updates: the meditation and yoga office, the detective, 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.

1. My company wants us to meditate and do yoga and alternative healing

As of a few weeks ago I no longer work for said company, and a few other colleagues have been fired or left, with morale plummeting but the bosses very much going deeper into their world of wellness. One thing that increased steeply was using vague wellness concepts to critique employees, basically giving them no way to argue with the higher-ups (like, doing a yoga class then telling an employee afterwards that they sense they have negative energy, based on nothing but how they looked on video).

In my own case, there was a major breach of trust regarding the private life/work life divide, and concerns about other employees’ mental health were dismissed in a way that felt over-the-line. I feel relieved to be out of there but also know I probably have a lot to process that I haven’t even thought about yet! I did consult a lawyer but also had to consider my income/salvage some $$ above all else, especially mid pandemic.

So, a happy ending, in a way. Not sure how the company will succeed without retention and with so many potential legal problems, but I guess stranger things have happened in the startup world.

2. A detective showed up at my job on a day I had called in sick (#3 at the link)

I took your advice and let it go, and it was the right call. Six months after I wrote to you I was promoted and I no longer work for the supervisor I’d described it my letter, but we are on good terms. I wonder if she even remembers the detective. It seems so insignificant now.

3. My office is reopening and I don’t feel safe going back

I wrote in asking for advice about a year ago during the first few months of the pandemic being worried about going back into the office too soon.

Some things that I wanted to clear up — people were confused as to the timing that my coworkers and I were expected to go back into the office. We were sent an email very late in the day on a Friday being told that we had to prepare to come into the office the Monday after next (so a little over a week for the people that got the email in time to ruin their weekend, or a week for people that had already departed for the day).

Also, commenters asked what sort of safety measures would be in place. The office is completely open, with no separation from one workstation to another, and no way to actually be 6+ feet apart. The only precautions that they agreed to put in place was that everyone would get hand sanitizer on their workstation, and they would hire a cleaning crew to come in once a week. The only mask requirement would be that you would have to wear a mask when you got up from your desk, but you could sit at your station maskless. Also, with this reintroduction back into the office, the sales people would start traveling, including out of state, to see clients. They would not be required to quarantine or take tests unless they started to feel ill.

There was also discussion of this sentence, “They’ve been communicating to us that there isn’t a ‘hard date’ that we’re expected back in the office, but recently they completely flipped that stance and now expect us all back at the top of next month.” For clarification, their attitude about this whole thing was really night and day. They went from initially being flexible and stating there would be a slow return or a staggering of schedules so that everyone was comfortable, to a sudden email with a week’s notice that everyone was expected back, no exceptions.

There was a small group of us that were very uncomfortable with how everything was being handled, and we went as a group to discuss our concerns. We were essentially told that this was how it was going to be, and they needed a decision from us on Friday on how we wanted to move forward.

I got multiple doctors’ notes strongly recommending that I don’t return to the office. Even with that, I was let go.

I was incredibly lucky in that I wasn’t down for long. I found a remote position with a significant pay bump within a few months of being let go. I’m incredibly grateful as I know this wasn’t something that seemed possible at the time.

Looking back on my time at this company, I was surprised at how much unprofessional behavior I tolerated. While I loved what I did, the signs that I was working in a toxic environment were written on the wall, but the pandemic really brought out the worst in my bosses and the company at large.

I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my letter. I also appreciated everyone taking the time to comment – I really felt like I was alone in this and the AAM community really helped me realize that I wasn’t. So, thank you.

4. How can I discourage my coworkers’ daily intense socializing? (#3 at the link)

Some of the commenters picked up on the situation for what it was – an office romance. All the more scandalous because one of the two is engaged (to someone else). Most of the office would have a bit of a chuckle about what was going on because Jane and Fergus were so incredibly indiscreet, so that validation made the discomfort somewhat bearable until the whole thing mostly fizzled out.

Ultimately, I really appreciated the perspectives and advice from all of the commenters. Everyone was so incredibly helpful and I was really grateful to view the situation differently. At times the “secret” rendezvous could be quite uncomfortable — I recall being told on several occasions of others having “stumbled upon them” when retrieving items from a secluded storage area. They tended to (and somewhat still do) have an unusual work “friendship” where neither of them seemed able to play it off smoothly if their duo somehow turned into a trio, so mostly if they had paired themselves up they’d be avoided by everyone so they could have their space (and so no one else would subject themselves to what would inevitably be an intensely awkward encounter).

Finally, I did invest in a good pair of noise cancelling headphones and I couldn’t recommend them more highly. They block out many distractions but don’t leave me looking so unapproachable that no one comes near me if I’m wearing them (a blessing and a curse!).

{ 73 comments… read them below }

  1. Message in a Bottle*

    LW3! Good for you finding another place. I was just writing about your situation in another comment in another topic today. I guess your situation stayed in my mind. I was sorry you were let go despite doctor’s notes! But that said, at least you were and are safer at home if you had reason to need those notes.

    Thanks for updating us. What a whirlwind. I hope if others were let go, they landed somewhere better as well.

    1. Case of the Mondays*

      It might be worth just moving on but if you asked for a reasonable accommodation to stay remote longer due to a medical condition, and they refused, you may look into filing an EEOC or state equivalent complaint against them.

  2. Suzy Q*

    Coworkers who are bonking each other always seem to think they’re being discreet. They never are.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      Not quite the same, but I perform on the side and have definitely seen some showmances bloom. I remember one where the male lead and his love interest definitely started dating and at a get-together where neither one joined us someone even said “Do you think John and Jane know that we all know they’re seeing each other?” On the plus side, they’re still together four years later!

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      On the other hand, we don’t know about the one who really are discreet. Maybe the entire office is a giant bonkfest, but most keep it quiet.

      1. Krabby*

        There were two office romances in my last job, that I knew of. One was incredibly obvious and imploded spectacularly six months in (it turns out it’s not so fun to be dating your coworker once building security has to talk to you about not having sex in your car where the parkade security cameras can see you). The other was a complete secret until almost two years after one of them left the job, and four years after they’d gotten together (I only knew because I lived in the same apartment building as one of them and saw the other leaving their apartment one day).
        In my experience, the ones that are going to last tend to be much more discrete, haha.

        1. D3*

          Once had a couple of coworkers (different teams, same department) come back from vacation on the same day. They had gotten MARRIED while they were gone, and brought in cupcakes to make the announcement.
          No one had a clue they were together. Nobody batted an eye that they were both taking vacation the same time. (She took 2 weeks off, he took one. I assume she was doing wedding stuff that last week and he kept working to keep up the facade) They’d been dating for three years!
          It was shocking in the best possible way. They continued to work in our department for a few more years and were completely professional. And as far as I know, they’re still together and doing well!

        2. JustaTech*

          I wish I’d seen more successful office romances (I’ve had married coworkers, but they were married before they started working at the company). The two (one and half, really) I’ve seen were short lived and spectacularly bad.

          The first was a guy from my lab and a gal from the next lab over. At first they were all over each other (like high school or college), but then they had a fight about how each wanted to celebrate their birthdays (their birthdays were the same week) which culminated in him drunkenly peeing on the door of her apartment. (And then he had the gal to email me, who he was only civil to, and tell me to be “careful about who I believed”. Uh, seriously? The gal who’s my friend or the guy who didn’t care when he spilled a dangerous chemical on my bench?)

          The second didn’t get past the “asking out” phase, but went badly enough that it split the social committee into factions like it was freaking middle school and I (one of the more junior people) had to say “can we please either decorate this Christmas tree like adults or leave?”

          Maybe I’ve just worked with too many drama llamas.

  3. middle name danger*

    LW3 could have been writing from my partner’s company. She experienced the exact same thing (180 on a staggered, slow return and all) on the same timeline. Company asked for a note from MY doctor when she said she was hesitant to return due to a high risk person in the house, with a general tone that they thought it was a ridiculous accommodation to ask for.

    1. Allura Vysoren*

      My company wouldn’t accept notes for accommodations if the person you lived with was high-risk. If the note wasn’t for you, the employee, it didn’t count.

  4. willow for now*

    LW1 – they were videoing the yoga sessions?!/ And then commenting on how your positions suggested negative energy? This made me a lot barfy.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        I wish this site allowed us to upload gifs so I could break out a good “Ew, David!” one for this.

    1. Sharrbe*

      Yes….having a boss observe a video of a YOGA session that I’m begrudgingly participating in and then commenting on it is sooooooo inappropriate and creepy………to put it mildly.

    2. MassMatt*

      The managers here remind me of a couple that ran a well-known new-agey bookstore/cafe in my city. I knew several people that worked there and they uniformly said the owners were incredibly nasty, petty, and cheap, to the extent that they stole cafe workers’s tips. The worst part was how they described themselves (ad infinitum) as ethical Buddhists “seeking to bring more light in the world”. Any complaints were attributed to “negative energy” and the tip-stealing was explained away as “donations to the overall mission” and someone wanting their actual tips was described as “greedy”.

      These managers seem equally toxic, hopefully Mr. Market will see to it that the don’t survive long.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        This is the New Age version of being so sanctified that actual good behavior is no longer necessary. It is found in all sorts of sects.

        1. Sara without an H*

          I seem to recall that Jesus of Nazareth went on at some length about this kind of thing. I’m sure the nefarious book store owners would have put it down to “negative energy.”

            1. Sara without an H*

              Actually, I was thinking more of some of his comments on hypocrisy and “whited sepulchers.”

    3. Texas*

      I think on video refers to video conferencing here? Either way, it’s definitely still weird to be observing/reviewing people while they’re participating in the yoga sessions!

    4. LW1*

      Sorry this is videoconferencing (Zoom) not recorded! But yes the bosses both led and attended these sessions as well as meditation, and referred to them in other meetings in ways that I see now were really inappropriate! As far as I know nothing was recorded!!

      1. allathian*

        Oh well, 90 percent of all startups go bust within 5 years of starting business… Glad you’re out of there!

    5. ToodlesTeaTops*

      Same here. I got a little into Yoga so I started to look into it deeper. Oh my gosh, there is a whole dark side to this industry, if I can call it that. It’s loaded with a lot of harassment and abusive behaviors. It’s supposed to be a peaceful thing and people have really warped it.

      1. JustaTech*

        I just got back from a perfectly nice mini-yoga session at work but:
        1) we don’t work in “wellness”
        2) it’s 100% optional
        3) it’s employee led (and none of the higher-ups ever come, though it does have formal endorsement).

    6. Lilo*

      You can’t win with a “negative energy” accusation. And at work? About yoga?

      Glad LW is away from these people. They sound impossible to work for.

      1. quill*

        You really can’t, it’s a salem witch hunt type of accusation (unproveable, the accusation is essentially the only proof of the crime.)

  5. Public Sector Manager*

    For #4, I really want to know more about the noise canceling headphones! Just happy that things seem to have resolved for you.

    1. Haven’t picked a user name yet*

      I’m not the LW but I have Bose noise cancelling headphones and I would use them on planes while traveling and in the office (both pre-pandemic). They were expensive but worked super well!

      1. DLW*

        I too have Bose noise cancelling headphones. Eight years old and still work perfectly (although I did have to replace the ear pads a year ago). I bought mine because the next door neighbor loved his loud music. The Bose headphones blocked it all out. During the pandemic they’ve been a godsend in blocking out almost all of the neighborhood noise and my mother watching tv upstairs.

      2. Public Sector Manager*

        Thank you both for the comments! I’ve been looking for some time for nice but not too pricey ones and I may just have to go pricey!

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          For what it’s worth, I have a $50 AmazonBasics pair that isn’t actively noise canceling, but muffles outside sound so well that my husband can walk up behind me, drop two baskets of laundry on the uncarpeted floor from three feet up, talk at me for a solid minute, and I won’t realize he’s there til he taps me on the shoulder. They can be used either Bluetooth or wired, and they have a mic built in for voice calls as well.

        2. cat lady*

          I got the #1 recommendation from the Wirecutter (also endorsed by a coworker who said they blocked out the chaos of husband, 2 toddlers, and 2 parents-in-law), the Jabra elite earbuds, but they have a shaky connection sometimes when I’m walking or even standing still, and the whole reason I upgraded to them was so I could pair with multiple devices seamlessly, and there are seams every few times I switch from phone to laptop.

        3. lemon meringue*

          I have a pair of Plantronics noise-cancelling headphones. Reviews tend to describe them as not as good as Bose but as close as you can get for significantly less money. I wear them a lot and find them very comfortable, and the sound quality is good. I don’t know exactly how the noise cancelling part compares with Bose, but if I have quiet-ish music or white noise playing, not too much gets through. They are really good for pervasive but consistent sounds like construction even with no music.

        4. LW4*

          Hi there! I ended up getting sennheiser ones because I’d heard good reviews from friends – they were pricey but waited until they were on sale so got them about $100 cheaper (they were *still* pretty pricey though). I remember one of the commenters from my first letter had asked if my situation was a “them” problem or a “me” problem and I totally realised, oh my god, that it WAS a me problem, and, honestly, now having the easy ability to pick and choose what I can hear and pay attention to in our open plan office has made the purchase definitely worth it!

        5. Seeking Second Childhood*

          My Cowie E7 are not as expensive –they hide regular loud machinery like HVAC systems, so I’ve recently started wearing them vacuuming too. (They were overwhelmed by the lawn mower though LOL.)
          Do be careful placing the order though, because E7 is apparently a name for the external design. There is an E7 that is noise canceling, and there is an E7 that is just headphone with mic. Both work, both are comfortable and durable. (My mis-order was serendipitous, because I had the extra for my teen for remote school. The headphones survive dropping.)

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Cowin E7.
            I have entered this into spellchecker a half dozen times already grrrrr!

      3. Arvolin*

        I wore them because the office was a little too loud for me to concentrate well. I think I amused coworkers by sometimes being startled when they suddenly appeared in my peripheral vision, since I couldn’t hear them come up.

  6. pleaset cheap rolls*

    “(so a little over a week for the people that got the email in time to ruin their weekend, or a week for people that had already departed for the day).”

    Do you think a little less than a week would have been better?

    1. GrumpyGnome*

      Speaking as someone that had a somewhat similar situation happen just over a week ago, yes. Getting an email invite with my boss and HR on a Friday afternoon for a Monday afternoon meeting left me a ball of nerves and stress all weekend. I’d much rather have not known about it until Monday morning. In my case, it ended up being good news, but I still stressed about it all weekend long.

      1. Lance*

        This one wasn’t for a meeting, though; it was telling people that they were expected to get out of remote work and start working in the office again by X date. I’m of the opinion that more time should be given for such a matter (my own workplace is intent to not let people know they’re expected to return to the office ’til a full two months before the expected date).

    2. Bee*

      I don’t think that’s what’s implied here? It’s just a clarification that it wasn’t the Monday immediately following the email, but the Monday a week later.

      But also, announcing a major change at 5PM on a Friday is cowardly.

      1. Boof*

        I think the phrase “in time to ruin their weekend” definitely implies friday afternoon is worse than monday morning.

        1. Birch*

          I thought it was meant to imply that they’re both bad–that people who found out sooner didn’t get a better deal– not that one is worse than the other.

    3. Observer*

      Do you think a little less than a week would have been better?

      In this context? Yes. The weekend is not useful extra time – all you can do that first weekend is stew.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I’d have used it to evaluate clothing & figure out how to reorganize all the things in life that have migrated to lunch breaks. I feel bad for anyone who’d planned a doctor/dentist visit for flex time near their house.

    4. John Smith*

      Managers at my place have a habit of sending “bad news” emails last thing (for them) on a Friday then darting out the building. One senior manager even waits until he’s on holiday before sending them. My own manager sends his most sarcastic gaslighting emails out at the end of the day when everyone has gone. It’s cowardly and highly disrespectful.

  7. Prof_Murph*

    Just reiterating the plug for noise cancelling headphones. These have changed my life! I never would have thought of myself as someone who pays $350 for fancy headphones but they have been worth every penny – I use them every single day!!

    1. LW4*

      They’ve changed my life too! I was MORTIFIED when people would ask how much they cost and also never ever thought I would spend money so “frivolously” (!) but they were worth every penny and I use mine every single day too!! They cut out pretty much all the background noise and don’t hurt my ears if I do need to turn the volume right up to block out the really loud/animated talking!

      1. foolofgrace*

        I’m thinking that you play music or something thru the headphones. My question is, whether playing music or just availing yourself of the noise-canceling feature, how do you hear the telephone? Or a beep from your computer? Do you rely on visual cues (lights on the phone, etc.)?

        1. JustaTech*

          In my experience they’re not *that* noise canceling. Like, when I wear my Bose on an airplane I can still hear (faintly) the announcements over the PA, and if someone is talking to me directly. But it cuts out the engine drone noise and tamps down the sounds of all the other people (though you need to be paying something to drown out the crying babies).

          At home the headphones cut down on things like street noise, my neighbors doing yard work and my spouse taking meetings in another room. But weirdly the headphones don’t cut out the sound of my cat rustling a paper bag, which was surprising and super distracting.

          Even really good noise-canceling headphones don’t cancel out *all* noise; for that you need earplugs and a lot of people find a total cessation of sound to be unpleasant. Noise-canceling headphones cut out things outside the range of normal speech (so most mechanical noises) but if someone comes up to you and starts talking you can mostly hear them.

  8. tesserae*

    For #1: somebody on another website referred to this whole kind of thing as the “wellness industrial complex” and it definitely seems to fit!

  9. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP#1 — Glad to hear that you got out. I reread your original post and it was alarming to see how things escalated since you first wrote in. Hope your former colleagues make equally fortunate exits and get to leave your goofy management to admire each others’ “energy” in bankruptcy court.

    1. LW1*

      Thank you so much! I feel like I got out just in time but I know some of the other people who quit are in a much worse place both financially and emotionally. I don’t wish anyone ill but I do hope they see the light (haha).

      1. Dancing Otter*

        I’m reminded of the saying that sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train.

  10. Bookworm*

    LW3: Yikes. I’m so sorry that happened to you but am also glad that you found another job so quickly! I can somewhat relate. Job had been super cautious to the point of telling us to collect our stuff because they were vacating the lease last year. Now they’re pushing people (who expressed anxiety about the logistics plus the possible loss of the work/life balance, etc.) to return and don’t seem to care that people are really concerned. As in, completely ignoring their objections (as in, not acknowledged at all) because getting people back into the office ASAP is more important.

    Not quite the same as your situation, but rather disheartening to see businesses pushing returns so hard (and when we didn’t even have a vaccine??? What?)

    You are absolutely not alone.

    1. Lolo9090*

      My spouse’s job has been pretty similar too. They returned for a bit from July to November last year, and then went back to fully remote when sh*t got (more) real again, and went back in March this year. Both times, they had less than a week of notice before being required to return. They have 7 years left in their office lease and it’s factored very heavily into their return policy which is understandable, to a degree, but still really sucks. The president of the company is unilaterally making all of these decisions (surprise surprise he was a covid-denier and everyone’s too scared to confront his policies) and he ended up taking away an early office closure policy that they used to do over the summer just because he was mad that not everyone was going in.

      OP – I’m so glad you found something new that is working for you!!!!

  11. Pikachu*

    I am so excited to see updates from all these weird wellness/feelings job situations. I am sure lots of places do it right (and, of course, those people aren’t writing in), but for the ones that get it wrong… wow.

    It’s fascinating anecdotal evidence of how this whole idea can backfire, leaving employees more weirded out and uncomfortable than ever. Then they leave for more money, so I suppose those employee engagement problems resolve themselves one way or another.

  12. yep*

    To LW3, I am so, so sorry to hear that your previous employer was such a nightmare, but am so, so thrilled for you that you found an awesome new job!

    Depending upon which jurisdiction you work in, you may be able to make a complaint (including anonymously) about your former employers’ complete lack of health and safety measures, the fact tht they ignored medical advice, and that they fired you for providing them with that medical advice. Employers like that need to have their ability to employ people to work for them removed (and jail time and nice, hefty fine would also be good).

  13. JM60*


    The only precautions that they agreed to put in place was that everyone would get hand sanitizer on their workstation, and they would hire a cleaning crew to come in once a week.

    I don’t get why some people think hand sanitizer and weekly cleaning would somehow make it okay to share the air with many people for an extended period of time in mid 2020. While you should wash your hands and surfaces because what’s on our hands tends to make it’s way to our faces, COVID is a disease primarily spread through the air. Sanitizer doesn’t magically zap virus particles mid-air.

    1. Starwatcher*

      The same sort of employers who thought paper dust masks intended for light sanding were sufficient PPE for a poorly ventilated shop floor when solvents/VOCs were being used, I’m sure….

    1. foolofgrace*

      I occasionally see errors in spelling or or homonym usage in the letters, but I figure it’s Alison allowing the writer to be themselves. Alison’s responses never have misspellings.

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      You need to click on the appropriate link for reporting them, just above the box where you write a message.

    3. LW4*

      Oh. My. God. I can’t believe I mist that? (That one was deliberate this time but thank you for pointing out – noted!)

  14. quill*

    #2 Breach of trust is about what I expected. Glad you got out!
    #3 I wonder, broadly, how common this sort of bad experience was during Covid? Because for all the “massive amounts of job change” and “worker shortage” (and also “women leaving the workforce”) headlines I see I wonder how much of these trends is due to workplaces being actively hostile to continued human life and health.

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