updates: asking out an ex-boss, kids taking note at your meetings, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. Should I ask out my former boss?

My update is that my ex-boss is now once again my boss! 2020 happened while he was trying to change industries and we had an opening, so with my encouragement he took it. This is mostly good news – he was (and is now again) the best boss I’ve ever had. It has been a little weird for me to mentally transition him back to “boss” from “good friend who I regularly hang out with”, but the benefits of once again having a boss I strongly click with and whose ear I have far outweigh any downsides. Alison’s comment about being ready to give him up as a reference hit home for me as he’s been my strongest reference for the last four years.

We’re also both now happily dating other people, so definitely nothing will change anytime soon. However, life is long and strange – I appreciate one of the commenters pointing out we could just say we “met at work”. Thanks for all the great advice!

2. Is it a problem to provide only positive feedback to my employee? (#2 at the link)

Thank you so much for answering my letter about only positive feedback (and the inadvertent title you initially posted!). Your reply and the reader comments were extremely helpful. I took your advice and asked my director what she thought of Dave’s work, and that both gave me some confidence in my assessment (which was mostly in line with my view), while also providing some suggestions on growth opportunities for him that I hadn’t previously considered. In addition, one of the readers suggested that rather than struggling to look for arbitrary ways for Dave to improve, I should look at this from the view that Dave is one level beneath me, so the goal is to eventually prepare him for my role (or a comparable one), and use that to figure out what I wish I had been trained on over the years. These recommendations gave me goals to set for Dave without rewarding his excellent performance with just more work.

Our in-person performance discussion has not yet taken place, so I haven’t yet gotten the chance to ask him what he wants to work on (as suggested by you and many readers), but I’m relieved that the written annual review I needed to submit for him now captures his excellent work performance, gives him real goals for the upcoming year, and I think leaves the door open for a frank, positive, and productive discussion when we meet in the coming months.

3. Have your kids take notes at your meetings, and other weirdly out-of-touch advice for the quarantine

My husband said that the company’s upper management, who came up with the initial suggestions, were out of touch with the day-to-day challenges that employees were facing and tried to put on an air of normalcy. However, most managers were very understanding of childcare and other Covid-related issues disrupting the normal workflow. My husband’s team in particular is made up mainly of parents whose children are in the 2-7 year old age range and everyone on his team gave their reports and their coworkers a lot of grace. Everyone was allowed to flex their hours however they needed as long as the work was getting done and people quickly adjusted to Zoom meetings with background noise and interruptions. There was even a virtual happy hour where the kids were invited to show off their quarantine arts and crafts (I know for some people that sounds like hell, but that’s normal for his team environment and the kids enjoyed getting to talk to other kids their own age).

As far as my husband is aware, other teams have been operating with similar flexibility and understanding that productivity was never going to be at its peak this year. Overall, his company’s response to dealing with Covid has been pretty reasonable. And from some of the stories we’ve read on AAM, he considers himself lucky!

4. My boss has ideas all the time — and I don’t know which ones she’s serious about

I really appreciated your advice and that of the commentariat – both the empathy from the people more like me and the explanations on how my boss’ brain works from those more like her, idea people :). This latter was quite useful in finding a way to explain what I am doing when trying to make her ideas happen, even if that sounded like unnecessary / way too early criticism for her. I used the ‘state the positive first’ technique proposed to good effect.

In other news, she went to a training on management with all others at her level in our org. Obviously this did not change her whole personality, but she seemed to internalise a bit that planning is not an unnecessary constraint, but a helpful thing. We are having resource issues (thankfully still standing even with COVID, but hiring new staff is all but stopped, even though we had a few people who left), and she is much more mindful of what is actually possible than she used to be in her first year as a manager (I wrote my letter shortly after the end of that first year). So, we are ok. I was promoted based on her assessment of my work (my grandboss decides these things).

{ 32 comments… read them below }

  1. EPLawyer*

    Very nice updates.

    #3 — glad the company had these ideas but didn’t expect anyone to actually DO them. I also really like the idea of the kids’ happy hour. With most schools being virtual they miss hanging out with their friends. This is at least one way to have some kid time safely.

    #4 — It sounds like your boss is willing to at least LEARN. Which is good. You accept this is her personality. She accepts she has to rollback the constant brainstorming with no details a bit. This may work out in the long run. Especially because Boss knows the value of your work enough to give the information needed for a promotion.

    1. Quill*

      I love the kids’ happy hour idea. Because if you don’t have kids you can self select out, but for parents I imagine anything that keeps their kids happy and occupied during the pandemic can be helpful.

    1. CoveredInBees*

      Same. My husband is one of two people on his team with kids but his colleagues still seemed to enjoy when the toddlers would poke their head into meetings every now and then (probably an important part) to the point that one requested a team lunch the day before the kids went back to daycare so they could say hi.

    2. Ray Gillette*

      Yeah, this sounds super cute. I don’t have kids or any plans to have them, but I enjoy interacting with other people’s kids for a little while. A virtual “arts and crafts” happy hour is a fun and low key way to direct the interaction.

  2. ATM*

    #3 the virtual happy hour for kids sounds adorable ngl.

    Also, and admittedly, I do not have kids nor to I plan on ever having them, so I don’t know how well it would have worked out for the parents, but I can’t help but think that that was incredibly kind of your company to do. I feel like kids that age may not necessarily understand what’s happening? Just that Something Happened and now they can’t see their friends, so giving them an outlet to interact with other kids just seemed sweet to me.

    (Assuming that, as it was described as “happy hour”, it was not required for people to go.)

    1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

      Our company president hosted a virtual story hour for the elementary set as an optional “Employee Happy Hour” (Who knew he could drum up that many different voices and characters?!). He also hosted a virtual “Employee Cocktail Hour” that was more adult-like in nature with no fun storybooks. Again optional, and he politely “wandered off” after thanking us all for flexibility.

      Age dependent, I think, along with how much information/news they watch. Mine (10 & 11) get it. I’m not sure some of the younger ones do.

      1. ATM*

        That sounds lovely!

        Yeah, I’m not around kids much in the normal times, and now it’s narrowed down to me not being around kids at all, so I don’t have a real frame of reference, but I’ve heard talk of how confusing it can be for the younger ones. :(

        1. Quill*

          Based on neighbor kids (5 and 9, I think?) The late elementary kids get it, the younger elementary kids it depends on what their parents tell them. The five year old’s summary of “There is a virus and we have to wait and not see as many people while doctors try to make a shot for it” was pretty coherent, but this is from a kid who already knows that there are two types of germs, bacteria and viruses.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Tell this kid that there are also parasites and fungi and they’ll know all four sources of infection, med school will be a breeze for them ;-)

        2. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

          My mon asked my four year old when he was going to come see her (which I kinda cringed at, but there ya go) and he told her very matter of fact that people are sick so he can’t.

          1. ATM*

            That’s frustrating that your Mom put your kid in that spot, but I love how your kid was so matter the fact about it. :D

    2. Chinook*

      I agree. I do something on a smaller scale when one of my students has a child under 5 – I invite the parent to turn the camera on and I turn on mine so that their child can see that the parent is working with a teacher and not “goofing off/playing games” all day. Being able to say hi to the other adult seemed to help the child understand that mom or dad isn’t ignoring them, especially since even small children understand what a teacher is and what going to school means.

      Though my favourite interaction has to be the university student whose dad was my student. I offered to help her with a formatting question via her dad and she interrupted him with a “this is how you do this.” I interrupted her to point out that dad actually knows what he is doing and she can come to him with these questions in the future (all in a friendly tone, of course) instead of him coming to her. They both laughed at the turn of events and I I saw dad puff up with pride a bit.

      1. ATM*

        That’s smart! For kids who are used to seeing screen time as fun, it makes sense that they’d be confused about people suddenly working from home or going to school. :D

    3. Aerie*

      My kid just LOVES to see other people’s faces. He’ll come in when we’re having happy hours (honestly, I text my husband to allow him to “accidentally” interrupt because I kind of hate being chained to my desk any longer than necessary.) wave and say “Hello! Hello!” (he’s 2) and then after a few minutes he gets impatient and says “Bye bye” which I use as my excuse to sign off.

      1. ATM*

        I genuinely like other people’s kids, and I’d find an interaction like this utterly adorable. :D

        (Just my personal opinion.)

      2. Alexander Graham Yell*

        My teammate on a project has an 18 month old and we’ve become buddies via Zoom. Sometimes when her partner has morning kid duty and has to make him leave the office, they’ll call me so that he says “Hi!” and jabbers at me for a bit and then they say, “Okay, say bye!” and he says bye and waves and is happy to go somewhere new because “bye” means leaving.

        Of course, it also means I sometimes get to start my day with a happy, wiggly baby who is excited to see me. It is a very, very win-win scenario.

    4. tg*

      I’m finding a lot of kids of all ages are unsettled because things are different, how badly they are upset depends on the kids own personality, and how reassuring the parents are (maybe). It can also come out in different ways and at times when you aren’t expecting it, which can mean a parent having to jump into crisis mode with no warning.

  3. Why isn’t it Friday?*

    “In addition, one of the readers suggested that rather than struggling to look for arbitrary ways for Dave to improve, I should look at this from the view that Dave is one level beneath me, so the goal is to eventually prepare him for my role (or a comparable one), and use that to figure out what I wish I had been trained on over the years.”

    That is such good advice! Kudos to the commentariat for helping OP#2 reframe this issue.

  4. OyHiOh*

    If the early reports from the “north pole” mail address (actually in southern France, if you needed to know) are anything to go by, kids are really, really struggling this year. Things like #3’s happy hour with kids sounds utterly adorable and probably helped far more than any of the adults realize.

  5. Pinto*

    I love the kids happy hour idea. I only have one team member with a little one or I’d be on that. I do tell others that I meet with frequently though that surprise appearance by the kids are a sure fire way to put me in a good mood.

  6. Collegeintern*

    As a current college student working in a part time hourly position in a professional environment. One thing I’d bring up is pay. Right now I make minimum wage at my position which is fine for where I am now, but also changes the equation. Working at a company over the holiday for little pay and no benefits isn’t very appealing especially during the holidays. My time with family for 2-3 weeks more valuable to me than the money I would receive. I suspect the writers employee is in the same position I am. Though I think the family excuses are a bit much.

  7. Uranus Wars*

    For #3 I like the idea of letting the kids see and talk to other kids on the team, especially if it fits the culture and doesn’t feel forced! I don’t have kids myself, but I am sure it also feeds the kid’s curiosity about what parents are up to all day.

  8. yarn_and_ux*

    #3 as long as the happy hour is fully optional (bc if we’re being honest it does sound like my idea of hell) that’s a great way to manage things

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