updates: my older male coworker is obsessed with my weight and baby plans, 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 older male coworker is obsessed with my weight and baby plans

Unfortunately for readers – fortunately for me – there’s not much to report with Gary. Unbeknownst to me, at the same time I was writing to you, “Gary” was requesting a change of his scheduled hours. This coupled with the reduced hours our whole office is working, and I’ve not seen him other than waving from across the street one morning. I may have to see him at an in-person Christmas party, but I’m ready to shout from 6 feet away that it’s very weird he keeps asking me about my sex life!

2. My mom’s advice is ruining my sister’s job prospects

There’s good news and bad news.

When I wrote to you, my sister had a job as an assistant office manager. Since then, she’s been promoted to a project-based role that better reflects the work she was already doing and received a small raise. She’s still overworked and underpaid, and the company’s behavior is, on occasion, not great. But she can pay her bills. She seems determined to stay where she is for as long as she can. Given the current state of the economy, I think that’s a good idea. The lack of an active job hunt means that we’ve been able to table the issue of job hunting advice. When it does come up again, my plan is to have a serious conversation with our mom about how I know her heart’s in the right place, but that her job advice is counter-productive in the world of contemporary office work.

I did point my sister toward different resources that were recommended in the comments, many of which were excellent. She brushed them off. I get the feeling she’s given up on finding a more fulfilling or stable job. Lately when we talk about work, we talk about how a job doesn’t have to define you; it can just be a way to pay the bills.

One thing I did want to clarify is the nature of my financial responsibility to my sister. A lot of people in the comments seemed shocked by the arrangement, suggested it might be cultural and encouraged me to set boundaries or transfer financial responsibility for my sister to my mom. For the record, I take care of my sister because she needs taken care of, and I’m the only person in our family who’s in a position to do so. I hope that’s not an unamerican concept. I wish, for her sake, that she was more financially secure, but I don’t have a problem being her safety net.

Thanks again for checking in and for confirming that the situation is as untenable as I suspected. And thank you to all the commenters who jumped in and tried to help.

3. My boss micromanages us when we work from home (#2 at the link)

Isn’t it crazy how I wrote to you about WFH struggles on March 10th, and then the pandemic was declared on March 11th sending us to WFH for good? Our last day in the office was March 12th, and I took it upon myself to begin to ask “I’m wondering if we can discuss a new system now that this is going to be every day for the next few weeks…” (little did I know it would be months!) and I was totally ready to gently begin the dialogue you suggested in your response. But, before I could even continue, he said “yeah we’re gonna have to think of a new way…maybe just checking in every couple of days instead”. I was floored, took it as a total win, and said OK! I think he was panicked by the pandemic and was pushed to realize we’re being asked to pick up our entire in-office functions and move our work into our homes (rather than someone simply wanting to WFH), and shifted into more of a survival, ‘let’s get through’ this mode.

It was such a relief to not have to do daily pre-lists and reports, and I was totally fine checking in every couple of days since there was no additional mental load on my end (I just caught him up on the progress I was making/general status updates). He quickly realized we’re all functioning as if we were in the office and the check-ins ended up going down to once per week, and were mostly just catching up on life and working out anything that needed manager review or approval, rather than actually discussing the nitty-grittys of what I had been spending my time on.

So, a big thank you to your support on this, but I’m hopeful this advice won’t be needed nearly as often as it would have been before March 11th!

4. How should I respond when my boss coaches me on something basic and obvious?

Your comments and the insights from your readers were all spot on. It’s good to give the benefit of the doubt especially when certain actions are such outliers. It is hard to immediately step into that mindset when something is impacting you directly; to try and understand another’s perspective or to analyze it in real time. This individual was fighting a serious health issue, and sadly they lost that fight only a few weeks ago. At the time they didn’t know they were even ill; they were just in pain and barely operating. I haven’t thought about this AAM question since I wrote it, because immediately the answer came into light before the question was posted. I really appreciate this resource and like the ability to lean on the vast perspectives of your readers. Thank you for the opportunity to tap into the collective experience and intelligence of this network.

Stay safe everyone and take care!

{ 82 comments… read them below }

  1. SaffyTaffy*

    #2, I’m happy to hear the good news, and the less-good parts are still tolerable and hopeful. I hope this isn’t too forward, but there was a little turn of phrase in your update that made me realize exactly where you come from. I do think our particular geographic region has a slightly different culture than other parts of the States, because of other groups that colonized our region. It’s something to be proud of, and I’m proud that you’re helping to care for your sister.

    1. Stella70*

      Isn’t it interesting how vast our country is that just a word or two can indicate where one is from? Sometimes, they are obvious (soda versus pop, for instance and in general) but other times, pretty subtle. To me, it sounds so weird to hear someone say they stand “on line” when it so clearly should be “in line”. Ha! :)
      (I’ve also learned that it’s mainly Minnesotans who say “oop” as an expletive – without that sound, I would have to resort to swearing!).

      1. SD*

        Is it really only Californians who say, “I took the 405,” meaning they took I-405 to get wherever they were going?

          1. Bookworm1858*

            Fascinating! I learned to drive in WA but never drove much until I lived in Southern California where I promptly adopted this quirk. My best friend in PA loves to tease me about it but it honestly sounds better to me.

          1. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

            100% correct PT, it is a dead giveaway that someone is from LA if they say “the 5”. Also in Northern CA we don’t say the “I” either. Just “take 80 to the In n Out…” or “go east on 4”, no difference if it’s a state highway or an interstate.

            1. Esmeralda*

              Doesn’t have to be LA. Anywhere in southern california. I grew up in Orange County, that’s how we said it. Heard the same from friends in San Diego etc.

        1. Stella70*

          I feel confident in saying we shorten it as well here in Minnesota (90 for I-90), but again, I learned a few years ago that we are one of the few places that list distance in time, not miles. (Meaning, we say “that’s a 20 minutes drive”, versus “that’s a 15 mile drive”). This one confounds me. Five miles in the Twin Cities could take you an hour, easy. Isn’t it more specific/accurate to say how long it will take to get somewhere? (And isn’t Alison about to say this is too off-topic?!) :)

          1. StrikingFalcon*

            I’ve lived places that do both, and I’m pretty sure this is just a feature of the amount of traffic around you.

          2. Lacey*

            I’ve lived in Ohio and Indiana for most of my life and we shorten it, but we would say, “I took 90”, not, “I took the 90”.

          3. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

            I’m from the southwest and I usually characterise a drive by time instead of distance (it’s about three hours to Albuquerque, you can be in the mountains in half an hour, etc).

          4. Quill*

            Yeah, it’s time not distance around here (Chicago – Milwaukee corridor) too.

            Because it takes you 30 minutes to LEAVE the north suburbs of chicago, and two hours to reach the city from them.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          We say both in the PNW, nobody is that invested in the way people speak around here. They understand “I took the 5” just the same as “I took I-5”. The pronunciation of words is how we get if you’re native or not. Couch St in Portland for starters is not the living room furniture pronunciation.

          1. ATM*

            I’m from Oregon and I’ve never heard people refer to it as “the 5, its always been “the I-5”. Maybe its less regional and more state? :D

          2. TardyTardis*

            It’s I-5, 140, etc. in the area of Oregon where I live. I never heard ‘the 5’ before my daughter went to college five miles away from Disneyland. :)

        3. Esmeralda*

          Haha, when I lived in california I’d regularly have this conversation when giving directions (back before google maps):
          Me:So then you take the 5 North — watch out, there’s a sharp turn on the ramp and…
          Them (from out of state): Wait, so what’s the name of the freeway?
          Me: It’s the 5.
          Them: OK, but what’s the name of the freeway. The road, what’s its name?
          Me: Uh, it’s the 5. Yeah, ok, it has names but they change from one end of the state to the other and who can keep track? So it’s just the 5.
          Them: But right there, what’s the name?
          Me. The. Its name is THE.

          When I moved to the South (still before cellphones and map apps), directions were like this:
          Them: So you go along Main Street til just past where the Waffle House used to be, then watch for a little bitty street on the left, that’s your shortcut.
          Me: Um, I don’t know where the Waffle House used to be, I just moved here. What’s the name of the little street?
          Them: Ummmmmm

          Haha, or my favorite, now that I’ve lived here a long time, I myself will say: “Watch for the sign that says Colonel Street because the street you want, Major Street, is the same street but the name changes right at that intersection and the sign for Major Street got knocked down last month and hasn’t been replaced.”

          1. Quill*

            Meanwhile, I grew up in a grid-designed, sequentially numbered town, and people who tell me to “turn right on east Washington” get yelled at unless they can provide a GPS.

            You can literally use any system if your streets aren’t named after random presidents! So “take 50 to St. Mary’s church and go north to the old kmart, turn right, it will be behind the doughnut shop” makes perfect sense to me because you don’t have to use the words part of your brain to keep reading street signs and have it crowd the actual directions out.

            Whereas if you need to know street names and don’t know what order they’re coming in… nightmare fuel.

            People from out of town mock me but I am highly adapted for my specific environment. :)

          2. TardyTardis*

            They do that in Idaho, too, even the Garmin was little confused trying to find my sister-in-law’s house.

        4. Sasha*

          Interestingly we say “the” in the UK and Canada too.

          Take the A27 eastbound to Brighton then turn off onto the M23.

          Take the Don Valley Parkway then turn onto the 401 East.

        5. TastefullyFreckled*

          We say the same thing in Southern Ontario, Canada. The freeways here have three-digit number designations, so we’ll talk about taking “the 401” or “the 407” or the like.

      2. Also Minnesotan*

        Huh, I’ve never thought of “oop” as an expletive! I use it more as “excuse me,” like “Oop, I just need to get behind you for a minute.”

          1. Sunrise Ruby*

            Don’t get those of us who are descended from Norwegian immigrants started on “Uff da”!

            1. Filosofickle*

              On a business trip to Minneapolis, my experience was not complete until I heard an Uff Da! I was waiting for it.

        1. MinnesOta*

          I’ve lived here all my life and never thought of “ope” as an expletive! Most common use is “Ope, let me sneak right by ya”

      3. Arvolin*

        Strange…I’ve lived in the Twin Cities metro area all my life, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard “oop” used as an expletive. Have you lived in the more rural areas of the state?

    2. OP 2*

      OP here, that’s not forward at all, and it’s really interesting to me! Can I ask, what the turn of phrase was?

      1. Cruciatus*

        I’m curious too! I was wondering if it’s the lack of an infinitive after “needs” in the 3rd paragraph. I don’t say it judgmentally because I come from a region (the same one?) where dropping “to be” is not the horror that it is in other regions. I hope the original commenter fills us in!

      2. Blaise*

        I’m guessing “she needs taken care of”… that’s definitely not the way that would be phrased where I’m from :)

        1. yarn_and_ux*

          Huh, I didn’t realize that was a regionalism, I’ve always thought it was just a typo when I’ve seen it

        1. Gyratory Circus*

          That’s a Pennsylvania thing. I worked on a remote team with a bunch of folks from the Harrisburg area and that phrasing was always jarring to me.

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            We also frequently dropped the infinitive in South Texas. Maybe that’s why we’re always fixin’ stuff.

      3. SaffyTaffy*

        OP 2 some people guessed it, yes, it’s saying “she needs cared for” or maybe “the car needs washed.”
        Honestly I just think the Quaker, Amish, and Mennonite communities around us have an influence that’s not felt in other parts of the country.
        Of course that isn’t to say other communities aren’t charitable or that other American families don’t stick together, but what you’re doing for your sister feels completely obvious to me, and clearly isn’t obvious to people from other parts of the country.

        1. OP 2*

          That’s a really nice way of looking at it. And you gave me a great ice-breaker for a call today, “Do you or do you not use “to be” after “needs”?

        2. KoiFeeder*

          Haha, “needs [verb]” is so normal for me that I didn’t even catch that it might be identifiable.

    3. Alex*

      I had that exact same moment! It’s funny how language can be such an indicator. And, depending on your skill set, big parts of that area have been tough for job seekers for decades. It sounds like LW and her sister are doing their best.

    4. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Agreed — I was puzzled by that trend in the original comments as well. You’re a good sister, OP, and I hope things continue to be stable for your sister.

      1. Brightwanderer*

        I think it was just an example of the general cultural trend at the moment where it’s seeped into common consciousness that a ton of “family obligations” are, if not outright abusive, then at least unreasonable or untenable. I think particularly if you read a lot of advice columns, whether personal or professional, you get used to the idea that people may be normalising abnormal demands, or failing to stand up for themselves because they’ve been conditioned not to. You see the same thing with people jumping to “this not-great but relatively common behaviour from your partner/boss is a red flag for abuse”.

  2. Justafan*

    For #1, I’m glad for OP’s sake that she is no longer having to deal with Gary (and feels she has the necessary tools if needed).
    But for my sake…I am deeply disappointed! I was hoping to hear that Gary got slapped down BIG TIME!!!

    1. Sunrise Ruby*

      Agreed. It would have been very satisfying to know his good white Southern Christian ass had been handed to him.

  3. Anonymosity*

    I’m the sister in a similar scenario (only I don’t have a job currently). It pains me to be dependent on anyone and my mother has made similar suggestions, as has my sibling, who keeps mentioning things like retail or Uber or Amazon delivery driver, which are not tenable for me, especially in a pandemic and in an area where I do not know my way around.

    I wish people would stop just throwing out random job suggestions and advice. It’s patronizing and annoying, especially when they a) have no knowledge or understanding of a person’s disability or limitations; b) don’t know anything about the person’s professional background; and c) don’t get that advice can often be generally unwelcome if it’s not directly solicited.

    This behavior only makes job hunting more stressful, because now we have to expend extra energy to fend them off. Sometimes we just want to vent and are not asking for advice. It’s fine to ask “Is there anything I can do to help?” and if the answer is no, then back. the. hell. off.

    I commend the sister for staying in her current job right now. It’s not a good time to be unemployed. Even if the company is less than stellar, the promotion seems like it will give her additional skills to enhance her job profile if and when she decides to resume her search.

      1. Quill*

        Yup, especially from people who don’t understand that the barriers in your area / industry / demographic are higher than they were when they were your age.

        Parents are still like “It’s about time you got a real job”

        And I’m like “I need a time machine or citizenship in another country for that, guys, this industry does NOT hire if at all possible”

    1. Myrin*

      Katie!! I have not seen you around here in a long time – have I simply missed you or is this really your first comment after a longer absence?

  4. Ash*

    LW1, I truly hope this in-person Xmas party is outdoors! If it’s indoors, I encourage you to push back with your employer if you feel comfortable with that. It is going to take as many people as possible cooperating with CDC guidelines in order to not overwhelm our health systems this winter!

    1. Blarg*

      And please no shouting. Even with a mask. Even from six feet away. Generates droplets and aerosols.

  5. Blisskrieg*

    Letter writer #2. I am an American who has had, to varying degrees, to function as a financial safety net for family members (in my case, those with mental health issues). My takeaway is that I am grateful to be in a position to help. Make sure you are feeding your own investment and retirement needs as a first priority, and (if it makes sense for your sister’s case) make sure she has all the social services and financial support to which they’re entitled. However, depending on how you do it, I think it can be a great kindness to assist and reflects nicely on the interconnectedness of family. It sounds like you are very aware of what you are able and want to do, so good for you!

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Being grateful to be in a position to help is a wonderful attitude to have. It kind of jives with my resolve to never complain of having to pay income tax: it’s actually a sign that you’re doing pretty well.

      (Here in France we used to have a wealth tax. It was scrapped by a right-wing government, then re-introduced by a left-wing government, but with slightly different rules. Apparently quite a few people got miffed when they were told that they were no longer considered wealthy enough to have to pay – like they had been thrown out of the club.)

  6. drpuma*

    OP2 you say you have “good news and bad news” but I don’t see any bad news in your update. It sounds like you are showing your family members all the care and kindness you feasibly can while also taking good care of yourself. In my book that’s only “good news.”

    1. 2020storm*

      the bad news was that her sister didn’t dive into the (very possibly very helpful) career advice she was offered, and seems to think her career will be solely a way to make money and unfulfilling in every other way. That would upset me, as the OP.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        yup, but OP has learned that there’s no point providing unsolicited advice, and that’s great.

  7. Gazebo Slayer*

    OP1: Your company SUCKS for not firing Gary. The things you specified in your original post that he said to you are horrifying. He has engaged in a long-term campaign of sexual harassment against you, which also happens to double as harassment regarding your medical condition. I would be surprised if he *doesn’t* say gross things to other women on a regular basis.

    And as for your boss’s excuse that he’s a good Southern Christian man, I’d be tempted to retort either “so’s Roy Moore” or “OK, well, I’m an agnostic blunt Boston b!tch, so surely you’ll forgive me for telling him to shove his ‘concern’ for my reproductive organs up his ass.”

  8. Choggy*

    LW#3 – I hope, when/if you and Gary cross paths again, you will feel more comfortable shutting him down without providing any explanation. No one should be commenting on someone’s weight or family planning decisions, it’s just none of their business, period.

  9. Malika*

    LW2: Thank you for the update! I understand the frustration of very good advice about career development or job hunting being swept under the table. She is obviously working beneath the level of her degree and is probably not particularly satisfied with her situation at the moment.
    I can imagine though that right now she is just happy that she is able to pay her bills and have some form of self-sufficiency. In 2020, that is already huge. When you have mental health issues, it’s off the scales. When I got my new job, my partner balked at the very low salary, compared to what I used to make. The thing is that my new job has nothing to do with the executive assistant i used to be, is very entry-level and involves training just as much as job experience in the first phase. I will be able to pay all my bills, and get out of the admin corner which i had found increasingly frustrating and undervalued. To the outsider it’s a step down, for me it is completely and utterly liberating. It might be that for your sister it is the same situation. The pros are good enough and she is proud enough of her work, that that is enough for now. Going home and having family members give her advice on how she can get a better job might feel demoralizing.
    Any steps towards finding a job that matches her degree can be shelved for the very near future, unless a very unexpected and amazing opportunity comes up.

  10. yarn_and_ux*

    I’m glad #1 doesn’t have to put up with Gary anymore, but I still want to see him dealt with because you know he’s just gonna move on to some other woman on his new shift.

    1. yarn_and_ux*

      To clarify, I don’t mean “dealt with” in the “cement shoes and the East River” way, I just mean via HR.

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