update: reading erotica on breaks, the cc’d supervisor, 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. Can I read erotica on work breaks?

I’m writing with an update to my question about reading erotica on breaks. I did move toward not reading the stories at work, though I recognize my solution addressed most but not all of the concerns. Part of my solution was using a tts program to turn them into audiobooks for my commute (alone in my car), and part was supposed to be replacing the time by reading more of the AAM comments section, tvtropes, webcomics, and other short form media that would kill a lot of time while also being easy to put down anytime.

I say “supposed to” because I’ve had a couple job changes that left me with less break time and slightly less isolated breaks anyway. I’ve also had some life stuff to research, which sometimes doesn’t even give me time for AAM. So the answer, while useful, didn’t have a practical effect on me for long.

That said, thanks for having an excellent blog that can help a neurodivergent guy like me navigate the intricacies of the work (and wider) world. That is why I trusted you to address my question with wisdom and kindness, which you did.

2. Another team is cc’ing their manager on complaints about my team (#4 at the link)

Thanks for publishing my letter and answering my question. Your answer and the comments were…humbling. After a couple of days of ruminating on the comments, I really sat back and tried to look through things with a different lens. I was addressing issues as they came up, but I wasn’t acknowledging the pattern. I also realized that my expectations aren’t unreasonable and I was letting my fear of unreasonably high expectations get in the way of managing my team.

So, here’s the tea…I had a more Senior team member that had been on a PIP, and received discipline for performance. Once I started to focus on the pattern of mistakes, I got with HR and my direct supervisor and we talked about the pattern of low performance. They improved for a short while, and she successfully met her PIP goals, but a couple of weeks after that the work tanked again. Immediately after writing you, that employee got a final written for their low performance (and lying about their performance!). After that, I was still willing to do more than I should have to to try and save them. I just recently terminated that employee, with a lot of help and tips from you and your book, Alison. Through reading some other questions and answers on this site, I saw a sentence a couple of times that really hit home for me: I can’t be more invested in saving someone’s job than they are.

During that employee’s last couple of weeks, I realized they had “infected” my team with bad habits, advice and attitude. I have a couple of newer staff and they were picking up bad habits from this employee. After I announced that person was no longer employed, I needed my teams help to correct the mistakes we kept finding. I think this put things into perspective for them, because I heard comments like “oh I didn’t realize if we messed up x then it messes up every other person in this process”. Since then, my team has been more engaged in team meetings and trainings, and they are really invested in performing well.

Things are going better. Other departments have recognized the difference in our quality of work, as well as our team dynamic. I get to meet my team in person for the first time since COVID! Three quarters of my team I’ve never met in person because of COVID. This team training day is long overdue and I think this day will make a big impact on our team dynamic and work output.

As for the actual update to my question, I never spoke to the supervisor of the other department and I don’t feel I need to now.

3. How should I deal with a pompous, sexist coworker?

Not a super exciting update but this situation kind of resolved itself. My boss organised our project in such a way that I didn’t have to have much direct 1-1 contact with my sexist coworker, but as many commenters pointed out, this was just managing around the problem and not actually addressing it. The sexist coworker was a holdout from the company’s startup bro phase and never really grew out of it, so our new C-suite eventually asked him to move on and he left the company voluntarily to go back to a startup. The comment section was super helpful in reminding me that other people behaving unacceptably wasn’t a me problem at all, but rather a problem with him and the management structure that allowed him to behave that way.

Without him, I’m really enjoying my job and have recently been awarded a promotion!

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

A bit over a year ago I wrote in for your Friday good news. A lot has happened in the interim. My job was great for about 6 months, then my second amazing manager left. I got another stellar performance review, a promotion, but was still underpaid especially for the new role. My next manager was great but I only got to keep him for 3 months, and the manager after that was a nice person but bad at protecting me from interruptions and making sure I had a manageable workload. Also lots of teammates started to leave, which meant more work for the rest of us who stayed. We lost almost a quarter of the members of our team between January and September 2021.

I asked for my compensation to be fixed and my director said he had a plan and gave me a number he was targeting which was acceptable but still lower than I deserved. After months of delays the raise I got was for less than half the amount originally discussed. Also my direct report was going to be hired permanently (yay), got a great offer (also yay), and despite having less experience than me, being hired at one level below me, and being my direct report, he was going to be making $8000 *more* than me (not so yay). I almost rage quit when I was told that they had done all they could for me and I was being fairly compensated. I cried a lot after those meetings.

Meanwhile I had been interviewing at many places, but was not doing well in the technical rounds. I failed both internal and external interviews. I started to lose faith that I was actually awesome at anything, and I burnt myself out talking to too many companies while trying to do my day job. I ended up having to take over a month off to recover from my burnout. Once I started to get better I did a lot of studying, and finally the internal position of my dreams opened up! It was for a team which I had wanted to be on forever, has great management, and works really hard to protect their people from burnout. They have very low turnover, and another friend had transferred into this team and was super happy there. I applied to it and another internal position that had opened up slightly earlier, and hoped that with my studying I would stand a chance.

The interviews went really well, they were a lot easier than the ones I had done in the past, and everyone I talked to was incredibly nice. The hiring manager for the job I had waited forever for was talking to my current manager about transition plans even before I had finished the process because he was that confident that I would do well. (Him wanting to talk to my current manager was not a red flag; our managers are unfortunately notified as soon as we’re selected to interview for an internal position. I could write a whole letter on how messed up our internal hiring process is.)

I ended up getting both offers, but they were lower than I would have liked. So I mentioned that I had been hoping for closer to $X amount. Both hiring managers were in support of, and ultimately able to meet my number. Maybe I could have gotten a little more had I asked, but it’s an almost 20% raise from my current salary, and over a 30% raise from what I was making in October 2020. (And 10k more than the number my director had originally mentioned and failed to meet!) I accepted the position with my dream team today, and I’m starting in 2 weeks! I know there’s no such thing as a dream job, but this is as close as I can get to such a thing at my current company. Thank you so much Alison for your column, I was able to ace the behavioral parts and feel confident asking for more money because of my years of reading Ask a Manager.

{ 24 comments… read them below }

  1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    “Maybe I could have gotten a little more had I asked, but…”
    Eh, you advocated for yourself. You got what you aimed for.
    No buts about it.

  2. Falling Diphthong*

    #2, this is a great illustration of how keeping a bad employee around can tank anyone around them.

    One negative person tends to have a bigger impact on a group than one positive person, sadly.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      So much this. I remember on the initial post wondering if there was any pattern to the complaints or if there was a bad apple in the bunch. Sounds like both were true- and at first OP was so deep in the weeds trying to fix everything they were missing the pattern.

      Props to the OP for stepping back and fixing the issues instead of just continuing to triage symptoms.

    2. Ginger Dynamo*

      Yep, and it doesn’t even have to involve an attitude/negativity issue. Coworkers who don’t do their jobs correctly model their protocol violations for newcomers, who look at the changed procedure as if it’s just how the work is done. One employee’s unproductive work habits can also disrupt their coworkers. My predecessor in my role, who trained me for several months before he left, taught me procedures in ways that violated written protocol, left behind protocols filled with errors, and often tread on my toes when I started to do independent work. Seeing him mess up regularly and get frequent stern corrections from our boss during my training has left me with quite a lot of lingering anxiety when talking to my supervisor.

  3. Harvey 6 3.5*

    #4 – I’d be interested if anyone has insight into how OP#4’s director could even think it was reasonable to hire someone as a direct report with less experience at more pay? The only way I could even imagine it is if the report had some rare valuable skill that OP lacked, but that wasn’t mentioned in the letter.

    1. Chria*

      I’d assume it was the short-term thinking that’s so common in the business world. OP was already working there so any more pay for them was an extra expense with no value (not thinking about employee satisfaction or retention). Hiring the new employee needed to be at market rate because it was acquiring something they didn’t have before.

      It could also have been sexism, assuming OP is a woman. Discrediting OP’s qualifications or contributions, even unconsciously, could mean boss didn’t see the need to value them appropriately.

      1. LW4*

        The new employee did need to be close to market rate (though we still failed to get that for him, but he was happy with his offer); they started with an offer for slightly less than I was making, he asked for more, and they were able to get it. In the negotiations I did nothing but encourage them to give him what he was worth. He had proven himself with good performance while he was an intern/co-op, but I had proven myself with 3 years in the department and managing my small team, which included him. Just because I was underpaid didn’t mean that he should also be underpaid though!

        I’m at a big company so the money is a little less fungible around here. We have separate budgets for new hires vs. promotions, with the latter being much smaller, never enough to go around in a given cycle if you have many good performers on your team, which we did. The raise I did get came from a backfill we sacrificed, but they used it to fix many salaries a little bit, so it got spread too thin. They didn’t have an easy way of getting more budget for me.

        Yes I am female, so maybe sexism also had something to do with it, though I don’t have any actual evidence and couldn’t really do anything about it. (The department as a whole was also incredibly sexist, we never had a female senior/principal llama groomer but several male ones and no female alpaca groomers (equal to senior llama groomer in rank) ever. I was the first female lead llama groomer on my former team, which has been around for over a decade.) By that point I really wanted out anyways, so while I was trying to get more money in case my plans to leave failed, I didn’t really feel like fighting too hard and making that sort of accusation.

  4. Evil Elf of the Shelf*

    Can anyone tell me what happened to the Worst Boss of 2021 posts? Sorry if I’m the thousandth person to ask.

    1. Filosofickle*

      Alison overlooked that one of the (leading) nominees was actually a letter writer, so she retracted the competition.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        And she also posted that she was going to reconsider the whole “voting for a worst boss” concept. Honestly I have no problem with it going away – and maybe being replaced by something more positive in competition nature.

        1. WellRed*

          Interesting, hasn’t heard that. I think if you are gonna do what some bad bosses do, you get what you deserve. ( but yeah, not if they actually write in).

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            The “more positive” was something a bunch of us posters talked about when Alison posted that she was pulling down this years worst boss.

        2. SpreadsheetSuperfan*

          Is there a link to that discussion or was everything just deleted? I somehow completely missed it!

    1. LW4*

      We were in salary bands that had a lot of overlap. He was in band. I was in band. Promotions generally have people start in the lower part of the band. But as a new full-time hire he got the best offer we could give him, which was towards the very top of his band. And I had gotten lots of raises (I started 40K below what coworker will make when he starts full time). Therefore it was “fair” even though actually they had been getting a bargain with me working for so little, and I was low for my company and for the market even before llama grooming salaries exploded.

      I was really hoping that they’d at least be able to make my salary match his and realize it was inappropriate for that kind of disparity when we did similar work plus I had the extra responsibilities as team lead, but alas. It’s okay though, because he doesn’t become full time until January, so the 8k disparity never happened in actuality and I beat that deadline! Plus it lit a fire under my rear end and got me focused on studying and out of my dysfunctional former team. I hope to someday be able to poach him and my other former report and get them on my new team, because they’re both amazing.

  5. Detective Amy Santiago*

    #2 – I’m so glad to hear that things are improving with your team and you were able to identify what issues were creating the errors.

  6. Maybe not*

    #4 – It’s super normal for managers of internal hires to be notified when they are chosen for a different position in the company. This is not weird. I don’t really see how it’s even objectionable.

    1. LW4*

      The notification happens when you get a first interview, not when you’re chosen. Which meant my manager knew I was looking during the previous failed internal transfer attempts. With a good manager it’s fine, but with a bad manager people are better off looking outside the company so they don’t have to alert their manager that they’re on their way out until they have the offer in hand. So the company fails to retain good employees. Does that make sense?

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yes it makes perfect sense. And for once, there’s a little justice in that bad companies fail to retain the good employees.

  7. Sweet & Low*

    #1 gave me an interesting reality check on my own gender biases. When I read the original post I was under the impression that OP was a woman and, while I agreed with Alison, I was kind of like, “Eh, who cares.” As soon as I read that OP was a man I cringed a little because, for some reason, the idea of a man reading erotica in public was much more off putting to me. Obviously that’s an issue–there’s no reason that I should feel so differently about the two–and it’s interesting to reflect on why I (and others, I’m sure) feel that way.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I felt that for a second too, before reasoning with myself.
      Then at the end, where he explained that he was neurodivergent and thanked Alison for answering with kindness and wisdom, I thought, he appreciates this place for what it really is and that is great. The more men come here and appreciate it, the better!

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