updates: the constant screenshots, the wolf whistle, 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 five updates from past letter-writers.

1. I have to take screenshots of everything I do at work

After you posted my situation, I expressed my frustration and concerns with the documentation requirements to my direct supervisor. I had mentioned them to her before but gave her more details this time and she was also particularly concerned about the potential confidentiality issues, and told me she would bring it up at her next meeting with the service program directors.

Still feeling like we would need to advocate for ourselves to get anything done, myself and the other members of the service program got together and created a document outlining our specific concerns and some proposed solutions. We then requested a meeting with the program directors to share the document, and thankfully they took our concerns seriously and told us they would discuss how to change the requirements to ease the burden on us. I think having our ideas solidified in a document supported by all of us was a huge asset.

We now provide documentation weekly instead of daily, list our weekly accomplishments on a spreadsheet, and only need to provide documentation showing completed projects rather than how we spend every second of the day. I am so much more productive now that I don’t have to worry about taking a million screenshots. Thank you for sharing my situation!

2. Do I really need to take calls from work on my honeymoon?

I wanted to wait to send an update until I could shed light on the “hush hush” major thing I was working on. The company I work for is being acquired, and I was involved with a lot of the administrative details to make that happen. Now that the sale has been announced to the entire staff, I don’t have to keep it confidential anymore.

I had originally written in right after a meeting where my boss (in front of the other company managers) started pressuring me to give them an idea of how to contact me during my honeymoon. I tried to be vague without coming across as unhelpful to literally every higher up in the company.

Soon after my letter was published, my boss called me and was again pressuring me to be available during the honeymoon. She asked “Are you going to be available at all?” to which I replied “I would really rather not be.” We went back and forth on the point with me telling her all the things I was doing to make sure everybody who needed information I usually provide would have access. Eventually, I did tell her that I wouldn’t be checking email at all, but if it was truly necessary for me to do something, they could text, and I would get back to them “as soon as I could”. I discussed with my now-husband that “as soon as I could” would likely mean “when I was back from PTO” unless I also agreed it was necessary for me to jump in. I think deciding for myself that I would make the decision about whether or not to be available made me feel better while still giving my boss the illusion that I would be on call.

Luckily, all my preparations paid off, and I was not interrupted! I completely unplugged from work (deleted my work email from my phone for the duration, didn’t log into my work accounts on the computer even once). I had a wonderful two weeks off, and I’m super happy to be married!

I am on the lookout for a new job though. No luck so far, but I keep trying. I know your advice has definitely improved my cover letters even if nothing has come of it yet! And thank you to all the commenters for the support. Y’all are awesome!

3. My new boss says everything is “fun” — even data entry and illness

Thanks for responding to my question! I don’t really have any major updates, other than that I’ve gotten very serious about looking for a new position. Our industry was very badly hit by the pandemic, so there are few new job postings, unfortunately. The couple of positions I’ve been in the final pool for have hired candidates with much higher qualifications (think PhDs for a position that lists Bachelor’s required, Master’s preferred), which worries me about my prospects.

I didn’t have a chance to take your advice at the time, as we went to remote work the week my letter was published. The “fun” stuff died down a bit, though we were still opening every Zoom call and meeting with what “fun activities” we were taking on while working from home. The one time I mentioned something un-fun (some personal difficulties related to the pandemic), I was cut off and told to “deal with that later, since we don’t want to bring down the mood.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Some commenters mentioned that my supervisor’s tone was very “eat your vegetables, kids,” which is exactly what it felt like. During my performance evaluation, I reiterated that I found my work fulfilling and was enjoying the opportunity to use some of my rustier skills on the “fun” projects, but that I wanted to focus on more serious tasks and professional development going forward. That seemed to have the intended effect, but I found out later that supervisor had just pushed the fun stuff onto someone else.

A few weeks ago, one of the student interns from another department went to HR to complain that she was being hounded by my supervisor, who was trying to coerce her into working for us, even going so far as to assigning “fun projects” that conflicted with her actual work. The intern quit rather than continue working in our building!

I’m hoping this will prompt some changes going forward, but I’m not too optimistic. In the meantime, I’ll continue to keep my resume up to date.

4. Interviewing when I might need to quit the job quickly

I ended up not mentioning the potential move in my interviews last January, as it began to look less and less likely that the cross-country job would materialize for my partner (remember, this was all pre-COVID!). I was offered a contract at the beginning of February for a company that I wasn’t terribly excited about at first, but the role was a nearly perfect fit, the colleagues who interviewed me seemed like wonderful people, and the terms of the contract were a good fit for my work-life balance. I took it, and I’m so glad I did–I had worked there all of three weeks when COVID hit my city hard and we all transitioned to working from home. My partner and I decided that even if the cross-country job did work out, we didn’t want to move far away from our families in the middle of a pandemic, and he ended up getting a new, really great job locally this summer anyway! I’m extremely happy with my new position and have been pleasantly shocked that the transition from freelancing to a more corporate environment has been a positive one despite this chaotic year. The company has handled various pandemic policies really well, my good gut feelings about my team were spot-on, and I have been immensely grateful to have work I can count on right now (the pandemic has been absolutely brutal on my mental health otherwise). I’ve even decided to extend my contract to stay with this team as long as possible. Thanks for all the advice you and your readers had to offer!

5. Shift leader’s ring tone is a wolf whistle (#2 at the link)

Unfortunately I don’t have an update directly related to the situation I wrote in about, because I actually moved to be closer to my family not long after I sent in my question. Now I have a new job– in a field related to my degree! Food service gave me a lot of valuable experience working with people, but I’m very glad to have put it behind me. Any time I get frustrated making phone calls or working on spreadsheets or virtual meetings, I think about how glad I am that I am allowed to sit down as part of my job, or that I don’t have to clock in at 3:45 AM!

I’m also glad that I have good managers who listen to my concerns. I’m still in touch with a few friends from that food service job, though there was pretty high turnover, so only a couple are still actually there. They’ve said this manager has also moved on, but once I left I learned some more things about him. He was apparently very reluctant to take suggestions from the workers under him (especially the young women) about anything at all. Concerns about customers who made other staff uncomfortable (relentless hitting on cashiers, or extremely argumentative regulars) but didn’t personally bother him, got totally dismissed, and on late night shifts he wouldn’t answer texts promptly when he was supposed to be available to do that. (He wasn’t totally AWOL, just at a different location in the building, but he was still the manager for two or more locations.) So, it turns out the ringtone issue was definitely part of a pattern. I don’t think that pattern ever got addressed. He got along well with the top manager (the only other man over 25 at our branch), and that definitely shielded him from having to learn any new management skills.

Anyway, this probably isn’t a very satisfying update. When I look back at that job, I mostly just feel glad I’m done with it. I wrote in about one small issue, but there were a lot of others that were way more structural and seemed pretty much impossible to solve. There was a lot of casual sexism, from management and from customers, ineffective management that made it harder for the rest of us to do our jobs, and despite policies and procedures handed down from Corporate, very little actual oversight. I know most of your question askers work in offices, which definitely have their own issues, but I wish there was something like Ask A Manager specifically for blue collar/food service settings. People put up with a lot of crap in those settings, especially when they don’t have the confidence to advocate for themselves, or don’t have experience using the sort of language that makes a manager listen.

{ 35 comments… read them below }

  1. Lena Clare*

    LW5 – Maybe you could set up a blog specifically answering blue collar/ hospitality/service-type job questions? :)

    1. BlondeSpiders*

      I absolutely agree with LW5 in this circumstance. I spent a majority of my working life in restaurants and retail, and it’s a completely different world than office settings. Obviously, the same rules apply, and Alison’s scripts are supremely helpful, but it’s just so, so different. Because of the high turnover, odd hours and dealing with some of the worst humanity has to offer. Additionally, there’s the fact that many managers become managers because they are outstanding individual contributors, not because they have any manager training. Nor do they typically receive any! I was a shift, assistant, and store manager at several retail/food establishments and I never received an iota of manager training; I was just a reliable employee who got promoted when someone burned out.

      To your point, Lena Clare, that’s a bit of a trap, isn’t it? I don’t think the OP considers themselves an HR expert, which is the kind of person who should be running a blog. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      1. AKchic*

        I agree. The training that managers in those settings receive are basically “this covers OUR butts, and we’ll hang you out to dry before we accept any kind of responsibility for the actions you take on our behalf”.

        I got out of retail/fast food a long time ago. My husband has spent 20 years in retail. Our careers are vastly different. The expectations and norms are 100% night and day. Employees in retail/fast food are taught that they are replaceable so they might as well just shut up and do what they are told. Every single one of them is a nameless red shirt who deserves whatever is dished out, if they didn’t want that kind of treatment, they’d have left already.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        All those of us with HR backgrounds can say is that “yeah that’s illegal” but good luck getting an industry that’s notorious for breaking laws to start suddenly, with a couple cashiers saying “Hey you can’t do that.” Okay, then you suddenly find yourself off the schedule and out of a job.

        HR experts are not what the food and hospitality businesses need. They need law makers to enforce their damn rules. You can’t afford a lawyer, you’re screwed. Reporting them to the state rarely goes very far and by the time they may come and check on them, you’re probably out of a job already and somewhere else. Nobody cooperates because they’re afraid for their income security.

        HR is there to protect people who care about following rules. Food industry is the Wild Wild West, they don’t care about rules.

        1. PersephoneUnderground*

          This! This is something I think we can all address with our elected officials. A new administration is coming in (in the US), and since they’re new they’re likely to be more open to pushes for change (since it’s not a criticism of their own policies, but of the previous administration).

          I encourage everyone who feels angry or upset about this sort of exploitation to go get involved in the process around local, state, and federal government policy setting. It’s not hopeless, in fact we *can* change it, and have changed similar things in the past!

          Representatives actually do listen to the opinions of their constituents, and they’re just a phone call away, just for starters. There’s even a service called Resistbot that lets anyone text their elected officials (turns the text into an email or fax).

          (I’m not advocating for any particular political party here, all citizens benefit from more active participation in government.)

    2. Maltypass*

      One of the lovely issues of retail/food is you’re given basically no guidance on what you’re meant to tolerate from customers which is more of a feature than a bug – if you don’t know the boundaries you’re less likely to argue back and get complaints – and I’ve worked for 2 retail companies that are in the UK top hundred companies to work for. That blog would largely just be screaming

  2. Myrin*

    The original impression from #3 remains: there’s just something really, really strange about that boss.

    1. Florida Fan 15*

      It definitely seems like she’s got some weird personal definition of “fun” that she’s not sharing with anybody else.

  3. Heidi*

    I’m really glad the screenshot issue came to a satisfying conclusion. That whole setup sounded so ridiculous, I was worried that the higher ups would double down on the weirdness and insist it be done. Reason prevails!

  4. HeadphonesC*

    A blue collar version of AAM sounds like a brilliant idea – I think that the norms can be different compared to a white collar job, and it can be a little more difficult to know your rights/rules of engagement compared to wcjs.

  5. juliebulie*

    OP3’s boss: “we don’t want to bring down the mood” omg, wtf? lol?? I wouldn’t know how to respond to that.

  6. Hazel*

    I have been immensely grateful to have work I can count on right now (the pandemic has been absolutely brutal on my mental health otherwise).

    Thank you for this, #4! It’s helpful to know I’m not alone in this. I keep thinking I should just get over my completely understandable, covid-related clinical depression. I know that’s not how it works and that a lot of people’s mental health has been battered, but those get-over-it feelings are why it’s so helpful every time I hear about someone else’s difficulty with what’s happening these days.

    1. LW #4*

      Hiya, it’s me, #4! I really sympathize. I know it has been hard for just about everyone in soo many ways, and I’ve been surprised all year that work has actually been kind of grounding for me. It’s the only thing that’s been normal, frankly (I’ll take meetings about seasonal marketing campaigns over helplessly crying for hours any day). I kind of dread the day when things turn around virus-wise, in a way, because the only place I feel safe is inside my apartment and I have no idea how my anxiety is going to manifest in the future, but I think it’ll be a while before my company asks for that. I hope you are finding some moments of mental peace here and there and that the people in your life can be gentle with your feelings through this horrible time!

  7. Alice*

    I second (third??) the desire for a restaurant/retail Ask A Manager section. Alison, I have found your advice so helpful but often find myself reading people’s questions and lusting after things like HR departments (which I know can be completely problematic!) and “company sexual harassment policies”. Sounds nice. :)

    1. Health and Wellness Sector*

      I agree, I’ve been in service sector environments that are adjacent to restaurant/retail and the advice here often doesn’t apply. When every job in your field is toxic, every workplace is exploitive, every boss makes you work off the clock and come in sick, you really have to pick which red flags are worth paying attention to and which battles are worth fighting in order to keep your job and your sanity.

      It’s really frustrating to have a problem at work that you need solved within the parameters available to you and then have a bunch of people pile on and tell you that your job is trash and you’re trash for not being able to get a better job.

      1. Lisa*

        So I hear that you’re frustrated, but I don’t think anyone here has ever said anyone else was trash for not being able to get a better job. That sounds a lot like your negative inner voice talking. You are not your job, and you have personal worth with or without it. I’m sad that you ever thought that about yourself. I hope you’re in a better place now.

      2. Observer*

        ~Shrug~ These jobs ARE trash.

        No one is trash because they are stuck in a trash job. But it can be useful for someone to realize that they ARE in a trash job, because sometimes you don’t realize that there may possibly be options, even if those options are not useful in the short term.

        If all you have known is a sector that flouts the law and decency, it can take a bit to realize that NOT all sectors are that way. That doesn’t solve the immediate problem, but it can act as a catalyst for planning and executing an exit strategy. It’s not going to work for everyone, of course, but step one is actually recognizing that there actually IS a problem.

        1. PT*

          This is exactly the sort of answer I was saying is not helpful, though. The way our economy is now shaped, there are many people in exploitative job sectors who do not have options to leave. And saying “Well you have options, you just don’t realize it!” is toxic positivity and gaslighting.

          1. jojo*

            Very true. Yes, there are options. However, options cost money. And minimum wage job does not give one enough money to exercise those options. And if you are supporting more than just yourself on that minimum wage job it even worse.

        2. Myrin*

          I usually really like your comments but I really think this one misses the mark by a ton.

          I’m not in the US so while our labour market and worker protections are quite different, I also recognise a lot of what people in food service or retail talk about here (although often milder versions of it).

          And I’d really rather 1. people got advice on how to deal with situations within the parametres they’re given and not a simple “this is all doomed to fail anyway so get out of your by-definition trash job” and ultimately 2. that these industries become well-run places where fair rules are enforced and good leadership is groomed and rewarded – and even just one manager who has a good head on their shoulders and has to power to enforce standards can go a long way here so I don’t see why those exact people shouldn’t ask for appropriate advice beyond “look for a ~better opportunity~ and leave”.

          (And as a bit of an aside, as someone who happens to work in both food service and retail and enjoys most aspects of it, I found the underlying assumption that no one actually wants to work in those jobs and they’re just a momentary, necessary hurdle on the way to “greater” things a tad bit offensive, although I reckon you might not have intended your words to come across that way. That might indeed be the case for people like me whose actual field is something else entirely and who hopes to indeed find work there once the corona situation is at least partway resolved, but people like my sister and most of my coworkers are fulltime professionals who will be in these jobs for the rest of their lives and who like them and always strive to make our store a better place to work.)

      3. anon2*

        No one person’s advice will every work for every single field. If the advice here doesn’t fit your field you’ve got to read it with that awareness or find a source that does speak to your field.

      4. Elpitha*

        Health and Wellness Sector – Well said! I sooooo agree with you. I’ve been in food service for the past five years, reading AAM for that long as well. I think Alison is great, I really enjoy the stories and updates on this blog, and I’ve tried some of the professional phrasing and language found here, but in food service it gets ripped to shreds or laughed out of the room. My job is the most profitable one I’ve ever worked (and before covid was the most fun), but it’s also a high-energy, loud, dirty, disorganized, dysfunctional, rough-and-tumble environment with no benefits or professional norms at all. It’s like the “Wolf of Wall Street” parties but with food and equipment piled up everywhere instead of naked people. When I have a work issue, friends and family telling me how things should/would be in a nice white collar job is frustrating–they don’t get it. Telling me to quit is also not helpful because any new job would be a massive and unsustainable pay cut, and I like paying my rent on time! If there was a blue collar version of AAM, I’d eat that right up. Maybe there is, or was, somewhere in the world, but blogs are a ton of work and notorious for being abandoned after a short time.

      5. Mongrel*

        “When every job in your field is toxic, every workplace is exploitive, every boss makes you work off the clock and come in sick, you really have to pick which red flags are worth paying attention to and which battles are worth fighting in order to keep your job and your sanity.”

        If them’s the parameters you may as well add Healthcare in there, which comes with the added benefit of staff who are in it because they want to help people (not saying other careers don’t it’s just much more pronounced in healthcare)

    2. Wino Who Says Ni*

      If there’s enough of us (liquor retail here), maybe we could run a sub-thread on Friday open comments!

  8. tangerineRose*

    LW2, you said “where my boss (in front of the other company managers) started pressuring me to give them an idea of how to contact me during my honeymoon.” If the other company managers are any good (or are decent human beings), they were probably horrified at what your boss was doing.

    1. Observer*

      Yeah. And, if they were not horrified, you have some pretty important information.

      I wouldn’t quit, but I would be looking for something else. You clearly have a good skill set, so finding something better should be doable, even though it could take some time.

  9. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    OP2: I saw and commented on the original question, and I inferred that it was a M&A situation. So I said at the time that although you can delegate “what you can” to others… there are things where you are in a privileged position, and being away on leave doesn’t change that!..

    It’s a one-off situation that happens to coincide with your “honeymoon”… and if you can’t offload work to others (because they aren’t authorised to know it for example) then it falls to you!

    What can you do remotely (or authorise on the phone)?
    Can you return early?

    I don’t think a “honeymoon” trumps any other vacation in terms of being contacted if it becomes necessary, to be honest.

    I was once contacted during an exam (for a professional credential) where “being contacted” was typically reserved for genuine emergency sitations like birth of a child, but the company contacted me because “client is asking something or other”, I was extracted from the exam, dealt with the ’emergency’ and then had to take the course again later, with a delay of almost a year of gaining the qualification!

    But I have managed to spin it as “I subordinated my own interests to the company” etc.. it’s such a shame I was laid off after!

    My own “honeymoon” was a week at home on call.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      If your honeymoon can’t trump work what can, in your opinion? Would giving birth be a good excuse for not answering your phone?
      Everyone is entitled to time off and companies should have a setup with more than one person having each skill needed so that all staff members can be replaced.
      Even if you agree to being available 24/365, you can still get run over by a bus.
      If I had to hire someone and had a candidate boasting in an interview that they “subordinated their own interests to the company” I would actually be rather worried about hiring such a person.

    2. No Thanks Capitalism*

      ‘ I don’t think a “honeymoon” trumps any other vacation in terms of being contacted if it becomes necessary,’

      Firmly disagree. Honeymoons are meant to be once in a lifetime experiences. People need to be able to have a true break and I believe this should be ALL holidays, but if that’s not practical then at least a honeymoon should be protected.

    3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I really don’t see why work should take precedence over a honeymoon or any holiday for that matter. If you are irreplaceable, the company is badly organised. Subordinating your own interests to the company? As a hiring manager I’d be frightened to take someone on like that, because I would consider it an unhealthy attitude.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Oh that’s weird. I couldn’t see my answer so I tried to write the same thoughts out again and found that I’ve answered my answer that I couldn’t see before!

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