updates: the borrowed laptop, the constant FaceTiming, 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 company charges us PTO when we work from home while sick

Thank you so much to you Alison and all of the commenters for your wonderful advice on this issue. I want to iterate that overall (besides these silly admin issues), my job is wonderful and I have learned so much here. And while I don’t have a direct update on the using PTO while working from home issue yet, I do have some great news that I think everyone will appreciate hearing during the pandemic:

My company has treated this pandemic VERY seriously and have placed the health and safety of its employees above all else. We had been working from home since March (much like many other offices), and in late summer, the company owners announced that they are committed to letting us work from home at least until the beginning of 2021. They emphasized how important our health is to them and that they want us to do whatever we need to do to stay safe and feel comfortable. For those employees who are really struggling working from home, they have opened up the office for those who want to come in, and they must wear a mask, social distance, sanitize, etc., and there can be no more than 6-ish people can be there at a time. This is definitely not forced, and most people have opted to continue working from home, but it has been a nice arrangement for those who miss the office environment.

With the current COVID situation on our side of the country, it is looking like we will likely work from home for at least a few more months, and they are working on a policy once we do go “back to normal,” which includes considering allowing us to work from home more than our allotted one day a week. Once we do resume as normal, I will certainly be using Alison’s language about pushing back on the “you must take these amount of hours of PTO when working from home” issue – who knows, they may drop the issue completely after what we’ve experienced. I do feel very appreciated here and trusted, and I feel they value my opinions. So I feel when the situation about the PTO comes up, I will be heard. I’m happy to provide an update once I know more! Again, thank you to everyone and Alison for all your help!

2. My company laid people off and then immediately re-hired someone for the same job (#3 at the link)

In addition to the two people initially laid off, a third person was laid off the day he was due to return from short-term-disability leave.

It was found out that the new guy was a close friend of the department manager. I worked with him a couple of times and was successful in shifting any negative feelings I had about the situation away from him.

The laid-off person who’d been with the company longest got in touch with an employment lawyer, who talked to HR, who argued that “the new role is different.” That was called out as being incorrect (coarser language was used). After a couple of weeks of back and forth, HR said that they were reopening a hiring requisition for the role, and that the laid off guy could come back. So, this particular person came back.

The other two people laid off were sent “permanent layoff” notices (as opposed to their previous “temporary layoff” status), and open positions were posted for the same role at an “intermediate/experienced” level. 

The new guy quit after just a couple of months, basically saying that he liked the department but not the work.

The hiring requisitions are still open. We’ve had one more new person start, but there are still open positions (several offers have been made and declined, which is a whole other thing).

The guy who was laid off and returned met all of his official KPIs (on paper, top 1/4 of the department), but didn’t meet an unwritten expectation for hours worked. His annual review and raise were poorer than people who missed their official KPIs but met the unwritten expectation for hours worked. Since it’s a salaried/exempt role, the hours worked expectation of 45+ hours per week is a little ridiculous.

All in all, the situation hasn’t improved my opinion of department leadership, though I’d describe it now as a general lack of respect rather than resentment. I’m sticking around for the time being — as a moderately-favored employee, the work environment for me personally is better than anywhere else I’ve worked. That said, I’m not favored enough to feel secure in calling out department leadership on their inconsistent expectations/assessments, and I feel a little bad about not being able to do more to support the less-favoured folks.

3. My coworker FaceTimes with her daughter all the time(#2 at the link)

A week after I wrote in, our entire office was shut down. A week later, most of us were furloughed and then laid off (hospitality industry). As things were slowly opening back up, this coworker was not invited to return back and her role was replaced by someone new. So the problem of the loud FaceTime was solved I guess.

4. My coworker borrowed my laptop … permanently (#3 at the link)

At the time I asked my question, we were doing this rotating work from home arrangement where half of the team would work from home one day and the other half the next. I was in one cohort and the coworker who borrowed the laptop was in the other group, but the arrangement was about to end, so I meant to talk to her when I saw her in person. It seemed like that would go over better. Then I got bronchitis so bad I was in the ER (thinking it might be COVID, thankfully it wasn’t). So while everyone else was in the office, I was working from home on a doctor’s note, for about 6 weeks. So I was kind of procrastinating (don’t hate me…)

Anyway, somewhere in there, one afternoon my power and thus my internet went out. This is very rare in my neighbourhood and I think likely it was maintenance as it wasn’t storming. It was only a couple of hours and shouldn’t have been a big deal, but there was a conversation with my boss that she could loan me this monster aged laptop the company owned that had to be used with a separate monitor and keyboard and mouse (because none of that worked on it) so in case my power and internet went out again I would have a backup. I thought that was ridiculous and I replied, “Or…I could just get my laptop back from [coworker] and she could use that one”.

I don’t know what discussions were behind the scenes – at that point things were already tense between me and the company because of me demanding action on the COVID safety stuff – so all that was said to me was that I could come by the office the next day and my boss would bring it out to me. I drove over and texted her when I got there; she came out and set it on the passenger seat and went back inside.

I think if it wasn’t for the COVID stuff intervening, I probably would have just talked to my coworker like you advised and it wouldn’t have been a deal. I should have anyway, and not worried so much about text communications being misunderstood. The thing that has really stuck with me is a comment someone made in the original article that a lot of questions submitted to you would be answered by “just communicate.” Instead of hinting and wondering and procrastinating and being frustrated, just talk to her. So when I moved from that job, where my boss was truly a micromanager, to one where I am working on longer term projects for a very laid back boss who doesn’t ask for updates, I’ve felt nervous and confused by not having that constant managing (as much as it is truly better). I found myself wanting to ask someone what to do about feeling nervous, how to deal with a boss who didn’t ask me for updates, etc. But I kept thinking “just communicate” and so as an example, instead of asking someone else how I could communicate an update on my current project to my boss who hadn’t specifically asked for one I…wrote a project status update and sent it to him. Which worked perfectly.

{ 49 comments… read them below }

  1. Rainy*

    LW 4: That is great! It can be hard to overcome those feelings that you are going to break some rule nobody’s told you about if you just communicate clearly, but I’m always on the side of just using one’s words, and that is an excellent use of your words.

    Also, I’m glad you got your laptop back. :)

    1. Mookie*

      This is my favorite update in a long while and proves that with intervention and validation people brainwashed by toxic workplaces can recover. Congrats on this, LW4!

      1. Deborah*

        LW#4 here. I was so embarrassed to write the update, so I’m glad you guys don’t hate me for how it turned out! I really am thankful for the “just communicate” principle!

  2. nnn*

    The weird (although ultimately inconsequential) thing in #4 is a laptop that requires an external monitor couldn’t be used in a power outage, because external monitors need a power source (i.e. they have to plug into the wall or a power bar, rather than getting their power from the computer they’re connected to)

    1. TechWorker*

      Right… plus if power and internet was out I’m not really sure how a different computer would have been magically able to get internet…

      1. SarahKay*

        Yeah, I’ve been in the situation with a power outage where I’ve caught myself thinking “that’s fine, my laptop has a good battery, with luck it’ll last until the power is back”.
        And then realising that oh, yes, laptop is fine, shame about the internet! No email, no access to the site server where all our work is saved, no access to SAP….might as well go read a book for a while.

      2. WS*

        If power and internet are out you can still use your mobile phone as a hotspot! I live in a rural area with frequent internet outages, and that’s what I do.

        1. Mongrel*

          Only if work are picking up the bill.
          I have a pretty minimal data plan since I started WFH (before pandemic) and that stuff eats it up pretty quick.

          Also, I connect via a company approved VPN, I have no idea if there’s an app for it nor what would be required to set it up

        2. I'm just here for the cats.*

          But that can eat up your data and your battery. It’s not going to last for 8 hours.

          1. DireRaven*

            Personally, not only can I use my phone as a hotspot (I have so much data on my hotspot plan I never come anywhere near using it all, even when running it for entire work days and I have unlimited for my phone…), but I have an inverter for my car that I can plug my phone and laptop into. So, if they start dying, I can take them out there and charge them up. And if it is cold or excessively hot and no power in the house, I can run the heater/AC while I’m at it. (and expect to be joined by family members…)

        3. Frank Doyle*

          I too live in a rural area, and my cell service is so spotty out here I doubt I could use my phone as a hotspot.

        4. GothicBee*

          Weirdly enough, I live close to downtown in my area and yet when the power goes out, cell service is basically gone too. I can make phone calls, but data is useless. Which is frustrating because that’s exactly when I need my data.

    2. Deborah*

      Ah geez I so did not think of this at the time. I do have data on my phone so that’s how the internet would have worked, and my ex-boss also had a mobile hotspot she would loan out sometimes, but I have no idea how the laptop with no monitor was supposed to work with no power.

  3. Julia*

    Haha, hey, when LW 4 mentioned a comment a reader made that stuck with them, I thought “that sounds like a comment I once made”. And sure enough, I made the comment. I went back and looked at it and it’s a little ruder than I remembered. Oof. Sorry, LW. But I’m glad it was a help to you. I’ll try to remember that anything I say online might stick with a reader for a while so it’s always safe to be nice.

    1. Julia*

      And I forgot to say LW 4 – congrats on pushing yourself to communicate more directly! We all have stuff we could work on and tackling it is commendable.

      1. Deborah*

        Ha, I think I was a little offended at the time, but the more I thought about it the more I knew you were right. And I did grow up in “guess culture” as ArtsNerd says, with an extremely dysfunctional family dynamic, so I come by it honestly. So having your voice in the back of my head doesn’t hurt LOL

    2. ArtsNerd*

      It’s definitely easy to get frustrated with people who agonize over things you see as perfectly straightforward – I do it every day with my micromanaging boss. But as someone who grew up in “guess culture”, learning how to communicate clearly was both agonizing and a revelation.

      I credit a very good and infinitely wise friend whose advice, 90% of the time, was a variation on “tell them what you just told me” or “Why not just ask?” for helping me hone that skill set. I miss her terribly (she moved away, and we’re not in frequent contact anymore) and still frequently find myself thinking “what would Tasha suggest in this situation?” She’d suggest I just say the damn thing, and it helps give me the nerve to do so.

  4. Hrodvitnir*

    Aw, high five LW4! The whole situation was painful to read, let alone experience, but I’m so impressed to read of you acting on that advice.

    LW#1 Nice to read something positive. :)

    LW#2 That’s a solid yikes/10. I feel you on lack of respect for shitty management – I’m not someone inclined to see management as the enemy but if they start treating you that way you eventually just end up working around them and seeing them with contempt. It’s not great. Sigh. I’m glad it’s tolerable for you, good luck finding something better for the future.

    LW#3 Good luck in these uncertain times.

  5. Coffee*

    LW4’s experience with shifting to a non-micromanager boss resonates with me greatly. It’s so hard to adjust! I’m glad you’ve found sending updates helpful. My team shifted to daily morning check-ins (to a kanban) and the low-stakes updates have been good for me.

    1. Deborah*

      I spent so much time being nervous and trying to figure out what my question was so I could ask someone and I would decide, no, this is just me adjusting, and then the next day I would be back at the nerves again!

      Funny thing, I had gotten really jumpy at the old job. It was an open office space, so I could see people moving around the room, and I would watch someone walking around the desks and then they would approach me and I would jump. Like really really jump, and gasp or shriek a little. I tried not to but my startle reflex was so high I couldn’t help it. I have been at the new job for 90 days, and I was nervous for a long time. There’s a printer in the aisle right outside the entrance to my cubicle so people commonly come to get stacks of invoices, and I hear them shuffling around with the equipment, and since my back is to that aisle, I spent a lot of time looking over my shoulder to see if someone wanted me and then feeling weirdly guilty for looking over my shoulder like I was doing something I shouldn’t…But anyway, a few days ago I noticed I wasn’t jumpy anymore, at least not so extravagantly. I’m not jumping and screeching at people anymore. Which is great!

  6. Sam Foster*

    This “unwritten expectation for hours worked” has to be deepest and most screwed up misunderstanding of what a salary role means.
    Just amazing.

    1. Girasol*

      But it’s pretty common, isn’t it? I have never had an exempt job but that the manager told me that working just 40 hours per week was not acceptable; it’s 45-50 minimum except when we’re busy and then it’s more. I’ve seen it mentioned once in an informal email reminder but never in anything official written by HR.

      1. dispatchrabbi*

        I’m sure it’s common but it’s not good management. Outside of positions that require coverage, any time I’ve seen a manager require exempt workers to work a certain number of hours signifies either that the manager doesn’t know how to gauge work quality/output or there’s some fear about how it looks, either to another department or a higher-up. (The old “sales has to be here at 8am, so the rest of you do too.”) There’s nothing that says “I don’t trust you” quicker than hiring someone for an exempt job and then managing their time for them.

        The whole point of being exempt from overtime is that you don’t have scheduled hours or even an hour requirement. If there were an hour requirement, there should be a threshold where overtime kicks in. Instead, working exempt means you should work more when there’s crunch and work less when there’s slack, and your metric is work quality and output, not time spent.

        I know I’m living somewhat in a fantasy world here, but it’s how I’ve always managed my teams and we seem to have done fine. Knowing how to actually measure your team’s work quality and output means you can actually fix things when they start to go wrong too, because your signals are more accurate.

      2. Boof*

        it’s crappy management as allison has described before; “butts in seats” don’t really matter (unless there is something that requires physical presence such as meetings, answering phones, etc), what matters is whether work gets done.
        Assuming equal widgets, someone who makes 20 widgets for a company has produced more value than someone who made 15 widgets, even if the person who made 15 spent twice as long doing it. It doesn’t make sense to punish the person who made 20 and reward the one who made 15 just because 15 put in more time. (this is of course a vast oversimplification as many jobs have different productivity measures and may have very levels of expectations particularly for different salary levels etc)

        1. PersephoneUnderground*

          Yeah, this actually seems like the closest analogy- the guy hit all his goals, produced 20 widgets in less time, but got a worse review than the people producing 15 widgets because they worked more hours? Really? That’s totally what did happen here and a great explanation of why it’s a terrible system!

    2. Workerbee*

      Definitely. I have noticed the silence on the part of my current and other bosses when a colleague calls into a meeting despite being on PTO, or had to spend at least an extra half hour digging out their car from the snow but still came in after instead of just working from home, or stayed late to work on a report that was still going to be there for them tomorrow.

      And that silence was a golden, smug silence of approval, when the far more humane response would have been to tell the colleague not to call in while on their earned vacation, or to stay home during horrible weather, etc. Bah!

    3. dogmom*

      At my old toxic job, I was informed on Day 1 that I would be scheduled for nine hours every day. I asked if I could leave after eight hours if I ate at my desk and worked through lunch and was told no, I would be scheduled for nine hours. It was *strongly* implied that I was to work the full nine hours, and the first year or so I did, and then I realized they couldn’t do anything to me if I “only” worked eight hours, so I started taking my break every day. Even when I actually did eat at my desk, I’d still leave for an hour and go wander around Target or something. They were pissed, but they couldn’t exactly write me up for not working five hours a week for free.

    4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I can’t say I understand all this “exempt” business, but I agree that if the guy is hitting all his KPIs while not even putting in the expected amount of time, he should actually be given an explicit number of hours (lots!) and double the KPIs and salary – the firm will probably still be winning.

  7. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #2- odd that someone would go back to a job where he was laid off in such a situation.

    In the IS/IT world, it’s not unusual for someone to get laid off permanently, or even fired – and then, the company realizes that the firee is not easily replaced, and he/she is asked to return.

    Problem is, FOR HOW LONG? Until they find someone else to do that job, and you train the new guy?

    Are you an on-premise scapegoat for others’ transgressions? You’re walking into a situation (usually) where you’re damaged goods. If you’ve found another position, then you’re likely better off staying in it. You could get whacked again, unless there was some major mistake that management will apologize for.

    1. RC Rascal*

      I don’t find it odd. The person needs to work and either hasn’t found another job or can’t find one that has the features this one has, such as commute time, health insurance benefits, etc.

      Also — some people have more difficulty finding employment than others. Depends on your skills, experience, age, how well you interview and sometimes characteristics like personality and attractiveness.

      1. Eliza*

        Since a lawyer is involved, this sort of thing can also be part of the legal manoeuvring between the two parties. Employer offers former employee their old job back to try and reduce the possible damages that can be claimed in a lawsuit, employee gets to choose between taking a job where they know they’re not wanted or the possibility of having to try and prove in court that the offer was made in bad faith.

    2. JohannaCabal*

      I don’t know. In my experience, this could play out in many ways. The one situation I knew about, the returning employee was treated with kid gloves while the organization simply waited for them to find a new position elsewhere and leave (which they did about a year after returning). Likely, the returning person at this company still hadn’t found another position yet. With the toxicity at the company, I suspect they are still looking.

  8. Steveo*

    “just communicate.” Instead of hinting and wondering and procrastinating and being frustrated, just talk to her.

    This is the answer to about 75% of the letters here. How to communicate however is often the issue.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah, I think it’s definitely true that 90% of letters here could be answered “just communicate,” but sometimes people need help finding diplomatic wording, and a lot of times they already know the answer but the need an impartial third party to confirm it’s the right move.

  9. RC Rascal*

    LW2–please start looking for another job. Things may be OK for you now but some day you will fall out of favor. Your organization has shown you the culture and how they treat people. One day the things that have happened to these other people will happen to you.

  10. Observer*

    #4 – I had to laugh at your last line. But, it truly is a good outcome – you did EXACTLY the right thing and I’m glad you got to that point.

  11. JohannaCabal*

    #2 I’m sure New Guy also left because they felt the tension, even if they said it was because of the department. I know you said you tried to not treat him differently but I can only imagine the awkwardness of working somewhere knowing the person I replaced was suing the company and then dealing with former employee coming back to the company. Who knows how other employees felt?

    I’ve seen similar situations, usually when a popular employee is fired for something egregious but their “clique” disagrees with the firing and freezes out the replacement as “punishment.”

    I hope you can get out of there soon!

  12. Jessica Fletcher*

    The ~just communicate~ people must have never worked in a dysfunctional environment where you’re actually punished for communicating! I’ve never worked somewhere that actually wanted you to say what you meant. Everyone *wants* you to hint around. They only say it’s a problem when it’s convenient to blame you for something.

    1. Deborah*

      LW#4 here. I didn’t realize how toxic the culture was at that workplace until I was getting ready to leave. For 7 years I talked about how great they were and how much o loved that job, and I wasn’t lying, but it had all the bad traits of a very small company where everyone must get along and a few people have really intense and toxic personalities. In other words…all the bad traits of a dysfunctional family, except your ability to feed and house yourself is based on keeping them happy. So yeah, it’s scary. But I had forgotten that I decided 20 years ago I wasn’t going to put up with this guess culture BS. (I didn’t know that term; I thought of it as “I’m only responsible for what you say and I agree to, not anything you assume, hint or imply.”)

  13. boop the first*

    I burst out laughing when you asked for a laptop and they offered you a glorified external hard drive.

    1. Deborah*

      I think I yelled at the screen a little. Probably some profanity, which would have caused fainting spells if they’d heard it, because they refused to believe I wasn’t a perfect princess who never had any naughty writers pass her lips (I give people that impression and I really don’t know why).

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