updates: calling in sick after feedback, the lurid crime emails, 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. My employee calls in sick after negative feedback

After I wrote, I had a good sit-down with Fergus, following your advice about specifically and clearly naming what I’m seeing, as well as making sure I was following your advice on how to stop softening my message.

When I told him that I’d noticed that feedback seems to be a challenge, he agreed. He went on to speculate that since he had done the job on autopilot for about a decade, he had never really thought about whether he was actually good at it. Receiving negative feedback, even gently, was causing him to re-examine a decade’s worth of work. I let him know (clearly!) that he had been performing his job quite well the previous year and so he shouldn’t doubt that he’s quite capable.

The next week, Fergus had a planned vacation. When he returned to work, he asked for a chat first thing in the morning, during which he said he needed to take a personal day.

That personal day stretched for the remainder of the week, then longer as he took the rest of his accrued vacation and sick leave. After that first personal day, he communicated with me only via HR, giving occasional updates about whether he would return in the coming days. After he had used his remaining leave, Fergus called me to say that he had taken a new job and wouldn’t be returning. He sounded happy and healthy, like this was a breath of fresh air to him — it was not only a new type of work, but in an entirely different sector/industry. (Eg going from Llama Groomer to Teapot Designer.) People who’ve kept in touch with him report that he’s a star Teapot Designer and seems happy in that job.

Some commenters wondered if Fergus was burned out from the effort of doing his job in a new way, and I see quite a lot of evidence to support that, including his statement that he had been doing the job on “autopilot” for so long. In retrospect, that statement was probably the signal that he had already decided the job wasn’t for him.

Maybe he would have come to that conclusion on his own, but I do believe that the advice I got in response to my initial letter helped clarify things for both me and Fergus. Thank you!

2. My employee is holding me hostage over a raise

Thank you and the commenters for such frank, good advice. As a new manager, I appreciate getting feedback in this situation. I had to take a really hard look at myself and my own motivations and feelings around the situation.

I put Sara in for a promotion and raise, but was told that upper management is not even considering raises right now during the COVID freeze. Since I couldn’t do that for Sara, she and I had a conversation in which we redistributed some of her duties to a point that she felt she was being fairly compensated for the work she’s doing. I took on the work we shifted from her because, as one commenter said, that’s part of being a manager. We also took an upcoming project off her plate, which lowered her stress levels considerably.

I continue to check in with her in our 1:1s to ensure she’s not feeling overworked. I make it clear that if she is, we can shift some more work around, or, if she wants more responsibility, we can make that happen – though I don’t expect it of her until she has a promotion and raise (which I explicitly stated).

3. Employer sends out lurid details about crimes committed by coworkers or customers

I’m afraid to report that there’s not much to report.

I did go with your second, more direct suggestion, mostly because I figured the response to the first suggestion – “I’m not clear on the intention behind these emails, how are we supposed to be using this information?” – would simply elicit a “it’s for everyone’s safety” automatic response. So the next time we got one of these emails, I replied back to the person who sends them:

“Thank you for keeping us up-to-date regarding crimes occurring on company property. But the emails are full of details that I find momentarily distracting to think about while working. Would it be possible to limit these emails to a simple headline or brief one-sentence summary, perhaps with a link provided to the full news story for those who wish to read all the details?”

I got back no response whatsoever. I received another “detailed” sex crime notification, as well as a few (less detailed of course) theft and property crime ones in February and early March, so I think my email was just ignored.

Then Covid happened, and almost everyone at all the company’s properties have been working from home since mid-March, with customers highly discouraged from visiting the fewer properties that remained open. Once that happened, apparently crime of all types must’ve stopped occurring as frequently, because all the crime notifications have been few and far between. I only recall receiving 1 in the last 4 months, and it was “just” a property crime.

4. I’m scared I’ll be fired for needing to care for my kid while we work from home

I was the one who was worried about being fired for having to do distance learning with my kids. I don’t have much of an update, after my letter was published we went back to our regular work and things have been quiet.

Currently, my manager is putting people on corrective action plans now (November) for things that happened in June/July. I know a manager can write you up whenever, but this is just ridiculous. I’m looking for another job still, but there’s not much out there. So in the meantime, I’ll just keep my head down and stay off the manager’s radar the best I can until I finish my masters degree in 2022.

I just want to thank you and your readers again for the great advice. The few coworkers I shared this with are ready to push back together if/when this happens again.

{ 43 comments… read them below }

  1. Antilles*

    I wonder if it was something someone was doing it just as a way to keep themselves entertained…and now that they’re working from home in the Covid era, there’s better options to waste time than just reading/summarizing police blotters.

    1. OP*

      I suspect there may be some truth to this. Since Covid happened, the number of employees and customers at all of our (remaining open) properties has fallen dramatically. The few times I’ve been back at one of my employer’s properties, I’ve been totally alone occasionally with no other employee or customer in sight for several minutes at a time. So certain crimes – especially ones that can be committed solo like spraying graffiti or masturbating – should be much easier to commit this year versus years past. Yet, as I reported, the number of crime reports I’ve received in my inbox have fallen to (thankfully!) almost zero since Covid began.

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Crime rates have gone down too, I mean, how can you burgle a house that’s always brimming with occupants?
      (Obviously DV has risen dramatically but this is often documented far less than other crimes)

  2. OP's coworker, apparently*

    I commented on the original thread for OP#3, but not until far down the thread. I recognized my employer in that letter. What OP doesn’t seem to recognize is that these alerts aren’t just employee notifications, but copies of/links to press releases. Any time the agency feels the need to proactively communicate bad news, we get it in our inboxes. (And we’ve been attacked for lack of transparency in the past, so they try to avoid looking like they’re covering up bad stuff.) Unsettling, but better than reading it in the paper first. And it makes the emails make much more sense.

    1. OP's coworker, apparently*

      I realized I might not have been clear: we get all press releases, it’s just that most of them are much more banal. When a facility will be closed for construction or when we launch a new initiative or our Board makes a major decision, we get one of these emails, too.

    2. Lacey*

      But, why are they sending you those press releases? Especially of former employees who committed crimes elsewhere? It’s weird.

      1. OP's coworker, apparently*

        I commented under this name on the original thread in more detail. The crime was committed on a work trip, using a company phone, so there was an internal investigation. We’re required by government transparency laws to release the results of some kinds of internal investigations. I don’t think they’re required to issue a press release instead of, like, submitting it in a report to our Board of Directors, but I think they didn’t want to be accused of trying to cover it up.

        1. OP's coworker, apparently*

          And we get a lot of coverage in the local media. I prefer getting the email to learning stuff like this when someone asks me about it because they saw it on the news.

          1. OP's coworker, apparently*

            Fair enough – I don’t agree with every choice our media office makes. I just wanted to give a little more context, because in the original thread a lot of people thought a rogue employee was trolling crime blotters all day looking for names of former employees or something. The email was weird, but not nearly as weird as some commenters thought.

            1. Environmental Compliance*

              For sure! It really did sound like some random send out. It makes much more sense as an actual office policy-based thing.

              But perhaps just send out links to the releases? I get not wanting to look like you’re covering anything up, seriously, but there’s some balancing to be done between sending out overly detailed synopses of violent crimes and no communication whatsoever. I’m having trouble thinking of any gov’t requirements to send out “[Name] exposed himself and masturbated while seated next to a female [at a highly specific location on company property].” over “[Name] arrested for [indecent exposure / sexual assault], link to crime report can be found at [link]).

          2. une autre Cassandra*

            I agree it’s weird and my best guess is whomever got stuck with “send out links to crimes” is probably just trying to be thorough, especially if accusations of a lack of transparency have been A Thing in the past.

          3. Sylvan*

            I don’t think I agree with the writer’s approach to sharing information on crimes and I don’t think I’d want to receive the emails. But: Sometimes when you leave any detail out, you open yourself up to accusations of hiding it. The higher the stakes, like when you’re reporting on violent crime, the more you might want to avoid covering things. Also, they’re apparently subject to some government requirements about this, so they might not be able to show as much discretion as they’d like.

            (Former newspaper employee here. This was an ongoing problem when a story left any minutiae out, whether because it wasn’t important or because it didn’t fit in that day’s budget.)

          4. AvonLady Barksdale*

            I don’t think it’s weird. Press releases and communications about crimes often include those types of details. I imagine they’re sent out to everyone in an effort to keep employees informed and prepared in case it comes up, and it’s probably really difficult to parse out “who should get this” vs. “who doesn’t need it” and so everyone gets it. Just like a company sending out a press release to announce a hire of someone you will never, ever work with or even meet– it’s just part of company communication.

            With the added context, I don’t think this is that strange. I would really like to know what the company is and does, but the details provided make me think these emails are not necessarily important to everyone but they’re important to send. They’re easily delete-able if they don’t pertain to your work.

            Let me put it this way: if I worked at, say, Disney World, but I was in payroll and really never left the office, I would probably still get emails about crimes committed in the parks. I don’t need them, I may not be interested in them, but they’re still relevant to the company and its employees.

            1. allathian*

              Yeah, sure, I get it why it might be necessary for everyone to get the emails. That said, it sounds like the LW was seriously bothered by the messages, so I still think it would be better to just send a short summary with no details to everyone and include a link for those who want to read more. I can imagine that it could be traumatizing for a victim of, say, a violent crime to be forced to read news about such crimes on the job…

              1. OP*

                I think what bothers me more is that sometimes the emails are so detailed that it almost becomes a training manual for where in our huge portfolio of properties you might be able to, say, commit certain crimes and get away with it. Like, the emails will detail that cameras didn’t catch so-and-so in the act in a particular location of a property… and I’m like “so do you want future sexual predators to know where surveillance is lacking on our properties?” Or they’ll detail exactly how a customer was able to take advantage of the design flaws of a specific building to snap dirty pictures without the other person’s consent, and I’m like “ok so now everybody knows where to spy on other people’s private parts.” It’s just odd to me that you’d publish not only the lurid details of what they did but also sometimes enough details to enable copycats.

        2. OP*

          I am the OP for this letter to Ask A Manager. I get what you’re saying about transparency laws, but… I’ve worked for three other *very similar* companies in the past, companies that do exactly what our company does and the only difference really is that they operated in different states than the ones our company operates in… and none of the other three sent out emails as lurid as the ones our company sends out. Two didn’t even send out any crime reports at all, while the third (the largest of all four) simply posted a link to the crime report if you cared enough to read it. Not sure why our company is subject to different requirements than my other three employers were, if indeed this is being done to “check a box” for government-imposed disclosure requirements.

          1. OP*

            And to be clear, all four of my employers definitely had both property and violent crimes occurring on their premises. The most shocking of them would appear on the evening news in each metro area which is how I know none of them were crime-free. But it’s only at this employer that I hear all the details through company-wide email blasts. The third employer in my past – the one that was larger than my current employer – used to send out occasional emails after particularly shocking crimes to provide us with a link to the outcome. (But just a link – no details themselves in the email.) And as I mentioned before, the other two just assumed interested parties would get all their details from the news and didn’t tell us at all about any crimes through email.

            I’m not advocating for a “say nothing” approach per se, but I think my third employer’s approach – one email per “shocking” crime with just name, location and very brief description (“arrested for sexual assault” or “charged with vandalism” or the like) with a link to the details for those who care – would be a good compromise.

    3. TransmascJourno*

      I’m still having some trouble understanding the reasoning behind this, to be honest. It still doesn’t seem to be related to the immediate safety of employees if the person who has been arrested fir a crime has not yet been convicted, if it has no immediate or obvious connection to employee safety, or if the person cited has not worked at the company for a considerable amount of time. I’d definitely find it a lot more unsettling to receive these emails during work hours than find out about it in a paper or online media outlet—especially if the crime might directly affect an employee in respect to a past trauma (for example, sexual assault). Transparency is one thing, but this seems like a stretch, at best.

      1. OP's coworker, apparently*

        I can see how preferences would vary. I really hate learning stuff about my employer from the media.

        1. TransmascJourno*

          That’s fair, but the amount of detail still seems unnecessary—especially when it could have serious ramifications for existing employees (as mentioned in my previous comment). And even in the case of transparency, the format of these notices also strikes me as odd—breaking bad news that could directly affect the company, especially if it’s directly tied to legal issues, isn’t usually written up in the style of a police report, but as a drafted letter (at least in my experience).*

          *for context, the examples I’ve seen received had to do with possible employee misconduct, lawsuits, and bankruptcy, all of which immediately affected the companies I worked for, both large (1000+) and small (15).

          1. Regan*

            I work in internal communications, and can tell you that level of detail is completely unnecessary and a pretty bizarre decision on behalf of this comms team.

        2. tamarack and fireweed*

          Yeah, but wouldn’t opting into press release distribution lists or news feed be a better approach then?

          Also, an explanation along the lines you gave (“as an organization we’re under an obligation of transparency and believe we should be providing our staff with a stream of news that relates to our brand pro-actively”) would have been a much much better response than “it’s for everyone’s safety” when the OP clearly didn’t feel it contributed to their safety at all.

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            ^^Highly agree with your second paragraph. I think a lot of the uncomfortableness & shock would have been significantly lessened by some overall organizational training/ transparency on *why* people are getting those emails.

        3. Mockingjay*

          I see it as context, not preferences. An email reporting a recent incident doesn’t need lurid details. What it does need is a description of the impact and mitigation measures. “Last week an employee was attacked in the parking lot. After a review of the incident, Facilities is adding lighting and cameras to the lot. Also, the Security desk is available to escort anyone upon request. Your safety is always our first concern. Call Security at 555-5555 at any time.”

          The above example is based on an actual incident in a government building I worked in several years ago. The facility lot was large and dark, and there were a number of petty thefts from cars and approaches to people walking to their cars during late hours. The agency also sent out IT warnings for data breaches, employee arrests, etc. These reports always contained context and next steps of what was being done by management and also what things you personally could do.

      2. PT*

        If they’re obfuscating the fact that it’s a college or university, reporting of violent crimes on campus is required under the federal Cleary Act.

        1. OP*

          It’s not a college or university. As far as I know, there is no requirement in my industry for my employer to be notifying employees of crimes occurring on properties they may or may not actually be working at. I base this on my prior work experience: this is my fourth employer in the exact same industry, yet none of the other 3 employers reported crimes like this to employees. Two didn’t tell employees at all about any crimes; one would do so after particularly egregious crimes but only to the extent of providing a link to read about the details elsewhere. So unless one of the states in which my employer operates requires this while all the other states my previous employers operated in didn’t, I find it hard to believe that the content of these emails is required to be as lurid as it is.

        2. F.M.*

          Sure, but being the recipient of that sort of mandated report at my university, “assault” or “sexual assault” or “robbery” will clearly fulfill the requirements without getting into any sort of lurid details.

  3. merp*

    I’ll admit I’m not sure Fergus’ method of quitting makes sense to me, given that his manager seems communicative and helpful in their correspondence here, but, well, all’s well that ends well!

    1. Spongebob Butt Implants*

      I thought so too. I wonder if Fergus was working at the new job while he was on leave, but didn’t want to quit his old one in case he didn’t like the new one. Almost like giving the new job a “tryout.”

    2. The Other Dawn*

      That whole paragraph struck me as really odd. Sounds to me like was working his new job and wanted to use up all his PTO. My guess is accrued leave isn’t paid out when someone leaves. Or as someone else said, he wasn’t sure he’d like the new job and stayed just in case.

  4. Merp*

    I’m just relieved to discover I’m not Sara in update 2! I was convinced it was my boss based on timing and such. Eek!

  5. Secret Squirrel*

    I re-read the original post and it made me realize what a toxic workplace I have. We had a Sara, and when she talked to managment about her pay/workload, they refused to increase her pay or hire someone else to help. She quit without a new job in the middle of the pandemic. Walking by her grandboss’ office, I heard him and another grandboss laughing at her for asking for a raise. Thank you for advocating for your employee OP#2!

  6. Wren*

    I’m glad to hear it went okay for Sara (under OP#2). I’m in a similar situation – I just absorbed two people’s jobs (whose duties are significantly different than what I was hired to do). We’re getting our raises in January but our company is traditionally stingy on those, so I might be forced to do what Sara did – either demand a new title and pay raise or have them take the new duties away. I don’t see either happening, however.

  7. AngryOwl*

    I don’t really care what the reasoning is for #3 (I have read the thread and seen the other coworker’s comments). If a job kept sending me detailing information about sex crimes and gave me no way to opt out, I’d be gone as soon as possible and would tell people far and wide to stay away.

    1. OP*

      I would leave except:
      (1) I’d have to move to a new metro area to stay in my industry (and I don’t want to uproot my entire family again)
      (2) this employer pays more than my previous 3 in the same industry (and I strongly suspect more than almost anybody else in this industry) and
      (3) the emails themselves appear to have dwindled down to near zero as Covid has many of us working from home (so… problem solved?)

      But I definitely warn anybody I know looking to work for my employer about all its flaws, including that our properties are definitely not crime-free and whatever crimes do happen are widely publicized in graphic detail to all employees.

  8. EIC*

    #2 I think the manager needs to start preparing for Sara’s resignation. I’m sure this is prompting Sara to look for a job with higher pay that matches her talents (rather than stay working at the lower level). A smart manager would start initiating a backup plan cause I consider Sara a flight risk at this point.

Comments are closed.