updates: the roommate, the friend boss, 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. Do I have a right to ask a roommate to NOT take a job right now?

Thanks again for answering my unconventional question, but hey, this has been an unconventional year! How time has flown since I wrote to you, but I am glad to report that there is a happy ending.

My letter was published on a Thursday, and you and the readers gave me some great advice on how to best handle the situation. We thought about it over the weekend, and after work on Monday we sat down and had a very direct conversation with our friend that a job dealing with the public was an absolute deal breaker for living in our house. She was pretty sullen/frustrated and went to bed early after that. Tuesday morning, I heard her come out of her room and was dreading the conversation. Instead she popped a bottle of champagne and announced her unemployment had finally come through that morning. (I’ll admit we celebrated with mimosas at 10am on a work day. yay!)

After this, we didn’t hear anything else about her trying to get a retail job, and she was again focused on getting a job in her field. Readers also suggested helping her to focus on hobbies and getting outside. Without even saying anything, she threw herself in to attempting new recipes she’d seen that week on TV, and my husband roped her in to helping brew a couple batches of beer. And gratefully many of the parks and hikes opened up again, so she had an outlet to get outside and see something new while we were working.

After a couple of months though with no jobs coming through (and the overall stress of the pandemic in general), she decided to move back to her parent’s house to get an advanced cert in her field. I’m happy to say that she’s doing well and just landed a job finally (with a lot of help from your column)! We’re all still great friends, but she’s decided to stay at her parent’s for now because things are so uncertain still with the economy. Thanks again to you and the commenters!

2. The friend boss

I followed your advice about understanding how my relationship with Marcia would change. At first, it was a good supervisor/subordinate relationship. Then things took a surprising turn. I realized pretty quickly that we had probably never been friends. How do I know that? Well, I tried to come to her in a professional way to discuss work issues I was having (as I had with my previous boss), and she shut me down. She said that I needed to work through difficult problems (such as an employee being treated poorly by HR) without coming to her for guidance. Of course, when I tried to make such decisions alone, I was chastised for poor decision-making.

The position Marcia holds is enough work for three people, and she was under constant pressure and demands for her time. She never responded to emails, but when you came to her in person she either didn’t have time to meet with you. If you stated you had emailed her, she would deny it and say she didn’t receive the email. For example, I emailed her to ask if I could call in to a meeting since I was scheduled to work from home. She didn’t answer, so I stopped by her office to ask, and she said yes. The next day was a Friday, and she was out. Another supervisor came to me and confirmed I had permission to work from home and call in to the meeting, and I said that I did. Come Monday, I am waiting at home for the number to conference in to the meeting and it never arrives. I assume the meeting was cancelled. The next day when I return, Marcia calls me in to her office and revokes my ability to call in for meetings because I went behind her back and told someone I had permission to do so when I didn’t. She didn’t remember giving permission verbally and I had no proof. I was then the only person on my team that had to come in for meetings, and the other supervisor also lost faith in me (believing I had lied). This started a pattern… instead of believing the best of me (the character I had demonstrated through years of working together), she believed the worst. She was unwilling to recognize her own faults. It was very hurtful, as I realized we were never as close as I thought we were.

In December, I finally got my “dream” job with the company. I am so happy to be away from that job and department that, even long before Marcia was my boss, was extremely stressful, unsupportive, and terribly micromanaged. On my last day the department threw me a farewell party, as was their custom for anyone who left. Afterwards, I spent a lot of time cleaning up my office area before leaving. She chose to stay and party with the department, and didn’t even say goodbye. The next time, and last time, I heard from her was through an email a few weeks later that was a thinly veiled accusation that I was, in essence, releasing training information to my new department without her approval. (Surprise, I wasn’t.) Further proof that perhaps she never even believed in me, or cared about me, at all. The happy ending is—I love my job. It’s also stressful at times, but when you are well-suited to a job and enjoy it, you can handle the stress better.

3. My employee is pregnant — what next? (#3 at the link)

Thanks so much to all the commenters, it was great to hear from folks about what their workplaces had done that worked and what didn’t. Since I wrote she has shared with everyone that she is expecting, and everyone was excited for her, and have helped connect her with daycares and such locally since she moved here from out of state and learning a new are during covid is tough. My current plan gift wise is to get a card and have everyone sign it (if we can in person by then, if not find something digital folks can sign), and get her a few onsies with a cute pattern related to our work subject, and of course, help her prepare for her maternity leave on the work end, and manage things so she can take total leave without folks bugging her with questions.

4. Can I ask my colleagues not to mime shooting themselves? (#2 at the link)

I originally intended to only bring it up with colleagues if the mimed shooting happened again, but the more I thought on it, the more I realised it would be easier for me to address calmly if I did so at a time of my choosing. I had a private conversation with the person and said, “I have a favour to ask. Sometimes when you’re frustrated you mime shooting yourself in the head. Would you mind not doing that?” I had mentally prepared to disclose the reason why if asked, but was relieved it wasn’t necessary. The person immediately agreed, didn’t pry, and has never repeated the gesture in my presence.

I want to thank you Alison and the commenters for the compassionate responses, and for the reassurance that I wasn’t overreacting.

{ 18 comments… read them below }

  1. Anon for this*

    Yay LW4! I’m glad it worked out, and that your coworker listened to you, took it on board, and changed their behavior. That’s how it should work!

  2. New Jack Karyn*

    Yay LW4! I’m glad it worked out, and that your coworker listened to you, took it on board, and changed their behavior. That’s how it should work!

  3. MorbidConvosIGuess*

    I can’t believe I missed #4 at the time – I had a very similar conversation with an HR person in a position of high authority. I had seen several examples, all from high in management, of jokes and language around those lines. I was still pretty new but I took the risk and spoke with that HR person, and they were completely surprised it was upsetting. We had a good talk and agreed it would be integrated into workplace sensitivity/management training. They also caught themselves saying something again in a meeting I was in later, and found me after to apologize. Baby steps!

    I had this convo too with an intern once who kept using language like that…and it also went awkward but fine. She was mortified and took it to heart too.

  4. Ryn*

    #4, It’s so great when direct, clear communication works and is respected. Good on you for having the convo when it worked for you!

  5. Anon1*

    Hey OP4 – I don’t think it was your letter since I can’t find my comment, but another person wrote in with a similar issue a couple months ago. Other commenters were really helpful in suggesting other hand gestures that I could use to stop suicide-type miming. Glad to say that like your coworker, I have been able to stop making this gesture.

    (If anyone else is trying to stop, I found fist shaking, face palming, and putting both hands on the side of my face a la The Scream to be satisfying replacements that hopefully are not painful to those around me.)

  6. Anon for this*

    #2 – I wasn’t friends with her, but my last boss sounds very much like this one. Even down to trying to blame me for things when I moved to another position in the org. I’m glad you got out of that position!

  7. Not A Girl Boss*

    LW #2 – Your story is (unfortunately) very timely. My mom works 80+ hours a week for a hellmouth that has gone through multiple rounds of consolidation, resulting in a preposterous workload for the people left. This last round, they made her friend her boss.
    At first she was so relieved/excited to work for someone she respected. But now her friend is using the friendship against her – eg if my mom says she cannot possibly work until 11pm on a Saturday (again) AND get up at 3am to meet with the other-country office (again), her boss will complain about how that means she had to do it “for” my mom. Or she’ll use guilt-trips like “Please just help me out” or “You know I can’t do it without you” or “Please, I need to look good for BigBoss.”
    ….all the while making almost double what my mom makes thanks to this new promotion. Like, yes, this job is a completely untenable amount of work. But being the boss means its your job to do the extra work. Its not just additional leverage to sucker your friends into doing the extra work for you.

  8. WellRed*

    Op 2 I can’t say whether you two were friends or not but I can say with absolute certainty, she is a terrible boss to all.

  9. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    #3, my workplace has been using Padlet as a standin for signing a group card. It’s great because people can leave a short note, a gif, etc with little effort.

  10. Teapotcleaner*

    I am so glad LW 4 got a good outcome. That mine shoot always is in the back of my mind when I visit this site. It was that disturbing to hear about. I am relieved that the person will stop.

  11. moss*

    OP 4, based on your letter I spoke up to my coworker who made verbal references to the same thing. It bugged me, I remembered your letter, I said “Hey please can you not joke about that” and she immediately apologized and has not made that joke again.

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