updates: the personality tests, the storage stealer, and more

Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. My boss has weaponized her personality test results (#2 at the link)

I wrote in a while ago about my boss’s use of her Clifton strengths as a weapon. She’s still “maximizing” things, but less often. We were talking about how a client hadn’t completed a report for us. I told her that my “empathizer” and “connectedness” strengths helped me remember that the client just lost her husband to cancer. I think, judging by the look on my boss’s face, I may have made my point. I think she wanted to argue that she had empathy too, but she’d already let us know repeatedly what her “strengths” were and empathy wasn’t one of them. That’s the problem when you stick people in boxes!

2. My coworker tries to store her things in my office (#3 at the link)

I thought I’d do a quick follow-up with you on my coworker who kept storing stuff in my office. I want to thank you and your readers for their advice on the matter. I did give my boss a heads up, and in the end, the boxes were stored somewhere else and eventually were picked up by Butler Box. Your readers made me realize that I was upset because she felt she could direct how my office space was used instead of asking and that it wasn’t about the stuff. You also pointed out that political capital and an unbalanced power dynamic were involved as we are coworkers, but she’s worked here much longer.

So, onto the update. The second wave of the pandemic hit, and my coworker and I had to work from home. During that time, my boss would work periodically in the office. He recently admitted to cleaning up her office space. He couldn’t find items in her office that she’d normally be responsible for (which is why it was in her office), but that he now needed to find on his own. He found lost receipts, unbanked cheques, and other misplaced things due to how messy her office was. Feeling a little bit vindicated!

3. Can I flat-out refuse to do a project?

Not too long after my letter ran, things came to a head at work. There was simply physically too much for me to do within my work hours, and I sent some pretty direct “please tell me how to prioritize these projects” emails both to my Supervisor and to the Boss, to whom Supervisor also reports. Shortly after that, Boss let me know that I would be reporting to them directly from now on instead of to Supervisor. There was some initial weirdness in making the transition; no one told HR about it for months, and Supervisor tried to get me to continue reporting to them secretly (!), which Boss told me to decline.

But since that change, even though work has substantially intensified, I am so so much happier. Boss and I work well together; I anticipate workload problems and create solutions before I bring them up, and Boss gives my solutions constructive support. I’m more successful numbers-wise than I’ve ever been, and when there’s too much work for one person, Boss finds other teammates who can help or takes it on themselves. It’s like I work at a totally different office.

On top of that, two other things have made me more confident that I was not the problem. First, a raft of office issues which Supervisor told me were my sole responsibility have now been delegated to entire teams — and it’s very clear that no one person would have been able to solve those issues single-handedly. Secondly, I’ve begun to hear on the grapevine that other staff have had issues with Supervisor that are very similar to mine.

So I feel a lot less crazy, and I’m very grateful for your thoughtful column and the kind comments that gave me strategies to navigate this while it was happening. I think I was quite close to quitting, and now I actually like this job a lot.

{ 85 comments… read them below }

  1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    Unbanked checks!?!?!?!?!? Was she fired immediately? I’m also terribly nosy and want to know how she reacted to Boss cleaning out her office, because that usually doesn’t go well.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I worked with someone who had just boxes/piles of stuff in her cube. She was out when we needed to clean up for a federal agency visit. Her manager sat down, and the first thing she grabbed had PHI on it. Clear HIPAA violation. She still lasted a few years before she was let go.

      The OP’s co-worker sounds like a terrible manager I used to have.

        1. Momma Bear*

          Depending on the PHI/PII, that could be a whole other ball of wax reporting on what you saw. Definitely a problem.

      1. TardyTardis*

        This is one reason I always worked through my ‘rat pile’ before going on vacation (yes, some people don’t have them, but some of us do/did). It never got ‘unbanked checks’ or stuff I really wasn’t supposed to have out, but it made me resolve to go through it weekly instead.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I did too; it was Bullyboss at OldExjob. His PerpetualVictim also had a messy cube, but at least he cleaned it out every once in a while. Bullyboss refused to do that. I would have loved to see him try to find his own crap in that disaster the day he got fired.

    2. sub rosa for this*

      I worked with someone like that once. Fortunately, I didn’t work FOR her — her staff were perpetually in a panic or in tears.

      After she was managed out, her staff had to deal with the maze of paper stacks all over her office. (The surfaces had all been covered with tranquility-enhancing things like fountains and salt lamps and scent diffusers and stuff, so all the piles of paperwork were on the floor.)

      Invoices. Claims. Correspondence. You name it. Anything she didn’t know how to deal with, or didn’t want to deal with, she just… put in a stack, and buried.

      I have no idea how it all played out, because I was laid off shortly thereafter and then the company was bought out, but I can’t imagine it went over well.

      (FWIW, I have nothing against crystals or mini sand gardens or anything like that; I like that stuff too! I just think it would have helped her stress level a lot more to, I don’t know, actually deal with the problems?)

      1. OP#2 - Messy Office*

        There’s tasteful decor and just messiness, but the office was so full that she could rightly say there was “no room” for her to have certain things in her office, so she would store it in mine.

      2. nonnymouse*

        Ugh, I just came into a situation like this.

        Started new position in November, me and one other person hired to replace the woman who essentially *had* been the entire department for 20+ years. Her desk was spotless, pretty pictures, magnet collection from various trips…

        We started to have questions when the filing/documentation systems she was teaching us didn’t make sense – things getting put in files without being tagged on spreadsheets as *being* in the file, things being held over multiple days because she “didn’t feel like” dealing with the spreadsheets… When she retired at year’s end, we basically had to reinvent the wheel when it came to doc management because her way of doing it made NO sense to us.

        Fast forward to late January and prep for yearly audit.
        There are papers stuffed, seemingly at random, into every drawer at her desk.
        There are missing signatures, incomplete descriptions, and incomplete packets as far as the eye can see.
        There are weekly reports that haven’t been run in *six months*.

        Moral of the story: if your department consists of one person, and that person is retiring, bring in their replacements BEFORE short-timer syndrome kicks in.

        1. TardyTardis*

          When I was in the Air Force, and a young troop left us because of flunking a drug test, we found many, many things in his drawers that should not have been there, and caused us all to go bonkers catching up on some thing (no national security stuff, we were procurement, but I am still amazed we didn’t have a few colonels searching for their vouchers).

    3. Baska*

      When I first started at my current job as an office manager (about 5 years ago) I was going through all the drawers in my office and discovered an entire folder tucked away with a whole batch of year-old cheques that had been given to us donations to a sister organization. I had to contact all the donors to ask them to reissue their cheques because they’d were stale-dated by the time I found them. If I hadn’t come along, I imagine they just would have been lost forever!

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        Did any of the donors just refuse to reissue their check? I wouldn’t be keen to support an org that didn’t care enough to deposit the first check.

        We had a development officer at my org who had uncashed checks in their desk after they left, but it was actually uncovered that there was an understanding between he and the donor to not deposit them — they wanted…credit?…for having donated without having to actually donate.

        1. TiffIf*

          We had a development officer at my org who had uncashed checks in their desk after they left, but it was actually uncovered that there was an understanding between he and the donor to not deposit them — they wanted…credit?…for having donated without having to actually donate.

          I am agog.

          1. Ama*

            Yeah I’m not a development staffer but I’ve absorbed enough of the best practices from my colleagues that I understand that is not at all a thing that they should be doing.

        2. Hamish the Accountant*

          Oh geez, for their taxes I imagine? That is both reprehensible, and tax fraud.

          1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

            IDK. These were business checks not personal checks. It could be for publicity/prestige — we tend to publish the names of donors. Could also be embezzlement from his own company — he writes a company check but pockets the money. Could be taxes. At one time we had a real problem with big donors pledging large amounts, that just didn’t get fulfilled. We’d give them all the hoopla for their $50,000 donation, but in the end we only received $5,000. AFAIK, non-profits can’t sue a donor for not fulfilling their pledge.

            1. Not A Manager*

              Non-profits absolutely can and sometimes do sue a donor for not fulfilling a pledge.

              1. TardyTardis*

                I saw an episode of The Simpsons where Homer ended up facing severe problems when he called in a fake pledge to PBS (I vaguely recall Big Bird with a club, but that might just be my vivid imagination).

              2. Sleeping Late Every Day*

                Yeah, but they usually won’t. We had a local business leader and his (horrible) wife promise to fund a major project, so the project went ahead. No check. When the department in charge of that project asked the ED about sending a reminder, they were told they couldn’t do that because the institution didn’t want to upset such important people, and there was a huge thing coming up for which they wanted this couple to make a huuuge donation. Giant project came up, Very Important Couple made a tiny little donation. They screwed us twice and people still slobbered all over them, because, don’t you know, they were IMPORTANT. On a larger scale, that’s how revolutions happen, guillotine and all.

    4. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

      I had a coworker like this. She had way more files and drawers then everyone else on her team. Had a bigger desk too. Still had stacks and stacks of stuff all over the place. A big wig saw her desk and politely said that it needed addressed. Coworker kept doing the same old same old. Big wig came back and said “this area passes my expectations by this date and stays that way or you will be let go. Period.” I was one of the people who had to help coworker go thru years and years of papers to either be archived or shredded. Multiple stale dated checks were found and she barely managed to keep her job. The sad thing was she was very knowledgeable and a good asset to her team in a lot of ways but she had legit control issues and could not delegate or accept help and held on to everything ‘just incase”. I fully expect to see her on an episode of Hoarders someday.

      1. allathian*

        Oh my, that’s so sad. Hoarding is a legitimate mental health issue, I hope for her sake she can get the help she needs.

    5. Mike on the Mic*

      I had a co-worker like that at my first job. She was let go because she was completely incapable of prioritizing. When the boss sat down at her desk after she was gone, he found several hudred dollars worth of unbanked checks.

    6. OP#3 - Messy Office*

      Hi! This is the OP for #3. No she wasn’t fired, but the boss keeps mentioning how clean it looks now.

      1. Michelle P*

        Glad your space is your own again! Seems like she may have actually been a hoarder, as mentioned above.

        Do you know if he addressed the unbanked cheques with her? It seems odd that no one noticed missing money.

  2. Des*

    [I told her that my “empathizer” and “connectedness” strengths helped me remember that the client just lost her husband to cancer. I think, judging by the look on my boss’s face, I may have made my point.]

    This was satisfying to read, OP.

  3. TexasTeacher*

    The “empathizer” and “maximizer” and such, as used by the boss, remind me of the Pokémon cards. :)

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*


      Or RPG spells. “I cast +3 connectedness in order to defeat the Mutant Invoice.”

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        Each time Boss belabored the point that she’s a maximizer probably dealt 1d4 bludgeoning damage.

    2. Carol the happy elf*

      I will spend this day feeling wonderment
      and awe at the lovely use of “empathizer” superpowers. (Those are really superpowers, BTW!) Oh, and Miss Manners would approve publically, and her shoulder-devil would be doing a happy-dance of glee!

    3. Sleeping Late Every Day*

      “Maximizer” makes me think of super-expanding feminine hygiene products.

  4. Nevermind*

    Is it any wonder that there are a lot of people that prefer not to return to a work office setting and would rather work at home?! Working relationships are hard enough as it is, and then there are people that seem to be making them more difficult on purpose.

    1. Admin 4 life*

      Agreed! I no longer have to dodge the coworker who wears too much perfume, or the one who stomp-walks to my desk as soon as he hits send on his email request. The one who left their dirty plate or coffee cup on my desk…so glad I’m not dealing with him in person anymore.

      I never want to go back.

    2. Blarg*

      Plus I have a private kitchen and bathroom at my apartment. Natural light I don’t get in the cubicle. The commute can’t be beat. And the cat is here.

      1. OhNo*

        I’m actually excited about being able to work from the office again, but I will dearly miss both the natural light in my apartment, and the cat when I go back. My office at work doesn’t have a window (or a cat!), so that’ll be a step down for sure.

      2. Ally McBeal*

        I do genuinely miss interacting with people in person, but I live alone in a decently nice apartment with a very pretty cat, and it will be VERY hard to give up those perks.

      3. Librarian1*

        EXACTLY. There are no windows in my office and I hate it. There are no windows in the library either. We aren’t important enough to get external light.

        1. allathian*

          I guess I’m glad that it’s “illegal” (there’s no law against it but it’s forbidden in several collective agreements) here to work for more than half an 8-hour shift in a windowless room for most office workers. It doesn’t mean that everyone sits next to a window, but that daylight has to be pumped in from somewhere, although at 60 N the point is pretty moot for several months in winter. There are exceptions for non-office workers, such as for people who work in air traffic control radar rooms underground, or people who work on board ships, etc., but even our agency librarian can’t schedule a full day in the archive in the basement unless it’s something truly exceptional.

          1. TheAG*

            May I ask where you live? I’m currently making a case for some infrastructure changes in my building so that my team can have some light (there was a study done but it was deemed “too costly”). We literally have zero light due to windows that were covered over.

      4. Cat butler*

        office cats are definitely the norm now. But how do you keep it off your laptop? I think there will be a new market now – cooling/ventilation pads for the laptop with a way to keep the cat fur off the vents.

        1. Mongrel*

          Get the lid from a paper box and, depending on the cat, pad it with blankets or crinkly things. Put it on or near the desk

    3. Dust Bunny*

      I don’t miss my commute but otherwise my job is easier and more comfortable at the office.

      1. ENFP in Texas*

        I don’t miss the actual commute, because other drivers are idiots, but I do miss the clear demarcation between “I’m at work” and “I’m at home”. I’m still working on strategies to enforce that physical and mental separation.

        1. Liz*

          Same. My “office” is my dining room table” so front and center, even then I’m done working. Its kind of a hassle to break it all down every day when I’m done, but I do every weekend, holiday, or when I’m off.

          I also miss being around people, and being able to walk over and chat for a few minutes, when I need a break.

        2. OP#2 - Messy Office*

          Yes! I agree with this. I don’t miss the commute and there are times where I’ll need uninterrupted writingt time, but I like the change from work to home and I miss the easy chats you can have with colleagues.

        3. Elenna*

          Honestly, even in the office, most of my chats with everyone except my direct manager were through webex anyways, because it was a big office spread out over multiple floors. There’s definitely something to be said for the occasional in-person meeting, but I’m pretty happy that my company is moving to only 2-3 days a week in the office after the pandemic.

          (Right now my work laptop is in the basement and my personal laptop is upstairs, so moving upstairs and switching laptops is a pretty good seperation. We’ll see what happens when I move into my own apartment.)

        4. JustaTech*

          Yup, I miss the clear break between home and work. I enforce it by leaving my home office (very lucky to have) and trying to stay out of it until it’s work time again, but that means I’m also avoiding my crafting room.

          One of my friends asked if I’d been playing a lot of Minecraft over the pandemic and I said no, because I can’t stand to spend one more minute in my desk chair, even to do a fun thing.

          (I’m also very lucky to have a short, reliable, no-freeway commute.)

    4. JobHunter*

      I enjoy the respite from my two demanding creatures (out! play! snacks! gentle handpats!), but I do regret the longer commute when I go in to the office.

    5. Persephone*

      As a Felix married to an Oscar, I’m in the opposite camp. I can’t wait to go back to my very neat and clean office so that I don’t have to spend half the work day staring at piles of stuff!

    6. The New Wanderer*

      Big challenge for me is that my ways of dealing with condescending or dominating coworkers (eye rolling, huffing or sighing loudly while muted, scowling) will be hard to curb in person. Except the scowling, since masks will probably still be mandatory for a while at our sites.

      1. Ama*

        Yeah I think the thing I’m going to miss most is being able to secretly knit on Zoom calls. It actually helps me focus because I’m less tempted to answer emails, mess around on my phone, or do other work, but I feel like it will be misunderstood when we return to the office.

        1. JustaTech*

          I have blatantly knitted in the office when we had a ton of really long, really boring required trainings to take, but that was back when we had cube walls. Now that we’re an open office (ugh) the best I can do is march in place at my desk.

    7. Elizabeth West*

      I miss being in an office, but that’s probably because I’ve been at home for the last four years. But I would like to find something that lets me work at home when I’m sniffly or the weather is bad.

  5. Caroline Bowman*

    I have worked from home for a long time and for myself. It’s very much part-time and freelance and I am super-privileged to have a full-time employed spouse so that this is financially doable.

    I regularly admit that I am now basically unemployable. I’ve got too used to having my own (shabby! Imperfect!) space, freedom and no need to explain myself around errands or kid stuff or anything. No fridge / sharing space issues, and my time is my own. Yes, the flip side is no core benefits, no annual leave, working random times, like over weekends for a couple of hours here and there, but I just think I’d lose my mind in a more structured, corporate environment where there were icky Other People.

    1. Filosofickle*

      Totally with you. I’ve been mostly WFH as a consultant for a billion years and am (nearly) unemployable as well. Some gigs have wanted me to show up a few days a week and I would go in just long enough for meetings and a little performative face time then I’d flee. Even when I had a private office and lots of light and people I like! Home is literally the only place I can be productive. Everywhere else is so distracting and uncomfortable.

  6. MissDisplaced*

    So happy for OP #3: What a difference having the proper management can make. Like, someone who actually helps you prioritize instead the work instead of saying you should just figure out how to get it all done. Jeez!

  7. EPLawyer*

    Today’s Updates Brought to You by People Are Bonkers:

    1. Bwahahahaha. How satisfying that you beat her at her own game. 2
    2. Unbanked checks?????? Just how? Umm what? No one noticed? Were the clients hounded for payments they swore they had made? Just wow.
    3. Oh sure, one person can handle issues that it takes a whole team to deal with? If you are a robot who never needs to sleep or eat.

  8. In my shell*

    These oh SO satisfying updates are exactly what I needed today! Thank you AAM & OPs! Congrats on your successes!

  9. Observer*

    #3- Even before you got to your last paragraph it became incredibly obvious that the problem was you former supervisor rather than you. I mean who in heavens name thinks that it’s in any way, shape or form, ok to tell someone to secretly report to them despite what their boss says?!

    What worries me a bit here is that you may have internalized or normalized some of the dysfunctionality. Why would your (former) boss even think to say this to you? And why would you think to ask your actual boss about it – it should not have been necessary for them to tell you to decline. I would have expected that conversation to go something like this:

    You: Boss, just so you know, ex-supervisor asked me to keep reporting to them. Obviously I’m not doing that, but I figured you should know that they asked me
    Boss: OK thanks for letting me know.

    Which leads to another point. Your boss sounds reasonable for the most part. But how is someone like your ex-manager still employed?

    1. ThatOnePlease*

      This. I’m very glad for LW that they got out from under Supervisor and are happier at work, but they should keep an eye out for further dysfunction. It sounds like Boss is not effectively managing Supervisor and the fact that he’s still employed after the “keep reporting to me secretly” stunt is a red flag.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        Hmm, I don’t think that the boss is not effectively managing the supervisor or that there is further dysfunction. We don’t really have the whole picture and we don’t know what was said to the supervisor.

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yeah, this too reminds me of my former boss. He owned the firm, then it was bought out by another post 2008. We were sent an organisation chart, showing him in sales and us in production, reporting direct to the big boss, but he insisted he was still our manager.
      Then the big boss, and I took advantage of her presence to ask about summer holidays. My former boss started going on about the fact that nobody would be there for coverage while I was gone, and the big boss overrode him saying “Rebel can take whatever time off is due to her whenever she likes. If she’s not in, we’ll simply outsource whatever work she would normally be doing. Good workers must be rewarded not hassled”.

  10. PookieLou*

    OP1, that was probably the best response to conflict I’ve ever read on this site. You are a champion.

  11. Momma Bear*

    I’m very glad to see the update for #3. It is vindicating to learn that you are not incapable, but that you were given more than one person should be doing. It’s good to see a company take action like this.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Yeah – it’s amazing the difference proper management can make.

      And also just a normal workload – yeah, one person isn’t really successfully going to do a whole department’s work.

  12. Precious Wentletrap*

    1. “Speaking of which, y’all wanna see another dead body? [gestures at boss]”

      1. Zelda*

        Only seems that way because Alison has spoiled us this past year with multiple Update-o-Ramas; it used to be we could only count on them in December. (And it’s been working! It really has made some tough days better, to log in and find that there was another delicious update post. Thank you Alison, and thank you LWs!)

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