lynn*

                And watch out if your company decides to change to “unlimited”vacation. We did that this year and my boss has let me have 2 days off so far and has just given me a bunch of projects due end of month so Thanksgiving week is now cancelled.

                1. Le Sigh*

                  Yup. Good friend of mine works in a company with unlimited time off. In reality, it’s much harder for her to get time off than it is for me, because her company culture is to always be available — and the deadlines are constant, with too few staff to realistically get it all done.

      2. Mockingjay*

        I’m guessing your manager relies heavily on you and you probably handle things that should be in her purview. Which is why she is alarmed at the thought of doing without you for a period. You make her look good. When you’re not around, she’s not going to be that shiny.

        Rather than wait for her to press for cancellation, I would matter-of-factly head off any concerns. A week or so before your leave (or whatever timeframe): “Boss, here’s a heads-up on the status of all my projects before I’m off. Lucinda will do the monthly teapot production report while I’m out; she’s got all the data already and will forward the draft for your review. Fergus will handle my client calls; I’ve already let them know to go to him.” And so on.

        The tone you want is complete reasonableness – of course you’ve arranged coverage for everything and all will be business as usual – there’s not a single thing to be concerned with. If Boss protests, repeat. And repeat.

        Enjoy your vacation!

        1. Tabby*

          Continue to stick to your guns, OP. If you allow her to push you on this, she’ll keep doing it. *side eyes dogwalking company* She will find a way to do without you for your vacation. You’ve earned it; take it! I don’t care if you intend to spend the week watching paint dry.

      3. Helen J*

        Does your boss ask this of anyone else or just you? Has she ever rescheduled her vacation to accommodate the company’s needs?

        I have similar situation for vacation. I have worked long enough to get 4 weeks of paid vacation (use it or lose it), 2 days of personal leave (use it or lose it) and 3 days/24 hours of sick leave. Sick leave is the only time they let you roll over and the only time you can use in hour increments. Vacation and personal have to used as a half or whole day.

        I use all of my vacation and personal time every year, even if I have to take it as Friday and Monday (long weekend). It’s part of your compensation and it sucks that your manager expects you to reschedule. I haven’t gone on what most would consider a “proper” vacation in years. It’s hard for me and my husband to get the same time off, so if my “vacation” is sleeping in, watching TV and sipping a caramel macchiato in the backyard watching the chickens peck around, it’s still vacation.

      4. Luke*


        As someone who’s been in this position, may I over a word of advice. Document your work carefully , and make sure any responsibilities you have are covered in your absence.

        I say this from experience. When I worked for a jerk boss, she pressured me as yours did. On my last day before my vacation started , my boss pulled a Hail Mary move by advancing the deadline of a project 7 days- to begin on day 1 of my approved vacation. As we never started projects when the team member responsible was out , this was a not-so-subtle final attempt to strong arm me to cancel.

        It didn’t work. Understanding this would probably set us all up for issues, I told her my plans were in place and designated my backup point of contact. I took my approved vacation and carefully briefed my backup for any anticipated problems before I left.

        As expected , a problem cropped up due to the deadline change and I returned to a bureaucratic fistfight. Boss tried to sling mud to superiors in my absence by claiming I “abandoned the team”. Nothing more came of it due to my extensive task documentation, including the change of the implementation date.

        That was longer than I wanted to share, but here’s the point- LW2 should note their tasks and prepare for a potential contest when they return. It’s very possible their boss may leave it alone if they stick to their guns, but toxic bosses can be vindictive when they don’t get their way.

      5. Momma Bear*

        All the more reason to take/need a break. I took a week to just sit around my house but the point was not to be at/on call for work. Sometimes you just NEED that break. I agree with the folks below that you need to set up clear “in my absence” options and take your PTO. The boss approved it and you earned it. If there’s no legit emergency, then there’s no legit reason to block you. If the boss never lets you take leave, you can’t rollover, and you can’t cash out, then the boss is basically taking a benefit you have earned.

        1. Mind the Gap*

          Asking people to cancel vacations at the last minute is very common in some industries, including finance (especially sell-side), law, consulting, politics, and medical devices. Before we start pontificating about how terrible LW2’s boss is, we should know whether she is in one of those industries.

      6. Djuna*

        So…your manager doesn’t want you to take PTO, period.
        That makes it so much worse, I am sorry.
        Alison’s scripts should make it pretty clear that you see what they’re doing there and that you’re not okay with it (as though anyone would ever be ok with it!). I would also be pretty quick to go above your manager’s head if they don’t ease up on the pressure.
        Look at it this way, if your manager can’t deal without you for a vacation, how would they deal without you if you burn out from never getting a break and quit? They seem like they need help thinking that one through.

  11. Andy*

    L4 – If that happen often, there might be something about the way company is managed that makes people drop in motivation and productivity after few years. A company I worked at was sort of like that. Training period was great, but after that people ended stuck at repetitive boring work nobody seemed to care about anyway. They were more and more demotivated, because salary was only thing that they felt getting from work. First issues were not solved, they were ignored. So first issues were followed by second, third and the people slowly became more and more dysfunctional.

    If there is issue with one person, it is that person being dysfunctional. But if the good trainees turn into dysfunctional people with some regularity, then it is cultural/organizational/management issue.

    1. Workerbee*

      I was wondering about this as well, including experience from previous companies where they never bothered to let you know if you were considered problematic but would wait to dump it on you at the single annual review, or quietly open a file on you, etc. It was entirely one-sided and far more often than not grossly incorrect on the part of the managers.

      A high level of problem employees makes me think it’s a company problem, not altogether an employee problem.

  12. Dutch person*

    I’m wondering about the gender makeup of OP1’s situation.

    A brief anecdote in the newspaper last year described an engineer’s graduation ceremony. 18 students: 1 woman, 17 men. They all got a brief personal address from their teacher, focusing on three keywords.
    For each of the men, it was in the vein of: “Ingenuous.” “Good at math.” “Persistent.” “Unflappable.”
    For the sole woman – addressed by the sole female teacher – “Social.” “Grateful.” “Insecure.”

    (The piece is aptly titled “Steekwoorden”, which translates to “Keywords” but literally means “Stabbing words”.)

    1. Dutch person*

      It was in the NRC of October 14th 2019, author Judith Hoekstra.

      Alison has written on this site before – and others have described as well – about how the gender you are perceived to have can influence the attributes and qualities you are perceived to have (or lack). I wonder whether that’s at play here.

    2. To Wit*

      My grand boss and I are the same gender, and most of my coworkers are also the same gender (it’s a heavily lopsided industry)

  13. Forrest*

    OP1, I think you’re focussing on the end of the sentence “…your doubts and insecurities” and missing the first part “being honest”!

    I think you’ve got a choice about how you take this: you can focus on the “oh god, everything thinks I’m weak and insecure”, or “I have the opportunity to model candour, transparency and honesty in my leadership”. Maybe lean in to the latter, and have a look at some of the articles and resources on how to admit weaknesses and vulnerabilities as a leader, and still holding onto your authority? It’s definitely a balance, and I am sure that vulnerability is easier when your authoritative position is already assured and long-standing. But it might help you see that doubts and insecurities are not in any way contradictions of leadership or something to be ashamed of.

    1. only acting normal*

      My feedback from my (successful!) promotion interview was that I was “very honest”. I immediately winced and apologised (I was criticised in a long ago failed promotion interview for being “too honest”). My grandboss said “No! It’s good. Too many people come in and tell me what they *think* I want to hear.”

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

    OP1’s situation brings school memories back, when our “class counselor” (yeah that was a thing) told us to say something nice about our designated classmate of that month, and people gave a blanket “she’s a good person” statement about me. Super awkward :|

    1. Plant Lady*

      we did that in primary school! except the messages just had to be not unkind, so i got some ‘we have the same birthday’, ‘she has brown hair too’ etc.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        We did this in middle school so people would use it to take passive-aggressive digs at other students that the teacher wouldn’t pick up on. Ex: a kid who got mocked for having frizzy hair would get “She has nice hair,” or a kid whose makeup doesn’t cover her acne would get “She always has nice makeup.” The teacher would be like, “See this is so delightful, there is something nice about everyone! Hermione has nice hair, how wonderful!” and completely miss the cut of the remark.

        We did one in high school where the teacher had us go around the room and write down negative stereotypes of each of our classmates, that did NOT end well.

        1. Lexie*

          In high school we had a health unit on self esteem. They paired us up and we had to x number of positive things about the other person and then read them out loud to the class and then your partner had to say “thank you”. Some of us barely knew each other so some of the positive statements were things like “has brown hair”, “has blue eyes”. etc. It’s really awkward to have to thank someone for stating your hair color like it’s a positive aspect of who you are (especially if the person didn’t actually like their hair color).

  15. WellRed*

    OP, please find support outside of your office for your “doubts and insecurities.” I’m sure your boss was trying to compliment you, but yeah, you’re now known for this. You can seek help at work with confidence without leaning on “doubts and insecurities” (which sounds like it might have become a bit of a crutch for you).

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      +1. I agree with Alison/other commenters that it was well-meant but just clumsily worded. At the same time, if you’ve just handled what sounds like a really difficult situation and worked through the pandemic and at the end of all of that out of everything you’ve done the *main thing* that sticks in your bosses heads is how you handled your doubts/insecurities… I think that’s a sign you are talking about them a bit too much. It’s hard to strike a good balance, but some stuff (specifically the insecurities part, not so much doubts about specific situations) is best saved for after work.

  16. CupcakeCounter*

    One thought that ran through my mind is that maybe they were relieved that you owned up and didn’t simply try to plow ahead and potentially really muck things up for the company. Like a “thank goodness OP was really open about their lack of experience and asked for help…can you imagine what Fergus would have done in that situation???? We’d be digging out from that mess for years!”
    A coworker one got commended for actually reading the manual for a new piece of equipment and it sounded really condescending but it was meant to be a dig at all of the dudes who thought they knew what to do and broke it. The manager knew that calling them out wouldn’t work but that making it clear that a girl who they considered beneath them not only fixed what they broke and managed to get it running really well would be a direct hit against their ego (lots of sexism at that place and the manager talked to my coworker first about what she planned so she wouldn’t feel like OP is feeling).

    Either way, I agree with some of the other comments about 1) pulling back on bringing up all of your doubts and insecurities to your boss (still bring up really big things) and 2) maybe try to reframe this in your own mind as a “yeah maybe I overcommunicated my issues but the end result is that everything was resolved in the best way possible for the company and our people – now I have an idea of the steps to take and can move forward with less guidance and more confidence”.

  17. theletter*

    OP 1, perhaps reframing it as “courage and honesty” in your mind would help. Also, you won’t be a first time manager forever. Consider this the boot-camp part of your professional training and let it power your future.

  18. Jam Today*

    LW#1 is really interesting. I have worked for a few companies where people refused to ask questions or express doubt about a project or a process for a variety of reasons. At one company doubt or questions were seen as weakness and ruthlessly attacked, often resulting in the career of the person asking questions being torpedoed. At another, a very command-and-control style of executive management had the net result of a core component of the product just…not working, because people were not permitted to ask questions or express any opinion that veered from that of executive leadership, which in turn then led to millions of dollars in missed earnings.

    Given that: I would probably also praise staff asking questions and wanting to make sure they’re doing the right thing. I don’t know that I would do it in public, for the reasons expressed by the LW, but my goodness I would much rather have staff making sure that they are doing the right thing in their job, and that the job they’re doing is the right thing for the company, than trucking along keeping it all to themselves out of fear of retribution. I see it as an indicator of confidence, converse to the LW’s views (although I understand why s/he feels that way), and I also see it is as a lagging indicator of good management and a good corporate culture, that people do have the confidence to be vocal about their doubt.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      Same here. It takes so much courage to speak up when things are either getting away from you, beyond your experience to deal with, or when you see projects going on that everyone seems to love but are not going to work. We all know what a mess and money waster it can be to just let something go on, but it happens because it would be anywhere from awkward to career limiting to speak up.

      Our company culture is always trying to foster an environment where people can speak up freely about their concerns, but the reality is often that it’s poorly handled or poorly received. So I can see both a higher level manager giving praise for expressing doubts (truly meant as praise and trying to foster that as a valued behavior) but also recognizing that others might see it as much lesser praise than, say, being recognized for a successful project or solving a tough technical problem.

  19. Bostonian*

    #3 They definitely dropped the ball, but not in the way you think. If they wanted to go with someone else for the first position, but liked you enough to want to put you back in the running for the other one, it should have been communicated more clearly. There should have been a “we went another direction for Position, but you were such a strong candidate that we’d like to interview you for the BDR position if you’re interested” conversation before an auto invitation for the BDR position interview went out.

    They messed up the timing in a way that was obviously confusing, but there could have been reasons why they hadn’t notified you yet about the original position. Maybe they usually wait until the candidate clears the background check before informing other rejected candidates because they would have picked you if their first choice fell through. But they still need to keep the interview process going for the BDR position, so that’s why you were invited before the other position rejection. I could totally see the receptionist saying “we filled the position” when all that means is “we’ve made an offer”.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      Yeah, my assumption here is that the receptionist screwed up. They’d decided to make an offer to the other finalist, but it wasn’t official (background check or salary negotiation or what have you). They didn’t want to tell OP until after it was locked down, because they would have made OP an offer if the other candidate had said no.

      But the receptionist didn’t have that nuance and just knew they’d decided the other candidate was their top choice.

      Or maybe their communications sucks and they were never going to send a rejection. But it’s not the only scenario.

    2. Some Lady*

      Yep! I’ve had 2 situations where there was a loooong gap in communication after the final interview, and both times it was because I was the second choice candidate. Had anything fallen through with the first choice, they would have been happy to hire me, so they waited to notify me until the ink was dry with hiring the other person. It stinks, but it’s not duplicitous or anything. I agree that there’s a good chance the receptionist was reading a mostly-complete offer as a fully-complete offer, and even that, while not great, is pretty understandable–they may not have been privy to the full process. You have every right to be upset, of course. I don’t think this alone is terrible enough to rule out the company, but likely just part of the general awkwardness of not being able to hire every good candidate.

  20. CatPerson*

    LW2, do you have kids? As a child-free catperson, I have noticed that people tend to assume that we don’t have anything “important” to do with our free time. My manager never pressures me to change plans, though: he is a child-free dog person. He trusts me to make sure I have all bases covered before taking time off. Sometimes I will change plans because I know it’s best for whatever is happening at work, and he recognizes that also.

    1. Tabby*

      Continue to stick to your guns, OP. If you allow her to push you on this, she’ll keep doing it. *side eyes dogwalking company* She will find a way to do without you for your vacation. You’ve earned it; take it! I don’t care if you intend to spend the week watching paint dry.

  21. MgrNub*

    LW#1: I can see how you are feeling attacked by that remark! However… I wonder if your management has adopted a philosophy of leadership where being vulnerable is at the core of working as a team? You might suggest this to yourself as a positive.

    I’ve also been in a difficult position as a new leader, and someone praised me as being “real in a way that rallies people around me”. If I was feeling uncharitable to myself, I could interpret that as “doesn’t have their stuff together, and people see them as incompetent and have to help out”. If I was feeling stronger in my leadership, it might be more like “inspires their team to solve problems”. Which is more of what I’m going for – I can’t solve all the problems that my team solves, so I rely on them! If me being real and vulnerable when there’s a problem moves the work forward, great. I bet despite your perceived insecurity, you grew and handled your project very effectively.

  22. Tabby*

    Also, @Catperson, since my previous comment nested weirdly, yes, I have noticed this phenomenon quite a bit and it grinds my gears. I actually got into it with a woman I went to church with. She wanted my help to make a letterhead. At the time, I didn’t have home net so had to trundle to the library to use theirs to make that happen. She kept postponing the delivery of the needed items, saying, “You don’t have a husband to take care of!”

    I lost my patience with this lame excuse, and told her that she didn’t get to waste my time because of that, and if she didn’t send the needed ingo by the next day, she could find somebody else to do it, because I was done. Her husband is a grown man, for chrissakes, and could wait 5 minutes for her to send the needed info. Besides which, funny how she had enough time to dangle her husband as an excuse, but she couldn’t sit there and upload the pics she wanted? Now, girl, please.

    She didn’t like me much for saying that, but screw pushing my boundaries like that.

  23. Jean*

    “Should we shoot ourselves in the foot to avoid even the slightest possibility of our competitors benefiting?” LMAOOOOOO

  24. Suzy Q*

    LW1: I haven’t read all the comment so this may have already been said. People believe what you say, especially if you say it enough times. Start talking yourself up whenever the opportunity presents itself organically, especially if you are a woman. This may feel awkward at first but will come more naturally over time. It can be a daunting process to change people’s perceptions of you but it’s worth it. Example: If you have successfully taken on or completed a new project, tell people what a rockstar you are at it or how well you managed it. Rinse, repeat, especially to upper management. Actively look for ways to talk yourself up to others, not incessantly but definitely regularly. A beneficial side effect is that you will think more highly of yourself.

    Never put yourself down or say you are bad at something because that sticks in peoples minds, sometimes for years. Example of this: Oh, I’m so bad at math! (No, you’re not and even if you are, no one needs to know because you will figure it out.)


    1. EventPlannerGal*

      Agreed! I think it’s great that the OP is so open about when they need help from others – more people should do that, honestly – but if you’re going beyond that to talk about wider insecurities, and you’re doing that often, people are going to remember that. It’s like self-deprecating humour – it’s so easy to fall into a pattern of constantly talking yourself down because it sort of forces the people listening to you to reassure you that it’s not true, but really you’re just reinforcing that image of yourself in their minds. Of course don’t go to the opposite extreme and never admit any insecurities at all, but I think your boss shouldn’t be your first port of call all the time for that type of talk.

  25. employment lawyah*

    2. My boss keeps pushing me to change my vacation time at the last minute
    One option is to talk about it generally, as AAM discusses.

    You might also consider doing it when you next schedule vacation. Put it it, get approval, and–right away!–follow up with this whole thing: “I want to make sure this isn’t a repeat, because (launch into AAM script.)” Then you’ll get buy-in. You can then reinforce your boss’ buy-in every time it comes up.

    3. Did this company fumble my rejection?
    Yes, but that’s par for the course.

    4. We train employees who then leave for our competition
    If they’re a problem BECAUSE OF you (they want more money, they’re poorly managed, they are misused or mistrained or misadvised, etc.) then you need to fix it.

    If they’re a problem DESPITE you, then you can either live with it or do a periodic review and see if you can, perhaps, improve hiring.

  26. Yup, that's me*

    I once received a public accolade that ” she is like a pit bull. Once a problem is in her teeth, she doesn’t let go.”
    Since then I have learned to say, ” I can let this go, if you think that is best.”

  27. Brusque*

    That would indeed be a much better way OP’s bosscould have said it if it was what they wanted to get across.

  28. irene adler*

    #2: Yeah, we can’t roll over our accrued vacation hours either. Management is pretty good about honoring our scheduled vacation time. I’m lucky there.

    Just a thought:
    If boss insists that you forego your scheduled vacation, then predicate doing so on the company agreeing-up front- to cash out the unused vacation hours. Even if the stated policy is not to do this.
    I know, not as good as taking the actual time off. As noted above, everyone needs time off to recharge. But repeatedly messing with your already scheduled time off should hurt them some.

  29. EvilQueenRegina*

    #2 makes me think of a situation with my old manager about four years ago – Ginny had booked off the last week in November quite a way in advance, and then in August a new part time staff member Luna joined the team. Luna happened to have some event on in the same week and wanted that week off, and Umbridge our then-manager had responded to it by rescinding Ginny’s holiday for Monday and Tuesday of that week.

    On the days in question, Ginny called in sick. And those of us who were in managed even though we were down two people. I think that was about the only time Umbridge realised she’d gone too far, and she never rescinded anyone’s leave again (although ever since then Ginny’s been worried that it will happen, even though Umbridge has since resigned).

    While I’m not recommending pulling a sickie, if you don’t come in will it make your manager realise she doesn’t have to rescind yours?

    1. Sophia (OP#2)*

      We actually have a policy in place that if you call in sick on the day immediately before or after a vacation, you have to provide a doctor’s note. One too many people tried to extend a vacation that way.

  30. zinzarin*

    #5 – have you gone to your own management and asked for your original pay to be restored? It may be worth taking that step before you start looking elsewhere, if the company is otherwise a good place to work. If you’re a valued employee, explaining the budget problems you’re experiencing with the pay cut may get your original pay restored.

    1. OP #5*

      I haven’t yet – I am privy to financial documents and it is very clear that we’re in a precarious financial situation. That said, I have a semi-annual “check-in” (what we call reviews at my company) with my boss next week and I can definitely bring it up. Thanks!

  31. boop the first*

    I’m sure glad that in real life, we don’t withhold vacation time from people who aren’t cool travelers or I wouldn’t have been allowed any vacation in my entire life!
    And I already got little vacation time as it was.

  32. lazy intellectual*

    #4 I’m confused – why are you upset that competitors are getting your worst employees? When I first read the question I thought it was about high turnover.

    Regardless, the idea of “we shouldn’t train our employees because then other companies might eventually benefit from it” is…weird.

  33. Observer*

    #2 -Vacation issues:

    Is this a new boss? If not, what else has changed?

    What your boss is doing is wrong, but knowing WHY it’s happening could be useful information.

  34. Observer*

    #$ – Problem employees go to the competition.

    If employees who only do part of their job at your company are actually an asset to your competition, that is a signal that you probably have unreasonable expectations of your staff. If your expectations are reasonable, they won’t be an asset anywhere else.

  35. Miss Marple*

    Regarding point 1.

    My read was the grand boss was demonstrating to the Management team that is it OK to ask for help and you will not be judged for it.

    A lot of people that are out of their depth in Management, especially those that have been recently promoted often think they need to know all of the answers and are reluctant to ask for help.

  36. Introvert girl*

    4) if it takes such a long time to train your employees, does that mean that you hire young people without experience who you can pay less and don’t adjust their salary when they’re performing well on their own? Because this could explain both why they’re only doing a part of their job and why they’re leaving in such high numbers,

  37. Lorac*


    This IS a strategy used by Silicon Valley tech companies, but I’m not sure if it pays off in your industry. Large tech companies hire top talent and don’t necessarily have work for them, but they calculate that there’s more value in paying a bunch of very smart people to sit around doing nothing, than to let them work for competitors or create startups.

    It’s basically a technique to lock up and hoard talent as a defensive measure. But we’re talking companies with ideas and skills valued at billions. Where there’s more to gain in keeping engineers and paying them something like 400k+ than to risk having them go to a competing startup. It’s up to you to decide how much a competitor having a troublesome employee is worth.

  38. YoungTen*

    Just because COVID is happening doesn’t mean people don’t have plans for their vacation! Vacations are the time when many of us got home repairs done or other house projects the don’t fit into regular weekends. It’s none of your bosses business but it’s a big overreach to just assume. Staying in town doesn’t mean being available.

Comments are closed.