updates: the complaining coworkers, the embarrassed boss, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, where all month I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. Coworkers who complain about returning to the office when I’ve been here all along

I wrote in not long ago asking about wording to use when coworkers talk about being back in the office. I’m finishing my second full week with everyone back and I’m a bit sad to say I never used the wording you suggested. I had one chance during a WFH Zoom meeting where my boss asked if everyone was ready to come back to the office…I was so close to saying “as ready as I’ve been every other week for the past year” but I froze. One coworker who has been home most of the time said he’s ready but prefers to work from home, but my other coworker (who was in the office opposite me) and I just stayed silent, which I think still said something about how we felt.

I did hear someone use your phrasing though! We had one of our IT workers in our building and our department head asked how it felt to be back and he simply said “I’ve been here.” There was a lovely moment of silence after and I just sat at my desk smiling! I haven’t heard anyone ask about being back at the office since, but that could just be because they are no longer interacting with anyone for the “first” time and it’s just back to business as usual.

Thank you for printing my initial letter, and I’m glad it opened up so many conversations of what people can say as they return to the office. All I want is some acknowledgement or even thanks for doing something others weren’t expected to do. Although there are many other problems at my job, this was definitely the final straw for me and I’m going to start job searching. It might take a while with my location, but the nature of my job is ideal for WFH so I’m hoping I can find something with at least a hybrid schedule.

2. How can I reject former coworkers interested in a job I’m hiring for? (#2 at the link)

I took your advice and encouraged them to apply and told them exactly what I was looking for (experience I did not think they had). I tried to set expectations as clearly as I could.

Well… they all applied, and I gave each of them a phone screen… and actually ended up hiring one of them! The person I hired did extremely well in their interviews and shared some strong experience I was not aware they had. I was wrong to write them off without fully vetting them as a candidate.

The person I hired ended up being one of the best employees I have ever had. As a secondary concern, I was nervous to manage someone I have previously had a more casual friendship with, but it didn’t end up being an issue. They were extremely professional and we set our friendship aside in favor of a mutually productive working relationship. They did extremely well in the role and were a wonderful addition to the team. I ended up leaving the company but I really hope I get the opportunity to work with them again in the future!

3. Am I embarrassing my boss by knowing things she should know? (#2 at the link)

Thanks for your advice on this issue. With my role being so new, I was really nervous I was overstepping and bothering my boss by correcting her and picking up the slack. Well, it turned out to be more than fine. She actually thanked me during one of 1-on-1s for “basically doing my job for me.” Not in a snarky way–she seemed truly grateful.

Looking back, I was softening just how much I was doing that she should have been doing. I trained a new coworker and planned both of our schedules, organized meetings with data for our grandboss she should have planned, fielded client questions, etc. She was unreliable in a lot of ways.

Turns out that she knew all about her failings and is stepping down from a management role. She will go back to being an ideas person (which she’s great at) while a much more organized person will take over data and management. I got a great yearly review and feel like this year was a big success.

4. Found a new job right after a layoff — at a higher salary (#6 at the link)

It’s been a little over a year since I started my new job after getting laid off from Covid, and we are getting ready to get back into the office with what looks to be a hybrid remote/in-person schedule. The work is demanding, but my supervisor and department head are great and do everything they can to help decrease my workload and show their appreciation. It’s a wonderful feeling to know you are truly valued. I realized I was being somewhat underpaid and was ready to ask for a 6% raise at my annual review. I reviewed all your advice on how to ask for a raise and was ready to make my case. Imagine my surprise when unprompted my supervisor offered me an 11% raise! I’ll be making around 40% more than and I did at my pre-Covid job. I never thought I would make a salary jump like that in just over a year, and the extra income has brought such peace of mind weathering this pandemic. In many ways, getting laid off was a blessing in disguise.

{ 32 comments… read them below }

  1. NerdyKris*

    “We had one of our IT workers in our building and our department head asked how it felt to be back and he simply said “I’ve been here.” There was a lovely moment of silence after and I just sat at my desk smiling! ”

    This sounds like it could literally be about me from a coworker because I’ve been saying things like that every time I’m asked how working from home was.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      IT here (hybrid – sometimes we can fix stuff from home, sometimes we have to go in) and saying it’s kinda amusing when the people returning to the office assume we’ve not been here either. All my staff are fantastic now at the deadpan ‘you can’t fix hardware remotely’ stance.

  2. Kes*

    So many great endings and people just actually being reasonable!
    OP1’s coworker responding calmly to others who are likely well-meaning but are being a bit clueless/tactless and making them more aware, OP2 keeping an open mind and getting a great employee as a result, OP3’s boss being self-aware and realizing the management role wasn’t working for them and stepping down, and OP4’s boss realizing they are underpaid and taking steps to remedy that
    If everyone was this reasonable this site would be a lot more boring, ngl. But it’s so great to hear these stories!

    1. Artemesia*

      Glad it went so well. I think it is really important to not overreact to small talk and take it personally. ‘how does it feel to be back’ is as meaningful as ‘nice weather we’re having’ — even if your basement flooded over the weekend, ‘nice weather we’re having’ is not a personal attack.

      1. SarahKay*

        No, but in your example the ‘Nice weather’ person can’t know that your basement flooded. For OP1 people saying ‘how does it feel to be back’ are being pretty thoughtless.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, but the point is, they’re usually thoughtless rather than malicious. But still, those questions should drop off pretty quickly once everyone’s back at the office either on a hybrid schedule, mostly at the office but with some occasional WFH allowed, or 100% at the office.

          I just hope that everyone who has been working at the office and taken on extra work during the pandemic will be able to stop doing those tasks once everyone is back at the office. If they’re still doing them, and let’s face it, most tasks that simply have to be done at the office rather than remotely are probably boring admin tasks, and the change in job description seems to be permanent, then I can understand the indignation if there’s no appreciation for the extra tasks they’ve been doing.

    1. Artemesia*

      I loved this one. It speaks really well to the OP that she was able to wipe the slate clean and actually consider these former less than ideal employees and delightful that one surprised her.

  3. Julia*

    LW1, I’m a little sad you’re job searching over this without ever having just let them know that what they were saying felt a bit insensitive. But you should do what is best for you, of course.

    1. JB*

      Why are you sad? LW1 did extra work and put herself at risk by the company’s request, and both the company and her coworkers are not acknowledging it.

      I’m in a similar position, being treated the same way, and also job hunting. I’m simply not interested in being taken for granted, and I don’t think that’s ‘sad’. I certainly don’t think going around and ringing a bell for myself and saying ‘do you all remember I was here the whole time?’ is an alternative to finding a new job.

      1. Julia*

        I certainly empathize. But I’ve had the experience of feeling super resentful about something at work and thinking it would not be fixable, then finally speaking up about it and discovering actually it was fixable, and turning around my plans to leave. That’s where I’m coming from.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          I don’t think I’d put this one in the category of “fixable”. It’s not like “stop being inconsiderate and taking me for granted” is going to make it all better. Like, yeah, people could stop making the comments, but the cat’s out of the bag. It’s already known they didn’t really care? So stopping saying it outloud, while potentially more pleasant moving forward, doesn’t really undo it. I’m not the LW, but I think where they’re coming for is more about feeling disrespected and just not wanting to be there anymore. Sometimes “you treated me poorly” is enough reason to go. A promise of “we’ll treat you better” is not a guaranteed resumption of goodwill.

      2. Persephone Mongoose*

        I’m sorry you’re in a similar position and I don’t blame you or the LW for job-searching. But I can also see where Julia is coming from as well — the LW had an opening to clue in her boss that they’re being insensitive and didn’t take it. I actually find these kinds of updates, where the LW basically says “thanks for the advice but I didn’t take it and now I’m job-searching”, a little odd in the first place, but it sounds like her writing in was a net good anyhow.

        That said, based on the rest of the update, this was both the final straw and indicative of how the company treats people who go above and beyond, so it’s possible saying something wouldn’t have changed anything anyway. She is also not obligated to say anything in the first place! You have to decide whether or not it’s worth it. But she’ll never know now and I think that’s what Julia means when she says it’s “sad”.

    2. Jack Straw*

      I might agree, but as with so many AAM posters/LWs, this LW says that situation is not the first thing, but the final thing, that’s wrong with the job: “Although there are many other problems at my job, this was definitely the final straw for me and I’m going to start job searching.”

    3. chewingle*

      Honestly, since LW mentioned their job is perfectly suitable for working from home and since we’ve been in the middle of a dangerous pandemic, I’m putting this one on the employer’s shoulders. They should have known it would be an issue. LW mentioned it’s the final straw, but frankly, if it were the only straw, I would still understand. I have zero sympathy for companies that forced workers into the office for no other reason than their own preference.

    4. Llama Llama*

      Maybe this is the wrong read here but I feel like LW 1 is really resentful of her coworkers because they aren’t thanking her, or being cautious of the language they use when they come back to work. But I really think the onus for thanking the LW should come from management. They are the ones who asked her to stay when everyone else left. Rather than being upset that people who are coming back to the office are finding it to be an odd experience and talking about it, wouldn’t it make more sense to say something to her manager? If I was in a zoom meeting where the managers asked us how we felt about coming back to work and someone was like “well I never left” it would just seem…kind of petty? I don’t know, I think the resentful tone is throwing me off a bit here. I think the gripe should be with the employer rather than the co-workers.

      1. D'Arcy*

        I think it’s entirely reasonable to say that the onus falls *both* on management to reward workers who went above and beyond for the company and/or were exposed to risks, and on coworkers to be clued in and respectful without resorting to the downright childish defense of, “Well, my boss didn’t TELL ME I had to!”

        1. Eh*

          Do her coworkers know, though? I doubt it and why would they? Why should they be clued in? Her status is none of their business.
          It’s not like a company is putting up a list of who is home and who isn’t. I would find it petty too if my coworker resented me for not knowing what management did with them and not commenting accordingly. If someone asks her outright what she felt about being home, use Allison’s methods. Feeling resentful about management asking about it makes sense. But expecting coworkers to be sensitive to you have been there is asking a lot.

  4. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    LW 4 – on several occasions in my long career, I had to make a jump – sometimes for salary, sometimes for employment security. I always wound up better off.

    Good for you!

  5. Susan*

    For #3 it’s so easy to step into a vacuum when someone isn’t doing their job. It’s a really good situation where your manager recognized they were not in the right job; I haven’t seen that happen often.

    1. OP3*

      I think in this case my manager never wanted the role she was given, but she felt she had to step up because the previous person who she had co-led with abruptly left. So it’s not as if she was aiming for a promotion or more responsibility. I appreciate that she was humble and honest about struggling, because I was still nervous I was making a bad impression for months.

  6. Scribe*

    Well… they all applied, and I gave each of them a phone screen… and actually ended up hiring one of them! The person I hired did extremely well in their interviews and shared some strong experience I was not aware they had. I was wrong to write them off without fully vetting them as a candidate.

    #2, that’s so awesome, for you and the person you hired!

    It is also a really important lesson that I wish my CEO would learn: he ended up dismissing literally the only candidate who could actually competently do one very specialised job (managing a very specific project) because he thought he knew best because “she just doesn’t have the right experience”. The woman in question was the person who had been doing all internal work of a similar nature for the company for more than three years, but in a different role.

    The best part, of course, is that the CEO has absolutely no idea what the job actually involves, nor what skills the best possible candidate actually needs in order to do the job. The worst possible candidate was hired, and he lasted a grand total of three weeks. He also managed to “break” a pretty essential part of the project in that time.

    1. allathian*

      That’s on the CEO, sounds like he doesn’t know his organization’s job descriptions well enough to hire well.

      1. Scribe*

        It’s more that the CEO inserts himself inappropriately and unnesseccarily into recruitment processes that he has no understanding of.

        To the point that he rewrites the job descriptions, wherein his edits change the job description so severely that it no longer resembles the job that is actually needed, or is even a job that is possible for a human being to perform.

        1. allathian*

          Ouch… Sounds like there’s a real risk of the business failing at some point in the future.

  7. Eh*

    I’m sorry that the company was not good to OP1 and I’m happy you discovered that WFH is what you want in the future. I hope you find a good hybrid place. That’s the dream.

    I’m confused by the outcome wanted especially coworker wise. It’s reasonable to expect management to know and acknowledge you were in the office. They should know their reports so that’s a failure there. But I’m not sure how you can have expectations/resentment of coworkers when they have nothing to do with the situation and didn’t know. That’s none of their business. Especially if they are talking in your vicinity, not to you. Talking directly is where I would use Allison’s advice but it doesn’t look like in either letter that happened. Reminds me of Not everyone can have sandwiches.

    I’m speaking as someone who had to be in office for half of it. I was scared but I got why. IT guy at your office probably got why too. If management couldn’t justify why your role wasn’t WFH then I get wanting some positive feedback. But doesn’t involve coworkers.

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