updates: my reference told people I’m job hunting, the unmanageable workload, 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 five updates from past letter-writers.

1. A person I asked to be a reference is telling people I’m job hunting

Based on your advice and the comment section I did not volunteer the information to my direct boss about what was going on, but I did speak to the person who was a reference. I let them know that I was not ready to share any information about job hunting until I knew the outcome of the interview process and that I wasn’t pleased that they had been telling people about my application. Since that point the reference person does not speak to me on a personal level at all and actively goes out of their way to avoid me for work related conversations. To the point that my direct boss noticed and asked me what was going on and I was more or less forced to explain myself.

On a personal note I was offered the position I was interviewing for but it took over 8 weeks from the final interview for that hiring decision to be official and in that time my boss came to me and offered me a promotion and raise above what was on the table with the other institution. I made the choice to stay where I am with the new title and additional responsibilities. My boss feels that I am thriving and since I explained what had happened and that I was looking elsewhere she has offered to help mentor me and steer me in the direction of professional development opportunities that will help me when I do decide to move on from where I am.

So in the long run I am down one reference and someone I maybe considered a friend but I have realized that my boss is pretty great and I have advanced my career pretty significantly.

Thank you for your help!

2. How do I manage an unmanageable workload?

There has been no change in my workload (except to increase slightly) and I still haven’t figured out the best task management system. But something really changed for me by reading all the comments. Before, I constantly felt like I wasn’t doing enough and I wasn’t measuring up to my peers. The comments made me realize that the expectations are not reasonable and that I’m not a failure for not being able to meet unrealistic expectations. This alone has made the job more bearable. I also spearheaded a working conference to help my team come up with possible solutions to our staffing issues, which helped raise my profile and, who knows, may even result in some minor positive changes. Thanks to everyone for their suggestions and encouragement!

3. Bringing an on-again, off-again boyfriend to the holiday party (#2 at the link, first update here)

Cecil and I ended up breaking up in May 2021. I learned that during the 4 years we were together, he had another girlfriend of 18 months. Our relationship had gotten a lot more serious over the last 2-3 years, talking about marriage, me moving in, etc. Only to find out that he had been cheating on me for literally years.

The night I found out, I called my direct supervisor and sobbed/told her what happened and that I wouldn’t be in the next day. My coworkers and grandboss have been SO supportive. The day I was out, grandboss kept going up to my supervisor and asking things like “she doesn’t live with Cecil right? We would need to get her out of there this weekend” and such. My coworkers have been very sweet, asking me how I’m doing, buying me lunch/coffee, etc.

This year we aren’t having a holiday party with spouses, mostly due to Covid…. but I think my supervisor also knows I would NOT want to go a party as the only single employee.

4. My coworker is copying my clothes and hair

So, I started off by keeping conversations short and not as friendly as they used to be. However, since this person is in a higher up position and can make things difficult for me. I’ve noticed that she does shove extra, unnecessary work my way. Strangely she still seems to want interpersonal validation and tries to keep communication going. Initially I did feel I might have judged too soon but seeing how unpredictable and demanding she can get I think maintaining strong boundaries was the only thing I could do here. I wasn’t able to bring up the copying issues you suggested in your response.

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

I’ve happily been with my company for almost 6 months and I just got promoted to a supervisory role! I’ve been enjoying my work there but I missed managing a team. Now I get to keep doing some direct service while managing others and helping to shape and develop a department! Yay me!

{ 62 comments… read them below }

  1. Bookworm*

    Thanks once again to all the LWs for sharing their updates! I’m so sorry #3 that is how things ended, although I’m glad your colleagues, bosses, were all so supportive. Best of luck to you.

    1. PollyQ*

      Yes, it’s not the kind of firm work/life boundaries we tend to advocate for around here, but there’s something very sweet about a grand-boss wanting to ride in to the rescue, and it does seem to be helpful for LW to have that kind of support.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I agree that it’s not the clean and clear separation that we normally want to see – but I also love the support for an employee as a person that they were showing. In a time where work has been so crappy for many employees it’s nice to see employers that care about the whole employee, not just the work part.

    2. Jackalope*

      My first serious relationship breakup happened at work; I would normally never break up with someone I’d been dating for several months over text but he was a Negotiator (part of his job and a bit part of his personality), and when I’d tried to do it before he took my, “This isn’t working. We need to stop seeing each other,” as the start of negotiations rather than the end of a relationship. So after I ended it I went back in to the office (I’d been on my break) and started crying. My boss (who was a very warm and compassionate person) gave me a big hug and told me that I was wonderful and the guy didn’t know what he was losing and he was glad I was getting out of a relationship with someone who clearly hadn’t appreciated me. Pouring my heart out to my boss was probably not the most professional thing I could have done (I was just so distraught and he was there willing to listen), but it helped a lot. Both in helping me make it through that horrible day (until I could get home and call my sister who I could really pour my heart out to), and in helping my bruised heart the next few weeks as I recovered, knowing that my community loved and supported me.

    1. Meep*

      Yeah… It is nice they are caring rather than spiteful*, but it made me cringe to hear.

      *my manager once INSISTED that I break up with my boyfriend of 8 years because she was fighting with her boyfriend. The warning signs were as soon as she learned I had a boyfriend, every illness because “are you pregnant?” She was not invited to the wedding.

      1. Pumpkin215*

        Agreed. This sounds like more information than a supervisor/grand boss needs to hear. I cringe at the idea of ever sobbing to my manager about my personal life.

        Have I done it? Yep, back in my 20’s when I was young and didn’t know any better. Looking back, it really put my manager in an awkward position. If I did that today, my supervisor would think I lost my mind.

        I’d advise the LW to keep their personal life more private in 2022.

        1. Lana Kane*

          I want to give a counterpoint on this, because I think we just don’t have enough info to know if they are truly too invested in the OP’s life, or that the OP overshared.

          I had an employee who had been having issues with attendance and performance. Before I came to her to start the conversation, she came to me because she wanted to give me some context. This employee was being abused by their partner and the last incident landed them in the hospital. The employee was in the process of trying to move out, and needed personal days to do it, but had already exhausted their time off. In the process of telling me, they cried – a lot. I’m not sure how you couldn’t, when everything is so fresh and you are in the middle of living it. I reached out to my boss (their grandboss, with their permission), and we agreed we’d do what we could to support them. There are things that we can do as employers to help – maybe help with a paycheck advance, etc. My grandboss would follow up with me to see how the employee was doing and if they still needed anything. I think in part GB was concerned that the employee would be too afraid to ask .

          I think we should remember that people write their letters and updates using shorthand – they might not feel they have to go into all these explanations. The OP appears to be ok with her employers’ reaction – coming down on how wrong it was when it seems to have helped seems unnecessary to me.

          1. Smithy*

            I agree with this.

            I also think there are a number of behaviors that don’t fit in with the more sanitized world of perfect professional behavior – such as dating colleagues or having a more personal friendly relationship with your manager. But they also happen all the time without resulting in wildly unprofessional or problematic outcomes.

            I’ve seen on AAM a few letters about more junior colleagues baby/pet/house sitting and assorted difficult outcomes. I also have a friend who’s regularly cat sat for a more senior colleague. When I shared my “I read AAM, and FYI this could go pear shaped” deep insight, I was echoed by some other friends that this sounded potentially really problematic and a bad idea to continue. But she’s don’t it for years and years, it’s never been an issue on either side, the end (though that’s mostly a COVID thing).

            I think these guidelines are ultimately really important to know because while they may be broken in many workplaces and have less problems – having those boundaries can be sanity saving in more problematic workplaces. I have a friend who based on her childhood experience with a family business and then some early jobs was very used to coworkers becoming very close friends. She then started a new job with that same energy and ended up in a lot more problematic situations because of issues with the larger organization.

          2. Quack Quack No*

            You’re an absolutely excellent and humane supervisor. So many managers would have fired her to get rid of “the problem”.

          3. Meep*

            For me, it isn’t so much that it isn’t “relatable”. (Again, I overshared as evident in now I cannot have the flu without being asked if I am “expecting”.) In hindsight, my “overshare” (that I was in a relationship) is actually not so much of an overshare to an actual adult. It is a small, really insignificant factoid about a coworker. To a catty 60-year-old stuck in the mindset of a teenager when someone tells you they have a boyfriend so that you stop asking them if they find their male coworkers ~hawt~ it can definitely be used against them as ammo to imply they aren’t working “hard enough”.

            The point is to be mindful of WHO your coworkers are and make sure you are not putting yourself in a precarious position where you are now being looked at as “less than” and to invite them to comment on your personal life when they have no business commenting. I know mine is an extreme case as I work with an absolute loon. But I would rather people be cautious than have to endure a lecture about how you should buy a house you are renting without your partner of 10 years knowing so he is forced to pay your mortgage with none of the benefits of homeownership (also something she insisted I do).

            Again, I am glad it worked out for LW#3. However, for someone who didn’t share my entire love life with my manager (literally all I told her was I had a boyfriend of 8 years. That is it.) and still watched it backfire against me, LW is very, very lucky.

            1. Observer*

              However, for someone who didn’t share my entire love life with my manager (literally all I told her was I had a boyfriend of 8 years. That is it.) and still watched it backfire against me, LW is very, very lucky.

              I disagree with that. I think that to the extent there is luck involved, it’s you who are having luck. Just very, VERY BAD luck. Because what you are describing is waaaaay out there. It’s a good thing that she’s an utter outlier, because to keep someone like that from weaponizing stuff, you would need to pretend that you are not a human being with relationships. Not even a pet. You really can’t draw any conclusions about how people should behave based on people like that.

              I hope you can get out of there. It sounds like an utterly miserable situation.

            2. JSPA*

              “My boss is so out-of-norms as to be breaking the law” is not reason enough for everyone else to guard against every boss potentially being that way.

              There’s no amount of boundary-policing that can entirely ward off the shitty tail of the bell curve. Short of never saying anything to anyone.

              Though IANAL, what you’re describing fits the legal definition of sexual harassment. Also gender discrimination, unless boss does the same thing to men who admit to having girlfriends.

              I understand that you may not be in a position to take legal action (or not in a location under those laws).

              But broadly speaking, harassment and discrimination are things to push back against or use the law against, not something to anticipate and work around.

            3. Candi*

              This sounds to me like a case of consciously recognizing something as an outlier, while subconsciously normalizing it due to being in the middle of the mire.

              Your boss is flat-out bananacrackers, and if you wrote in to Alison, she’d almost certainly tell you to find another job. That amount of invasiveness puts your boss maybe one step above the boss in “my boss makes me wear her clothes, eat her food, and say I’m grateful for my job”. It in no way compares to even most of the toxic bosses seen here or at Not Always Right.

          4. Constance Lloyd*

            Agreed, I read this as LW called out of work and, as a side effect of being human, cried in the process. Her employer then responded with compassion and support. I would be mortified to have my office know so much about my romantic ups and downs, but in LW’s case I don’t think it happened because she lacked appropriate professional boundaries. She just works somewhere that recognizes their employees are also people.

          5. Your Local Password Resetter*

            Agreed. OP said she told her supervisor of her own accord, so it’s not like they were trying to pry into her life, or force their help on her.
            And I’d rather have the occasional work-life boundary blurred if it means helping people in a crisis.

            1. I should really pick a name*

              My concern is with the reaction “she doesn’t live with Cecil right? We would need to get her out of there this weekend”

              It comes from a place of good intentions, but it feels like the office is trying to make decisions for the LW

      2. Observer*

        *my manager once INSISTED that I break up with my boyfriend of 8 years because she was fighting with her boyfriend

        OK, your manager is both a boundary stomper and a loon. But it doesn’t sound like the OP’s workplace is anything CLOSE to that. It’s really not helpful to say “no one should ever do X” because there are terrible people who do an insane and abusive form of X.

    2. JSPA*

      In general, it’s important to draw boundaries. When you fear, however, that you may be the only reasonable point person, as far as support for someone leaving an abusive situation, that’s an entirely separate situation.

      If the office, over the years, had picked up on some red flags, or if they’d misunderstood the series of breakups to be borderline abusive and thus anticipated escalation, they might well have been…not entirely off-target…if they formulated this as, “needs intervention / could become ugly in a violent way.”

      Ditto if they feared she might have no place else to go, and might leave anyway, only to find herself in a problematic location, during a pandemic.

      The fact that they worked through the situation and didn’t intervene means they keyed it out correctly–no immediate threat from the BF, no risk of the OP spending the night, during the pandemic, sleeping at a greyhound terminal.

      Considering acting on things, and letting someone know that they can count on you, if things ever actually ARE that bad, is something more of us should probably offer to each other–while at the same time, scrupulously observing normal limits, for all the normal problems in life.

  2. Chria*

    4 – is she directly above you in the chain of management or somewhat to the side? Would it be worth talking with your actual supervisor about her behaviour and how you feel it’s retaliation for not being comfortable with her boundary-stomping overtures? I find it hard to believe no one else has noticed so she might be a missing stair, but maybe your direct managers could help shield you from some of the unnecessary work or clarify what you’re actually supposed to be working on.

    1. Nick*

      I think that she isn’t helping anything by staying mum. If the only action she has taken to to have short, unfriendly conversations then that really isn’t taking action or addressing the situation. It is passive aggressive and just makes her seem like the one with the issues.

  3. Elizabeth West*

    #3–I’m so glad your coworkers had your back, OP. They seem very kind.

    Cecil is a putz and I hope he steps on a LEGO every single day for the rest of his life.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      My version is: I hope they step on Duplos every day.

      (For those unfamiliar with them, Duplos are toddler sized legos – they are even worse to step on because of their bigger size they end up leaving multiple bruises on the foot.)

      1. Just Another Zebra*

        Duplos are 100% worse than regular Legos.

        Signed, someone with a scar on her foot from a purple Duplo

  4. Paloma Pigeon*

    Re #1 – that’s what you get when you take more than 8 weeks (2 months!) between final interview and offer – let’s hope the current tilt in workers’ favor in hiring results in shorter processes across the board in 2022.

  5. learnedthehardway*

    OP#1 – I think you’re ultimately better off without a “friend” like that person. I’m glad that things worked out for you at your job. Your friend/reference really could have done a lot of damage with their inability to keep a secret.

    OP#4 – your co-irker is weird and retaliatory. I’d do what I needed to do to manage through while maintaining boundaries.

    1. Antilles*

      Completely agree on #1. That’s a reference OP#1 is better off without – it worked out fine this time, but there’s no guarantee you will be equally lucky next time you’re searching.

    2. Cmdrshpard*

      I think OP 1 had a right to say something about keeping it quiet, but if they never explicitly asked for the friend/reference to keep it quiet it was partially their fault. I think the old saying about assuming applies here.

      I would never share that I am job hunting with anyone I currently work with, or ask them to be a reference unless I was comfortable with my supervisor/employer finding out about it. If I had to I would make sure to ask to keep it a secret.

      But if a coworker asked me to be a reference along with other coworkers and they didn’t ask me to keep it a secret I would assume that person was open about their job search. This is the two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead type deal.

      But my general philosophy is if you tell more than one person it is no longer a secret, you might have a hope to keep it quiet but you no longer have a secret.

      I think OP went a little to far by saying they were “displeased about the job search being shared at work.” Asking the coworker to stop sharing the job hunting news is fine. But being displeased at a boundary being crossed that you had not previously set seems a bit much.

  6. Lucy Skywalker*

    I feel bad for 1,2, 3, and 4, but at least 1,3, and 4 seem to be in a better place. I also feel bad for 4’s coworker as she seems to have a hard time understanding social skills and boundaries.

  7. Pickaduck*

    I’m happy when people report getting a promotion and a raise after putting in their resignation, but man it would be nice if it didn’t take that to be recognized!

  8. EPLawyer*

    #2 – minor changes are not what you need. You need a company that realizes that if they burn people out, NO WORK gets done. They can’t keep piling work on people and expect a good outcome.

    We’ve said it often here, you can’t care more about the job than the company does. You need to look out for yourself. Your position is NOT sustainable. You need to develop an exit strategy.

    1. Artemesia*

      yeah what’s with a ‘committee to study the staffing problem’; management should be able to figure out they need more staff and hire people.

      1. WellRed*

        I wondered that myself. Staffing issues? Hire staff. If hiring is not an option sitting around talking about it not only won’t help…it takes up time.

    2. Candi*

      As Alison said a few years ago to someone in a similar position: Stop juggling the balls and let them drop.

      Don’t let management pretend that everything’s fine because everything’s still getting done, just a little more slowly. Let them feel the pain.

  9. anonymous73*

    #3 I’m sorry Cecil was such an ass, but this stands out to me…

    “but I think my supervisor also knows I would NOT want to go a party as the only single employee”

    I am NOT victim blaming so don’t come at me, but you may want to do a deep dive into yourself and figure out why this is such an issue. Did you ignore signs about Cecil because you dreaded being the single one? As someone who spent the majority of my 20s and 30s as the third/fifth/seventh wheel, I get that it can be less than fun to always be the single one in a bunch of couples (and I get ignoring signs that your beau is less than stellar), but unless you’re doing something especially couple-y, why can’t you just go and have fun and stop focusing on the singledom of it all?

    1. Blaise*

      I don’t know of anyone who would want to be the only single person at an event immediately after a devastating breakup…

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Been there, done that, and ended up having to spend the entire event explaining where Ex-Fiancé (who had dumped me just the day before) was.

        It was beyond MISERABLE.

        (Oh, and the creep tried to come crawling back two weeks later – claimed it was a mistake and his nerves had gotten to him. No, I didn’t take him back.)

      2. tamarack & fireweed*

        I guess this is a mismatch of social and maybe cultural environment. I’ve never really functioned in a very couples-focussed social setting. (As part of the LGBT+ community, I probably selected against them for a long time, though now that I’m married and fairly settled, I again don’t notice so much. My partner is not someone inclined to socializing, so I’m mostly going alone nonetheless.)

        1. tamarack & fireweed*

          (Also, where I’m coming from it would be considered highly rude to inquire after your partner if you aren’t otherwise close and would therefore already know the basics. That is, “and where’s what’s-their-face” is pretty much guaranteed not to have an earth-shattering answer.)

    2. Junebug*

      I read that as simply not wanting to rub salt in the wound. It’s only been months since a 4-year relationship ended horribly, not wanting a reminder AT WORK isn’t a sign of dysfunction.

    3. alienor*

      I guess it depends how couple-centric the party is. If it’s truly all people and their spouses, and they all knew your former partner and know about the breakup, I can see it getting awkward. (I was widowed quite young, and if I had a dollar for every person who told me not to worry because I’d find someone else, I could have just gone to Partners ‘R Us and purchased the latest Spouse 3000 model.) I feel like it’s different if someone’s been single for a while and everyone is used to that.

      1. Observer*

        could have just gone to Partners ‘R Us and purchased the latest Spouse 3000 model

        LOL! But, yeah. That’s not what people want to hear. And I really can’t think of any downside to NOT telling someone “Oh, you’ll find someone new” unless they TELL you that they WANT to find someone new. Otherwise? Just, no.

        1. Candi*

          After my divorce, I heard from so many: “When you get married again.” Nope.

          I think the push for everyone to be in a relationship is part of what’s screwed up with this world, right next insisting partners must have paperwork to live together and everyone needs to have kids. (+7B even with covid, no they don’t.) Just take people as they are and let them live their lives. (Obligatory caveat about them not hurting others.)

  10. Wisteria*


    When I read that you told your colleague that you weren’t pleased they shared the news, I didn’t need to read the rest of the paragraph to know what the outcome of that would be. AAM called it in her initial response:

    You could explain how upset you are, but if you still want to use this colleague as a reference, it’s probably in your best interest to just set the record straight and leave it there (and be careful about spelling out everything for her in the future). Keeping your eye on your ultimate objective here (getting good references and moving to a new job), I think you’re better served by that approach than by chastising her; it’s better that she continue thinking of you warmly and not defensively. That’s not to say a chastising wouldn’t be deserved — it would be — we’re just talking about what best serves your goals.

    Call it a lesson learned: always keep your eye on the end game and what you hope to achieve.

    1. Audiophile*

      The original question was posted, I think last week, with a link to the first update. That’s probably why it looks so familiar.

    2. Candi*

      This update for #3 was originally posted in the comments of the first update for #3. Alison apparently copied it here so more people could see it. :)

    1. allathian*

      Fair point. But if you’ve just had a relationship end horribly, and every other attendee at the party is bringing their spouse… I guess I wouldn’t want to go under those circumstances either.

  11. feral fairy*

    TW: mentions of suicide
    I have to admit, I cringed a little when I read the line in LW3 about sobbing on the phone to a supervisor. But now that I think about it, part of the reason why I cringed was that in moments of vulnerability, I have also cried to managers before. And I don’t like how it feels, even though for the most part they have been supportive. I don’t think I would cry to a manager about a bad breakup (not because anything is wrong with that but it just hasn’t happened to me before), but I did cry to my manager when my ex-partner had been missing for 3 months and then a very close friend from childhood (with whom I had lost touch) also went missing for a week and was found after she had ended her life. I went to ask if I could go home early and ended up breaking down.
    It sounds like LW 3 works in a supportive environment and has worked with a lot of the same peers for several years. There shouldn’t be anything wrong with showing emotion when something is going on that impacts your work, so long as it’s not a thing that you do all the time. Unfortunately, in a lot of work contexts, sharing those kinds of details can backfire, so it’s more a case of whether you can trust that your supervisor won’t hold it against you and will show you some grace, and also knowing how much detail to disclose (ie ‘I found out Cecil has been cheating on me for a long time and we broke up’ versus ‘I found xyz on Cecil’s phone, I confronted him, he said this, I said that, etc’).

    The one thing I also wanted to comment on was the line about being the only single person at work parties. It makes sense to me that going to an event like this so soon after a bad breakup can be really hard, especially when you used to attend with him. I don’t want to sound insensitive, but I think after some time passes (and hopefully when it’s safe) if one of these events is held by your boss, I hope that at work you are able to detach your situation from your coworkers’ relationship statuses and either enjoy yourself to the extent possible and bring a buddy or hold back on attending if it’s going to be too much. Not that I get this impression from your letter, but it’s just a good idea to be aware of if you are externalizing some of your hurt in how you talk to coworkers leading up to these events. Sometimes when people are struggling with feeling single and are surrounded by people who are not, they can make comments directed at these people that are unintentionally hurtful. That being said, if people who are not in a relationship are treated differently at these events than people who have partners, that is a problem.

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