updates: new manager tells us we’re defensive, working from home without privacy, 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. New manager keeps telling us we’re frustrated and defensive

In retrospect, Kelly did not have the claimed managerial experience, and turned out to be making notes about topics unrelated to the actual meeting (as in, we’re explaining how to melt the chocolate and she’s drafting designs for the boxes). I used Alison’s scripts, and talked to the CEO, and separately started documenting everything in case it needed to go farther.

The CEO did understand and support me, and coached Kelly in certain aspects of personnel management (the weak points). My working relationship with Kelly continued to be strained, but actually improved during COVID when we were all working remotely, mainly because random drop-ins and in-person conversations became impossible, but also because it finally got to the point where Kelly had isolated one part of the department and just worked with them, only occasionally intersecting with the rest of us. This wasn’t great for the department, but drastically reduced the stress on Alex and me.

That said, Kelly helped me work with another employee who consistently had performance problems. I really felt that we were making good headway towards a decent working relationship. The chronically-underperforming employee finally realized the end was nigh and decided to leave. About 3 months later, Kelly also left for other opportunities. I really can’t say I was sorry, but I regret the lost opportunity to really cement the working relationship.

The CEO recognized my attempts to make it work, and actually noted them on my annual review, so I believe I may have only seen a small part of a bigger problem.

Kelly’s replacement is someone I already knew and respected internally, someone who really is a good team player and doesn’t cherry-pick the fun/high-profile projects. I have good hopes that we will finally create a strong, cohesive team, enhancing all our skills and helping us work better together.

2. Working from home without a private, comfortable spot to work in (#2 at the link)

I followed your advice pretty much to the letter. I reached out to my supervisor and mentioned accommodations. She was unsure who would handle the question and I was bounced around several different departments and various members of upper management, before landing with a quick Slack meeting with the chief of my own department. Somehow the ADA mention got lost in the message moving around, but the chief was already prepared to get me a laptop. I just had to fill out a form, bring my desktop into the office when IT was available, and came home with a fresh laptop. I now have a more flexible, ergonomic set up that works much better for my disabilities. All I needed to do was ask!

3. I’m afraid people at work will think I’m being abused (#2 at the link)

Exactly two weeks after I wrote you, I worked a completely uneventful 11 hour shift and then promptly broke my ankle on my own front porch steps as soon as I got home. Obviously not ideal when I work a job that has me walking 6-12 miles per shift, but in the course of telling the story and sorting out accommodations for sitting-only work and future physical therapy (I really did a number on it!) I think people are starting to realize that I’m kind of just like this naturally. It’s a relief to be able to joke about it!

(Also, a lot of your readers had great suggestions on potential things to bring to my doctor but don’t worry, I’ve had my bases covered for ages, I’m very fortunate to genuinely just be a klutz!)

4. Good news Friday (#3 at the link)

My job has continued to be amazing. I’m still singing in my car, still working from home whenever I want to. I was so traumatized after 20 years at the toxic company that I am still learning that it’s actually okay to be happy at work, that it’s actually how it SHOULD be, but I’m getting there!! And!! Three months after I started, New Boss walked in my office and out of the blue gave me a 7% raise – the first raise I’ve ever received that I didn’t have to fight for. What a wonderful, strange new world!

Old Company did NOT replace me when I left and instead dumped everything on my former work partner Dale. No raise. No title change. Unrealistic hours and ridiculous deadlines. No more WFH – five days a week in the office. From a team of five to just Dale and a 30 hr a week part-timer. She complained and got LOTS of promises, but zero follow up. To make matters worse, her new boss Zoe kept trying to take credit for the few little bones they threw Dale – like “graciously” letting her WFH one day a week – saying things like Dale should just be appreciative of all that Zoe had done for her. I saw the emails – gag worthy levels of “I went to bat for you, you should appreciate this since others aren’t so fortunate, blah blah” AS IF! Dale EARNED those things, deserved those things, but got treated like Zoe was doing her a favor! THEN Dale is told there’s no money for raises (even though my salary was not reassigned) but Zoe got a huge promotion and a massive raise. They don’t renew Dale’s executive level retention agreement but Zoe got stock options. And Dale’s supposed to be grateful to Zoe for a single WFH day?

When Dale got shoveled another pile of “maybe next year” BS the same week Zoe got the promotion, that was the last straw. She called up an old boss, who’d been after her for years to come back. I told her about AAM and after she used the AAM advice to update her resume and cover letter, he created a job on the spot for her. More money, title change, fab retirement benefits, the works. She cut the cord after 11 years at Old Company and never looked back. She is now as happy as I am.

The best part of the update (Warning – serious schadenfreude alert.) Dale’s been gone for three months now and they’ve been unable to fill the role at the seriously below market salary they’re offering for the work load they’re wanting covered. Per friends still there, the business guys are HOWLING about the lack of a person in this role. All Old Company had to do was value the person in this critical role but they didn’t learn and now they are paying ridiculous money for outside legal counsel to manage this work. Zoe is also apparently stressed since having her entire remaining team of long-timers bail within her first year and not being able to hire replacements doesn’t exactly look good.

I love a happy ending, don’t you?

{ 50 comments… read them below }

  1. mcfizzle*

    I am professionally in love with updates. I wish everyone would provide an update, no matter how mundane.

    1. Momma Bear*

      Same. I’m glad Dale got out. I had a job where we warned the big bosses about a new manager and they let it slide so…you get what you get.

  2. Coder von Frankenstein*

    “Zoe is also apparently stressed since having her entire remaining team of long-timers bail within her first year and not being able to hire replacements doesn’t exactly look good.”

    Ha, that sounds familiar. At a previous job, they brought in a new CIO who yelled at employees, made arbitrary decisions, and generally played obnoxious power games. The entire dev team quit over the span of 6 months. The CIO did not last very long after that.

    1. WFH is all I Want*

      We just had a very senior leader forced into retirement because he yelled so much and everything was urgent and last minute because he was so disorganized. It’s been so calm without him and the role hasn’t even been filled yet but the team is thriving again. His poor admin was put through the wringer dealing with the power games.

      1. Candi*

        They should check the admin’s skillset, education, and experience. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if she had what they needed for the CIO role.

    2. Meep*

      It is always a wake-up call when they realize that no, they actually cannot abuse others with no consequences, isn’t it?

    3. Rainy*

      My first husband had a similar situation at his last job. Got a new director, and within two months his division went from almost 100 people to 6. The director could only manage to attract a few new hires, and all of those people got a taste of her and quit within weeks, including a friend of hers. H1 was working 100-120 hour weeks and lasted about four months before he had a massive disabling stroke. She tried to fire him for job abandonment while he was still in the hospital. She was at the company for 13 months total, was invited to resign, and has never been hired again by another organization. She started her own consulting company after she left and it appears to be just her, so who knows if she actually gets any business. My husband died a little over a decade ago. I just looked her up on LinkedIn, as I do periodically, and she’s got an “open to work” badge on her profile photo.

      May her foot never fail to find a Lego.

      1. Sara without an H*

        I am…appalled. So sorry you and your husband went through that.

        Indeed, may her foot never fail to find a Lego. Or a thumbtack.

        1. Rainy*

          Thank you. It makes me angry that she essentially drove my husband until he collapsed and eventually died from the injury and she just got invited to resign and started a consulting company, but what are you going to do.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        May her foot find all the Duplos * as well as all the Legos.

        *Duplos are larger sized Legos specially designed for toddlers less coordinated fingers. The creations I find when I come home from swing shift are very creative, and stay together better than regular wooden blocks.

        1. Wonderer*

          Except Duplos lack the sharp corners that make the Legos stick into your foot… just not good cursing material…

    1. I take tea*

      In my mother tounge we have a saying: Schadenfreude is the only true joy. I usually think it’s bit harsh, but here it fits. I could bet that Zoe is complaining that “nobody wants to work anymore”. That’s right, not like that!

      1. Candi*


        Zoe, no one wants to work for people like you anymore.

        We have a once-in-a-generation chance to do something to change the culture that feeds people like Zoe. Here’s to making it stick.

  3. Meep*

    Is Zoe my former manager? I have it beat into my head that I should be grateful that she is giving me the honor of verbally abusing me because “at least [I] know what I get.” I also got a 7% raise last December (first raise in 2.5 years because she shamed me every time I tested the water for not being a “team player”) and this woman had the nerve to complain about me to my other coworkers because I didn’t seem “appreciative” enough. She told me that she was going to give me less and it barely covered the fact I had to go on company health insurance! Hell no was I going to thank the woman for giving me PTSD over a measly 7% because she was trying to hide the fact she was actively trying to get me fired.

    1. Ori*

      I remember my bully boss making a huge fanfare out of giving me a raise. A 1.8% raise. After 18 months in which we had been understaffed, over worked and she had made my life a living hell.

      1. Monte*

        Sounds like my previous boss! I’m in therapy because of him! It was an industry known for being a “lifestyle,” but he was a total goon about it. MINIMUM 50 hour weeks and heaven help you if a client had an emergency and you were able to respond 10 minutes before the person actually on call because there goes your night. Clients always came first before any plans, eating, your health, relationships, vacations, ect.
        To top it off he guilt tripped us about being paid and the payroll taxes he had to pay, tried to do away with after hours emergency fees (24/7 service meaning you could be up 2 days straight and WOULD NOT get a break). I made a pittance despite having a graduate degree. He was incensed when half the money producing staff left within two weeks of each other. I never got a raise in over 3.5 years and was told I needed to start another 90 minutes early in my day if I wanted to make any more money. If you read the Sick Systems essay he used it as a playbook.
        Joke’s on him. I work under 40 hours now and make almost twice as much. I have time for hobbies and don’t have panic attacks on the way to work. The industry in general is wringing its hands over no one wanting to go into this field of work after they turned it into a race to the bottom over the last couple of decades. Of course at the same time they’re saying Millennials are “lazy” and “lack grit” because they can use their degree to make twice as much starting out and have a life instead of being slaves to rich jerks.

        1. Candi*

          Hey, they were the ones telling Millennials and the later Gen Xers to get a degree so they could get a job that paid well and wasn’t “flipping burgers”, acting like retail and fast food level jobs were shameful, somehow. They can’t have it both ways.

          If your former industry doesn’t shape up, I wouldn’t be surprised if they implode and get eaten up by large multifunction megacorp.

  4. Chauncy Gardener*

    *Chef’s kiss* to all, and especially #4! Thanks to everyone for writing in with an update!!

  5. Elizabeth West*

    Ahahahahaha, that last one was a great update for both the OP and Coworker Dale. Now that’s what I like to see! \0/

    *sips schadenfreude, smiling a little smile*

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I have long held the best revenge is going forward, living in the present, and not worrying about how the folks that tried to drag you down are “solving their problems” anymore. Life is too short to let past problem coworkers live rent free in your head.

  6. Sara without an H*

    Interesting. #2 & #3 both sound like what happens at normal, healthy work places. #1 and #4 make me think: who hired Kelly & Zoe? At least in #1, it sounds as though everybody was making an effort to make the situation work — but again, who hired Kelly? Didn’t anybody check her references? It sounds as though the whole situation was allowed to continue longer than it should have been.

    As for #4: That’s just a box of clusterfudge. With nuts and nougat. OP#4, I’m really glad you and “Dale” are out of there and that Zoe (and whoever hired and supervises her) is left to deal with the wreckage.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Honestly I’m willing to give a tiny pass to hiring Kelly. It sounds like she was a stretch hire as the business was thinking about expanding into a new area – and the stretch just didn’t quite work out. It also sounds like the CEO stayed involved and was working on trying to improve the relationships right up till Kelly left for another job. Now, could CEO have been more actively working, or done a PIP, maybe – but we only have what the OP knows to base this on – could be there was a lot more going on behind the scenes that CEO kept between themselves and Kelly out of respect for privacy.

      Zoe in number four – yeah, she’s and that org are just digging their own graves. Wonder how deep they plan on digging? Glad OP and Dale are out of there though.

      1. Sara without an H*

        You may be right about Kelly. When you’ve hired somebody into a stretch position, it can be hard to decide how much time to give them before it’s clear that they’re just not right for the job. Actually, it sounds as though Kelly decided that for herself and found something else, which is a point in her favor.

        Zoe, on the other hand–I can’t see any signs that she was trying to make anything work for her team. But she is probably a very good fit for Toxic Shop, Inc.

  7. La Triviata*

    I once had a boss that practiced what I called “hit and run management.” He’d start a job, start off with initiatives and new practices, get everything to the point that the old ways were either unapproved or not functioning at all and the new ways required things (such as technology, subscriptions, etc.) that he hadn’t been able to get in place. Then he’d move on to a new job, where he could tell the possible new jobs that he’d shaken things up, got new practices in place, etc. And he was sufficiently self-promoting, explaining that things didn’t work out because staff and/or upper management just didn’t understand or weren’t willing to change or weren’t willing to fund his new initiatives. And he got hired at one place after another.

    1. Liz*

      I’ve had that too. The only thing worse than having a hit-and-run boss is having a string of them, leaving the poor staff to try to keep things moving and consistent as possible.

  8. Science KK*

    OP #3, if I may offer some unsolicited advice: yoga with balance work. I used to have 2-3 big falls a year but I couldn’t tell you the last time I’ve fallen since I started yoga.

    I definitely still trip the same amount (broke a toe on Thanksgiving because I clipped a chair) but I don’t hit the ground anymore.

    1. NotARacoonKeeper*

      Jumping on the unsolicited advice bandwagon: OP #3, if you’re particularly flexible it may be worth looking into Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. I’m not supremely clumsy, but I do always have some sort of cut/scab/bruise (literally always, I kept a journal on this for a few months once), and was once taken off glassware cleaning duty in a lab due to an unholy ability to shatter a flask on anything. My physiatrist brought up clumsiness during my diagnosis process.

      Unfortunately, the treatement is still yoga and balance work (and other physical activity) but it’s helping me and my care team to understand the source of my issues.

      1. Candi*

        I’d also advise checking out if you have poor pain reactions -you don’t register pain easily, don’t respond to it quickly (or at all) if it’s below a certain level, and/or don’t act to handle the cause of the pain since the pain itself isn’t twinging enough to make it seem the injury is as serious as it is.

        I still have the burn scar on my arm from when I realized I just don’t feel pain in my skin that much. (I wasn’t used to an oven with a top as well as bottom heating element.) It’s led to me checking anything that might be an injury just in case. I also didn’t feel it much when I was crushing down the trash in a trash can when we were moving and cut myself on a can lid when I was tying the bag up. I still have a slight indent on my right pinkie finger. (I knew the can was there, but I thought I was safe since I’d already crushed down the garbage. Lid went right through the plastic bag. And this is why you have tetanus shots!)

    2. Cedrus Libani*

      Agreed. My doctor suggested an exercise: while brushing your teeth, stand on one leg. You’re standing there anyway, with a timer, and if you can stand on each leg for a minute straight then you’re basically fall-proof. I have the innate spatial awareness of a drunk walrus, but I haven’t fallen in years now, because when I trip I’ve got the balance muscles to halt the cartoon pratfall in mid-splat.

  9. HolidayAmoeba*

    LW 4: Since the company was willing to let you go just because you worked for someone they let go, means they never bothered to truly understand the value of your job and the skillset required to succeed. AS you said, schadenfreude is a bee with an itch.

    1. Candi*

      Way I see it, it’s easy to be frustrated when your boss is acting like they either don’t have a clue or don’t care, and it’s easy to get defensive when someone goes on the attack so as to avoid responsibility for what that someone is doing wrong.

      Neither of those emotions are wrong, and that the boss tried to make them out as wrong says way too much about them.

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