updates: the anonymous criticism, the secret second job, 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. My boss won’t talk to me and gave me a document of anonymous criticism

Your advice helped me to see that, yes, what I was experiencing wasn’t normal or acceptable (I wasn’t crazy!) and all of the commenters also left some really good advice and stories that helped me to see I wasn’t alone in this.

It turns out that the anonymous feedback thing my boss did was ACTUALLY HR’S IDEA. They had him gather the feedback and then used it as the start of a Performance Improvement Plan that ended up being very confusing and vague (immeasurable goals, conflicting statements of success, etc). I took it to an employment lawyer that specializes in the niche field I was working in and explained the entire situation. A lot of other questionnable things had happened at this point, but they were mostly microaggressions that, each time one of them happened, it never seemed like enough of an issue to complain about. Plus, as we know, HR was not my friend here. The lawyer suggested I might have a case for a hostile work environment (I can’t remember if I shared this before, but I’m a female POC) but due to the place and nature of my work, a hard fought case like this would be the one thing I’d end up being known for for the rest of my career. The lawyer provided the same advice and I agreed; that it’s probably just easier – for me – to find a new job.

So that’s what I did. I played along with the PIP and didn’t let them know I was looking for a new job. I changed exactly nothing about the way I worked, the amount of work I was doing, or how I did my work and still managed to pass the PIP six weeks later (sarcasm). By that point I had another job lined up and quit. I’m now in my dream job making twice the salary. My current boss is also very hands off, but the difference is he is always ready, willing, able, and excited to chat with me about my ideas and work and answer any questions I might have.

Back at my old job, my ex-boss started terrorizing a different subordinate. I had worried this might happen and on my way out I insisted on an exit interview with the VP to try and talk about some of the issues I and others had dealt with in the organization, but they didn’t want to hear it. I suppose that was to be expected. But I’m happy to say that she has since also quit.

Thank you so much for the chance to share my question and update. It helped immensely and the community of commenters were so helpful in keeping me sane during one of the most stressful and anxious times of my professional life.

2. My boss only wants to hire from my coworker’s friends (#2 at the link)

I have a good update! My boss decided to go through the interview process with a handful of folks who turned in resumés and a few other people he found from my coworker’s Facebook page.

He ultimately decided to hire a young man who had submitted a resumé twice in the last year and, while he has zero job experience, he’s been lovely to work with and train. We’re still having some growing pains in our office (due to our company being bought out and the transition being harder than expected), but I feel happy with his hiring decision.

I didn’t even have to request that he hire from outside our Facebook friends, he realized on his own it wasn’t a good idea.

Thank you so much!

3. When a boss shares thoughts of self-harm (#2 at the link)

I very much appreciated your advice. My wife chose not to follow through with pressing the issue further. Her boss did not actually self harm. He has, however, been taken to the hospital several times in the last 2 months from work for what are either stress-induced or actual cardiac event symptoms. The last time he said they wanted to admit him to the cardiac ward overnight; instead he signed himself out AMA and went back to the office to work. His wife was with him and my wife heard the same story from both of them. Whether he intends to harm himself or not, I feel he’s following a path that is going to end badly for him. I only hope it happens on a day when my wife isn’t there to be stuck trying to deal with it in person.

I am also hopeful my wife will start actively job seeking elsewhere, since these situations keep stressing her out.

4. Is there a way to find out if someone secretly has two full-time jobs?

There’s an update, but not what I expected: along the lines of what you suggested, he continued addressing and documenting her performance issues, inattention during meetings, and general lack of engagement. She showed “minor improvement” though but the larger issue that came out is she did not provide any documentation to HR by their company’s deadline for all employees to either provide proof of vaccination or open up an HR case to get a medical or religious exemption. It sounds likely she will be placed on some kind of leave until it is resolved one way or another—an entirely avoidable situation too. If I ever hear if he finds out about any secondary employment though, I’ll be sure to reach out.

{ 76 comments… read them below }

    1. J.B.*

      I’m so sorry for what the letter writer went through but happy that the lawyer gave practical advice and that the outcome was the best possible.

      1. Everyone's a Critic*

        Tbh, I was kinda hoping the lawyer would say, “you’ve got an airtight case, let’s sue the millions out of them and make them feel pain,” but that was just the stress of the moment manifesting.

        1. Vanellope*

          No seriously! Even if a lawsuit would not be worth it I was hoping for a sternly worded letter on law firm stationery detailing everything they were doing wrong so at least they might back off while OP job hunted. Regardless OP I’m so glad to hear you’re doing much better now!!

      2. bamcheeks*

        I really like how this letter shows how speaking to a lawyer can work– not, “sue sue sue!”, but calm practical advice that showed LW that she wasn’t in the wrong but which looked at the chances of a lawsuit succeeding very soberly and showed her a lower-stakes but less stressful way out.

        I’m now in my dream job making twice the salary. My current boss is also very hands off, but the difference is he is always ready, willing, able, and excited to chat with me about my ideas and work and answer any questions I might have

        The BEST revenge, LW! Congratulations.

    2. ala*

      Its not as dramatic as some of the other letter, but I’m really amused by the boss in #2, who initially came up with the plan to hire only from his current employees facebook friends, went through with the whole process, ended up with a terrible hire, got rid of her and then decided to hire a replacement… AGAIN from his employees facebook contacts. And only then did it occur to him that he could accept resumes from other people. And of course is delighted when his brilliant new plan of actually posting the job comes up with a decent candidate.

      Small businesses can have some of the funniest issues

    3. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Same, HB! I’m so glad LW got out of that dumpster fire and also that the other person being treated that way got out too, but wow, what an awful place. I don’t know if it’s a big enough place that LW could write an anonymous Glassdoor review but it sure would be helpful if she could because it sounds like people definitely could use a warning to stay far far away from that hellmouth. I’m distressed that places like this exist but of course I know there are far too many of them.

    4. Jules the 3rd*


      It seems to me that sharing this might be a good use of Glass Door. Especially if both you and your former co-worker post about how bad this manager AND hr AND the vp all were. That company sounds like a bad option for POC.

      Glad you are someplace better.

  1. J.B.*

    Letter writer 3 I’m thinking of you and your wife. I hope she looks for and finds something else because wow that is hard to deal with.

    1. Kat in Boots*

      I’m also thinking of your wife, #3. The power dynamics of the situation make her a confidante that the boss probably thinks won’t share these thoughts, and that is very unfair. Most professionals he shared this information with would loop in other individuals. Also, someone needs to try to ascertain what his intentions are, and help him to develop better ways of coping with his state of being overwhelmed than his thoughts (or acts) of self-harm.

      I have a feeling the boss knows (maybe not explicitly, it could be subconscious) that your wife, as a P.A., is unlikely to share this to anyone who would have to do something serious, which is unfair (to the boss, to those who care about him, and to your wife) in a serious situation.

  2. Alex Beamish*

    “I changed exactly nothing about the way I worked, the amount of work I was doing, or how I did my work and still managed to pass the PIP six weeks later (sarcasm).”

    LW #1: I also aced my PIP, but they still terminated me. Once you’re on a PIP, you need to find a new job ASAP — you’re already an ex-employee to HR. Thrilled that it worked out well for you.

    1. Everyone's a Critic*

      Oh man, I’m sorry that happened to you. I’d love to hear from anyone who’s been on a PIP, passed, and achieved a successful work environment thereafter, or from anyone in HR if they actually use them as tools to improve performance or just to provide enough documentation to terminate and/or scare tactics to get the employee in question to leave voluntarily.

      1. FashionablyEvil*

        So, my company does try to use PIPs as actual opportunities for improvement (although they do also use PIPs to manage people out.) I think the problem with PIPs in general is that there’s often a long road to the employee rebuilding their reputation and earning their manager’s trust and confidence again. I’ve seen that take a year or more and at that point are you doing anyone any favors?

        1. MissMapp*

          My department had a finite pool of money for raises. I was put on a PIP for “failing to have enough creative flare [SIC]” – my job was data analytics, and my job was 90% Excel and 10% PowerPoint. Turned out, our boss was sending all her work secretly to a “contractor,” hired him at a low rate, and he was demanding more money to keep doing her work on the sly for her. Eventually, he was laid off due to cutbacks and shortly thereafter, she left. She couldn’t find fulltime work in our industry.
          So a PIP can be a pretext for financial shenanigans, too.

      2. Starchy*

        I put one of my employees on a PIP and it was the jolt she needed to improve. She has grown so much over the past couple of years that I have recommended a promotion.

        1. Kat in Boots*

          I’m glad that your employee improved, Starchy. It sounds like you are a responsible, effective manager.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          The org I work for uses PIP’s for similar reasons as well. We’ve had several people on them recover and keep their jobs. I think the key though is all the PIP’s here are based on performance of duties, and success is quantifiable.
          I know there have been a few people managed out over behavioral issues – but they didn’t land on PIP’s.

      3. MisterForkbeard*

        I have a couple of people on my team that did do that, actually. They’d had a quarter of really spotty performance and had missed a number of deadlines, meetings, and hadn’t done work they’d promised to do. They went on a PIP (turned out they had some severe family issues they hadn’t disclosed) and passed it, and got a ‘meets expectations’ in their yearly review.

        It IS enough to keep the guy from getting big raises for the next year, though. When we try to give raises to someone who was on a PIP in the last 9 months, you get a lot of raised eyebrows. So it’s definitely detrimental to your career, though you can get out of it.

      4. Jay*

        I have an employee who just passed her PIP last month – in fact, I convinced my boss to end it early so she would be eligible for an end-of-year bonus, which she very much deserves. She had one very specific issue that we were working on and then made an error which brought her to the attention of my great-grandboss. I would not have put her on a PIP for the ongoing issue – we had a plan and she was doing well – but TPTB insisted on it when the second thing came up. Second thing was a one-off that she clearly learned her lesson from and she has completely turned it around on the ongoing issue. Definitely a success story.

      5. WS*

        I put someone on a PIP and she improved so rapidly that we took her off it after 2 weeks rather than 3 months. It was her first professional job and while she needed to be more professional and do more work in work hours, it also showed us that our onboarding was not the best. She volunteered to help with that the following year and it was a great experience for everyone. (The other time I’ve used a PIP it ended up with the employee quitting on the spot so this one was a great relief.)

      6. LavaLamp(she/her)*

        I did! I was quite young and not sure in my first job. I passed the probation period very well once I had the right support. I went on to work there for 6 years with annual raises (they didn’t do bonuses) and I had a great relationship with everyone when I left. It just depends on what the org does, and how you yourself handle it. Some orgs use it as a tick box to firing and not a way to allow improvement.

        1. bamcheeks*

          TBH looking back I could have done with a PIP in my first job out of college! I was incredibly busy for three months of a year, but they hadn’t really worked out a workload for the other 9 months, and just sort of suggested projects that I could pick up if I wanted to, but I wasn’t mature or experienced enough at 22 to do that without more guidance and oversight. Someone requiring my manager to define reasonable objectives and a workload for me would have been incredibly helpful.

      7. Candi*

        From what I’ve seen in general, a PIP is what the manager makes of it.

        A tool to boost an employee who might just need that kick in the pants and support to improve?

        A way to manage out a poorly performing worker they don’t want to work on their issues with?

        A weapon to dispose of workers they don’t like?

        And in one comment just a bit back, the company’s only disciplinary process was to put workers on PIPs. From “hey, I must be doing okay” to “What!?!” in 60 seconds. From my read, in doing so, they ran into “if everything is X, than nothing is X”, since there were people there who’d been on PIPs multiple times.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yeah, in this case it seemed less the result of concern over performance issues and more just management somehow lacking the ability to give feedback without that formalized structure?

      8. NoviceManagerGuy*

        As a manager my goal with a PIP is always for the employee to improve and be productive. But I’m always fully aware that it may lead to the employee getting a new job instead, and wouldn’t do a PIP if I wasn’t comfortable with that outcome.

      9. anonymous73*

        Work for the government. You can be on a PIP and as long as you improve just enough to pass you get a clean slate. So if you F up again and get put on another PIP, it’s like the first one never happened and they can’t use the earlier PIP as history to get rid of you. But if you take your smart phone into work, don’t self report and get caught, they can fire you.

      10. Evonon*

        I aced my pip and went on to get a raise. I will be leaving for grad school next year but I learned not every pip is a death sentence

      11. Aitch Arr*

        I’ve been in HR for over 20 years and I’ve seen PIPs that were completed and employees who went on to be successful. Of course I’ve also seen PIPs get extended multiple times and the person is managed out. There’s a spectrum.

        Frankly if someone is doing really poorly I’d rather not set them up for failure by putting them on a PIP and giving false hope. But I’m just an advisor, it’s really the manager’s decision.

      12. Belle Watling*

        Letting myselfget fired at theend of a PIP saved my emotional health.

        I gladly left a job as a contractor with no benefits to take a job doing work in which I was a SME. The new place had a lot of past issues with the work which is subject to significant Federal compliance. Based on my experience with a similar company of the same size, I told them that the right software would be needed to turn the ship around and described a product I had used. Thealternative was t0 hire and train a full-time clerk. The hiring manager said that software would be purchased. As soon as I came on, I did research and made my reccomendation for the product in which I was very familiar but there were similar ones that I liked as well. My direct boss, who had little knowledge of what was entailed in running this function dirsegarded my recommendations as too expensive (35K per year which also eliminated the need for a clerk to assist) and signed a contract at $5,000 which provided little more than a fancy spreadsheet. No clerk was to be hired. It went down hill from there. Without either software or a clerk it was impossible to manage the current volume of cases and comply with deadlines, much less deal with cleaning up a number of old problems. I was bounced through three different direct bosses in short order, had trouble getting timely information and cooperation from others, and was screamed at in foul language by the exec VP in charge. They put me on a PIP which I knew would fail (still no upgraded software or a clerk to handle what the software could do), so I just rode it out until I could find a new job or was fired (and could get unemployment). While I needed a paycheck, I was so glad not to be working for that nuthouse for one more minute.
        I saw the ads for my replacement, feeling sory for that poor soul, but dontcha know that six months after that, an ad for the clerk to assist the main position popped up. I felt vindicated.

  3. Pennyworth*

    Re #4 and two jobs, The Guardian had an article in November about people working two jobs, one even had three! If you search ”Guardian biggest open secret” it will come up.

      1. Candi*

        Are they being paid for their work product, their time, or both?

        If an employer is paying for time, not just work product, then the problem becomes they’re working for someone else during the time they’re being paid for.

      2. BabaYaga*

        From the letter, “performance issues, inattention during meetings, and general lack of engagement”. Really, not every employee is automatically right and every company and manager wrong.

      3. Annie Moose*

        The problem is that people very rarely can actually do two full-time jobs without issue, despite what they may think.

  4. Clefairy*

    #3, I’ve had a boss who used to really explicitly share her suicidal thoughts with me (to the point where one time she paid for my cab to her house to stop her from doing something, and shared that her 8 year old locked himself in his closet sobbing because she TOLD HIM what she was going to do. Big Yikes). It is such an exceptionally stressful place to be, especially considering the power dynamic. You put your own mental health aside because you’re afraid if you set proper boundaries, your job could be at risk. So, so sorry she’s dealing with that. I hope she finds something new soon.

    1. Dragon_Dreamer*

      That poor child! That’s borderline emotional abuse. :( I hope someone was able to help the poor boy.

      1. Clefairy*

        100%. I’ve had to completely emotionally distance myself from that situation for my own sanity. But I’m really sad for her kid.

    2. Golden*

      Agree with everything you said here. I had a situation in undergrad where my work-study supervisor increasingly began to display signs of delusional thinking, including that I was speaking into the office in the middle of the night to steal printer paper. Eventually she took a 2 hour personal call in front of me where she discussed suicidal thoughts/plans, and I made the choice to get help from the department’s student advisor. The situation was fraught all around and I really feel for OP’s wife.

  5. Observer*

    #3 – At least your wife knows that her boss’ wife is aware of SOME of the issues.

    I think her best bet is to start looking seriously for a new job. The situation is stressful, and her boss is crossing boundaries in a big way.

    1. Candi*

      There’s more than one way to self-harm. I’ve been on this roller coaster with [person I care about].

      One of their ways was to put themselves in situations where there was a high likelihood of being harmed. Somehow, they never were. They got counseling, but still have the scars from the more conventional self-harming. (I shared that one AAM letter with them.) They’ve grown and are making their own life.

      The boss… overwork is another way to self-harm.

      The wife needs to get out.

  6. It's All Elementary*

    LW#1. I feel for you. I had a very similar situation where my direct supervisor did not like me at all and I never knew why. I swore he would sabotage my work every chance he got. Since I was new to the company I asked for direction but was told to “figure it out”. So, I did. I found out there was a manual of sorts with instructions on how to do my job. When he found out I had a copy of it, Oh. My. Gosh! He was livid! I “went behind his back” to get information on how to do my job and he wrote me up for it. I could never do anything right in his eyes. I ended up quitting because it was so toxic.

      1. NoviceManagerGuy*

        I’d love to know what role the direct supervisor had in hiring the thread OP here.

        (Not that any answer would justify this!)

    1. Ariaflame*

      Certainly my first technique for ‘figuring things out’ is to see if there is a help file or manual.

      1. B*

        It’s truly unbelievable. Any sane person would hand their employee the instruction manual on the first day of work. This is just someone who didn’t even want the employee in the first place.

    2. B*

      Good lord. That’s just firing someone with extra steps. Why were you hired in the first place if they didn’t want you there?

  7. it's-a-me*

    Number 3, please, please encourage your wife to find a new job, and please ask her to keep and eye on boss for signs he might *harm others*. I have heard too many stories of stressed out individuals going postal (and there’s a reason it’s called that…) from both the media and from friends and coworkers, and I worry for your wife’s safety.

    1. pancakes*

      She definitely needs to look for a new job. However likely or unlikely harm to others is, this is a terribly stressful environment to be working in. I think it’s possible that he is self-harming, too. There are different forms that can take, and the fact that he and his wife both said he was in the hospital for cardiac stuff doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the whole truth.

  8. Susan Ivanova*

    “a Performance Improvement Plan that ended up being very confusing and vague (immeasurable goals, conflicting statements of success, etc)”

    Been there, done that, enjoying the unexpected retirement.

    1. quill*

      Vague PIP that boiled down to “stop having mental health problems,” getting fired six months later, several contract jobs… and now, 5ish years later I have a job that actually treats me like an adult human.

  9. Passing by*

    I’m actually kind of curious why a remote position would need proof of vaccination.

    Regardless, I feel like they’ve just kicked the problem down the road. They’ll still need to deal with the possibly doubleworking employee when she comes back.

        1. amariyah*

          Being fully vaccinated takes 6-8 weeks to accomplish and you also want to give people plenty of time to schedule/find appointments. Why delay? The sooner the better for everyone.

    1. Constance Lloyd*

      Pre-pandemic, I worked for a health org that requires flu shots. Despite being wfh with no patient or coworker contact, I had to receive a flu shot each year or lose my job. I didn’t mind, but several people (who DID have patient contact) would gripe about it but each year. The company’s argument for implementation regardless of work setting was a combination of having a consistent approach across the board plus a bit of leading by example within the community, and I assume a very healthy dose of implementing policies which keep insurance rates down.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        The org I work for requires everyone in my position to have both Covid and flu vaccines, whether or not you are patient facing. Their logic is than many of the non-patient facing roles are also the back-up pool for some patient facing roles. It makes no sense to have the back-up pool if you can’t use them due to vaccination status.

    2. Irishgirl*

      I think that some federal jobs are pushing even remote workers to be vaccinated. If any part of the job required a visit at some point to the office, then yeah they would need it

    3. Candi*

      In the “work is requiring us to travel because they miss us” letter, some commentators mentioned even companies that were fully remote before 3/2020 would have a get-together once a year.

      By taking care of that issue now, they don’t have to fuss about it if covid ever drops to where that’s a practical thing to do.

    4. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      One potential reason – as I understand it the vaccine typically will reduce the severity of symptoms if the person does still catch covid-19 – which would presumably mean less likelihood of being off sick or less time off sick. Across all employees that would be significant.

    5. RabbitRabbit*

      I work for a hospital that required flu vaccinations ever since the H1N1 epidemic. Last year, we were still required to get vaccinated even if we were working from home. This year, flu and COVID-19 vaccinations (boosters currently optional) are required, again even for the WFH people. It’s partially the ‘what if you’ll start working in person’ situation – even though my department will be WFH indefinitely now – but mainly a combination of the public health interests and concern for employee health overall.

    6. Lyudie*

      My company is healthcare-related and the CEO says one reason we have the requirement is that they believe the vaccine is extremely important and want to contribute to people getting vaccinated. There is of course an accommodation process for those who cannot get it for medical reasons. From what I understand, religious reasons aren’t be accepted. Employees who need to be face-to-face had an earlier deadline for getting it. Remote employees like myself have until next June.

  10. Not A Mango*

    I wanted to see the worst boss polls, but I can’t find them. Have they vanished for anyone else, or is it an issue with my computer? Hope there isn’t a bug affecting the site, especially while Alison’s on vacation.

  11. ala*

    Its not as dramatic as some of the other letter, but I’m really amused by the boss in #2, who initially came up with the plan to hire only from his current employees facebook friends, went through with the whole process, ended up with a terrible hire, got rid of her and then decided to hire a replacement… AGAIN from his employees facebook contacts. And only then did it occur to him that he could accept resumes from other people. And of course is delighted when his brilliant new plan of actually posting the job comes up with a decent candidate.

    Small businesses can have some of the funniest issues

  12. Cat in the Hat*

    There were a lot of sensible suggestions for how to handle #4 but let me suggest something more fun..
    The friend should write a gushing LinkedIn post, thanking their team for all their hard work this year, and tagging them all. “And congratulations to Lucy for celebrating a year at Company”

  13. anonymous73*

    #1 So your boss provided you no feedback, wouldn’t help you, you went to HR for help and they put you on a PIP?!?! Wow, I have no words. Oher than congratulations for getting out of that toxic dumpster fire!

  14. 30 Years in the Biz*

    I’m so happy for LW#1! There really seemed to be no other option but to leave. What I recognized in the original letter was strong retaliation. I’m not sure why they occurred, but some strong actions were taken that line up as being common signs of retaliation, including unfair criticism and exclusion. In many cases these type of actions can be subtle, but they still add up to retaliation. I’m hopeful others can be on guard for this. I had no clue what retaliation looked like. I’ve learned now, the hard way, to look out for it. After a management change at a company where I had worked for over 8 years with an exemplary record (raises, bonuses, awards, stellar performance reviews) I landed in a department with a manager who went after anyone who disagreed with them or somehow got in the way of their plans. During the time in the department I was not given goals, not communicated with by my manager, excluded from meetings even though I was a manager myself, had unfounded complaint letters put in my personnel file by the manager’s “flying monkey”, had my manager set up a confrontational meeting with HR (HR flew out from the corporate office!) where unfair criticism was showered on me by both manager and HR. I was able to rebut the criticism with a well-detailed letter I asked be added to my personnel file. At this point though, I knew I was being set up to be forced out somehow. I won’t go into details, but I’ve been several years at a new company with a better product, kinder people, very good HR, great salary and benefits, and no signs of the kinds of behavior I saw at the old place. Old place folded after some failures and remaining activities were transferred to another corporate site. Old manager left the company.

Comments are closed.