update: my boss thinks perks should be earned, but I can’t work well without them

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.

Remember the letter-writer who felt they couldn’t work well without flexibility or side projects but whose boss wanted them to demonstrate excellence before they’d grant those things? Here’s the update.

I’m a former Friday good news (#4 here) and also the letter writer for “my boss thinks perks should be earned.” As you can probably guess from a mere eight-month gap between those two letters, that new job—which was supposed to be my ticket out of being treated badly at work!—was not a great fit. It turned out that my manager was notorious for making people cry, showering favors on anyone who worked 60+ hours a week, and being so sharp and sometimes outright mean that her boss frequently teased her about it in staff meetings. It got to the point where I’d panic every time I heard a Slack notification or got a new email, because more often than not, it was my manager berating me. When I went to HR, they openly acknowledged that many people had brought up these problems, but said no one would ever tell her to change because she “got results.” So I quit, just barely before they fired me. I wasn’t the ideal employee, for sure, but I wasn’t the only cause of the problems either.

Along the way, I did get a useful diagnosis. I don’t have ADHD; what I have is a sleep disorder (delayed sleep phase syndrome). It’s a relief to know there’s an actual medical reason that I can’t function on a normal 9-to-5 schedule. I’m grateful to you and the commenters for urging me to pursue that.

Luckily, I have found a new job in a different industry. I have a very accommodating schedule and a lot of flexibility in the type of work I do. To be frank, the expectations are low, and right now that feels like a huge relief. I took a pretty staggering pay cut, but it’s worth it to be able to keep the hours that let my body and brain function well, and to work with people who are genuinely nice and respectful at a company with a great mission and a supportive culture.

I do have some lingering anxiety and self-esteem issues from that situation. The first thing I did in my new company Slack was turn off the notification sound, which still makes my heart pound, and it’s taking a lot of effort to believe that I deserve to be treated well and am capable of meeting expectations. But I think my relatively low-key new gig will make space for me to heal, and it’s good to explore work options outside the intense, fast-paced field that I thought was going to be my career for life. Maybe I’m not cut out for intense and fast-paced, or for working with the kinds of people who thrive in that environment. Maybe that’s okay.

In the Friday good news letter, I wrote, “I encourage anyone who’s feeling trapped or miserable to try looking for something better.” I’m glad I took my own advice a second time. Sending all my best wishes to the job-seekers: may you have soft landings in places where you’re well cared for.

Thanks as always for everything you do at AAM.

{ 33 comments… read them below }

  1. quill*

    As someone who just cannot do alert noises: you’re probably gonna want to mute more than just slack. But it’s a great idea for not having that sudden adrenaline spike!

    1. Director of Alpaca Exams*

      I got a smartwatch so I could get all my notifications as vibrations rather than noises, and it’s genuinely changed my life.

    2. PT*

      I’m not a Slack user, but often if you tinker in the Notifications settings you can change the specific notification sound, especially in mobile. If you ever find out that you need any notification to be on, you can pick a less upsetting sound for that or any other apps whose notification sounds trigger you.

    3. Boom! Tetris for Jeff!*

      I had to change the notification sound from one app to bird chirps. the default sound was great for a long time, until I went through a period of a lot of notifications from a group that stressed me out. every ding would notch up my blood pressure. so I can totally relate!

    4. Pikachu*

      I always set my Slack notifications to direct messages, mentions & keywords only. I also changed the noise from that weird knock-brush sound. It helps a LOT.

      A couple years ago I was getting burned out with notification anxiety, and I started looking for “zen” noises. Found a website called iRingPro. The were created by two guys who just wanted to create more elegant and professional tones. There are sooo many options that are less jarring and annoying than the usual defaults. One of the best outcomes for me was using one of their ringtones with much longer pauses between repetitions… it really turns down the sense of stress and urgency to answer a call. It was a problem I never knew I had. Totally weird, but effective.

      They used to charge for them, but one of the creators passed away, and the other guy decided to honor his memory by making them all free.

  2. Middle Name Danger*

    A lot of us ADHDers have delayed sleep phase syndrome as part of the package – no wonder we all saw ourselves in you! Glad you got a diagnosis and it helped things make sense.

  3. Destroyer of Typos*

    I have delayed sleep phase syndrome too!! My boss was willing to shift my hours to accommodate and it makes SO MUCH difference. I no longer need a nap at lunch and I don’t feel like I’m fighting myself so much. So glad you’re in a role that accommodates now!

  4. Prefer my pets*

    Congratulations on the delayed sleep phase diagnosis. (I flat refuse to call it a disorder because there’s nothing wrong with ME…society is just stupidly rigid about the only early bird crap.) I really wish I would have been aware it was a fairly unchangeable trait when I was in college…I would have definitely picked a different career path, one where desire for night shifts was a benefit.

    My current office is fantastic about me shifting later…people start anywhere between 6am and 9:30am based on whatever works for them. We’re discussing having me do a noonish start whenever we go back to the office.

    I still plan on retiring the day I’m eligible though, solely so I can get a full sleep cycle on a regular basis though!

    1. Properlike*

      Yeah, I was reading that we sleep a normal amount if we’re able to sleep when we want, it’s just the timing that’s bad. Doesn’t sound like a “disorder” to me. I gave up teaching partly because 6am will NEVER feel good as a wake-up time.

      1. Prefer my pets*

        I worked graveyards for awhile and it was AMAZING! I’ve never been so rested and alert in my life. I swear my brain processed everything twice as fast. Heck, I even lost weight because I wasn’t mindlessly snacking to try to stay awake.

    2. I take tea*

      I’m blessed with generous flex time, but I have tried to get up earlier because of reasons. I tried for a long stretch and thought I’d get used to it, but I never did. It always felt like I was wading in treacle the whole day. Going to sleep earlier doesn’t help. I just sleep longer, until I’m at my natural waking time. It’s annoying, because early risers always seem to find it morally questionable to be an evening person.

      1. allathian*

        I’m an early riser, always have been (yes, even in my teens), except for a brief period in my late twenties when I worked second shift. Then I’d stay awake until 2 am and sleep until about 10. But I get jet lag from switching to and from DST, so while I could work second shift if I absolutely had to, I couldn’t deal with rotating shifts at all.

        One option for Americans might be to live on the East Coast but look for remote jobs with a Pacific time zone schedule…

  5. Pool Lounger*

    My mother and I both have DSPS! My mom dealt by getting a job that’s 12hrs a day/3 dats a week. It’s a relief to have words to explain the sleep issues to people, even if they often still don’t really get it.

    1. Bulu Babi*

      Maybe one of you knows: how do people with delayed sleep phase diagnoses deal with having young kids, who either wake up naturally at 7am or need to because of daycare schedules? I’m an early bird ADHDer, but my partner suffers with early mornings and bedtimes. His job’s schedule is flexible enough, but the kid needs attention early on. Usually I take on the morning routine, but there’s 1-2 times per week when I can’t help.

      1. Director of Alpaca Exams*

        Same as you, pretty much: My morning-person partners take the morning shift, and I take the night shift. Having someone on overnights has been great for toilet training and when our kid is sick.

        I genuinely could not function as a single parent; my child usually gets up at 5 a.m., which is around when I go to bed.

  6. Observer*

    I’m so glad you got a diagnosis. Give yourself some time to heal. If your finances are in a reasonable place, this is the most valuable thing you can do now.

    Needing a flexible schedule and thriving in a fast paced environment are not mutually exclusive. So when (or if) you get to a place where you want more out of a job, don’t rule that out. But *DO* look for places and positions that will allow you the flexibility that you need. And *DO* look for healthy cultures, not just in the company as a whole, but in the particular manager you would be working for.

    As for your old job, I would say that HR is actually wrong – what your old manager was doing was not getting optimal results. People who are regularly made to cry or sent into a panic by their bosses are rarely doing their best work. And turnover has costs as well. Of course no company can avoid ANY turnover, but unnecessary turnover is stupid cost to incur. Which is to say that I think that it’s a good thing you are out of that company. Because it’s clear that there is a real problem in the place as a whole.

  7. Sara without an H*

    When I went to HR, they openly acknowledged that many people had brought up these problems, but said no one would ever tell her to change because she “got results.”

    This happens all too often, although it’s rare for HR to be so frank about it. Congratulations, OP, and here’s to a happier 2022.

      1. Don't be long-suffering*

        That HR rep would like to learn about the No Assholes Rule, why it exists and how it helps everyone. (IMHO, that includes the asshole.) Then they, like you, could look for a better company. Best wishes to you.

    1. I take tea*

      Why are there so many really terrible people who get to keep their jobs? Especially in a country, where from our perspective, you can be fired at the drop of a hat. Nobody is that good on their job that it should be worth the turnaround under them.

      1. bamcheeks*

        Well as a leftie European socialist union member, I would say it’s because laissez-faire attitudes to workers’ rights always benefit bullies and people with social capital and privilege more than they benefit genuine productivity or society more broadly.

  8. Pikachu*

    I did a 23andme test and one of the most interesting characteristics it noted was that I am most likely to wake up naturally at 8:30am.

    Sure enough, when I quit my corporate job and started freelancing on my own time, I wake up at about 8:30 every morning like clockwork. I was finally able to wean myself off the energy drinks.

  9. Candi*

    “being so sharp and sometimes outright mean that her boss frequently teased her about it in staff meetings.”

    “When I went to HR, they openly acknowledged that many people had brought up these problems, but said no one would ever tell her to change because she “got results.””

    Wha- wa- what the- aaaggghhh!

    They call high turnover “results”!?! And I hate to think what the stress does to their health insurance payouts!

    Crap on crutches. Glad you’re out of there, LW.

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      Exactly what I was thinking, and well said. It’s so wrong to remove how employees are treated, and the related turnover, from the concept of “results.”

  10. Lacey*

    There’s no shame in thriving in a more chill work environment. It often does come with less money, but if that’s where you do best, I think it’s worth it.

    Congrats on getting out! Twice!

  11. Retired (but not really)*

    Many of my friends are night owls which can work amazingly well for jobs that require working overnight or even swing shift. Some of the fields they work in include security, police and fire department, various types of healthcare – nurse, doctor, radiology, first responders. My dad was an old school lawyer (read law in someone’s office and passed the law exam without going to law school) who regularly went back to the office after supper and did research until midnight in the days before computers. So there are plenty of options for careers that would accommodate your preferred schedule and I’m sure there are more that I haven’t mentioned. Best wishes for finding what will work well for you!

  12. I sleep when the sun shines*

    I have delayed sleep phase syndrome. The closest a traditional office environment came to working for me was one that let me start at 10 a.m., and even that I could only do for a year. I’m so much happier now that I have my own business, which lets me work whenever I want. Many days that means I’m working all night (I see the sun rise most days), although every now and then I can manage an early day, like today (Boxing Day Sunday) thanks to sleeping through most of Christmas Day. I have never met anyone with as extreme delayed sleep as me. I would really love to hear that I am not alone in the world. Sadly, it has been impossible to sustain a relationship with another human, at least partly due to living in different time worlds.

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