updates: the coworker secretly living in the office 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. My coworker is secretly living at the office

I took your advice and asked the COO about the situation. The COO is aware that he is living in the office, and it was approved by the former CEO. She said the new CEO can determine how to move forward with his living arrangements.

2. My boss keeps telling me to clean up my office

First of all, thank you to everyone who offered tips and suggestions in the comments. I realize that I came across a bit like a petulent child because I wrote my original email in a moment of frustration. There are definitely justifiable reasons for me to keep my space tidy.

A position similar to the one I currently hold just opened in another department at our university. The other position has a lot more room for career growth and far more support. I had been trying to find a way to broach the topic with my supervisor as it’s rare that positions in my niche field become available, and the new one has many more long-term opportunities. Before I brought it up with my supervisor, she approached me and told me she thought I’d be a great fit for the other position and that she’d offer me a glowing recomendation for it. She then teared up a bit and apologized to me. She didn’t mention the state of my office specifically, but she said that with all the staff cuts and the pressures of working during Covid she has found herself tense and that it has exascerbated her OCD. She has apparently been struggling with feeling out of control with all the changes in staff and protocol. She said that she doesn’t want to lose me but she has realized that she is ready to start the process of transitioning toward retirement and she’d like to see me settled in a department where I’d have more support and appreciation. I was stunned, to say the least.

I feel optimistic about the possible move and she has been really friendly to me every day since our conversation. No more lists or micromanaging. Thanks again for all your feedback!

3. Starting a new job as a recent widow (#5 at the link)

I was the person who had been widowed and was wondering how to explain to new coworkers at a new place of employment.

I’m happy to say there have been a lot of positive changes in my life in the past 17 months. I found a new job in the marijuana industry in August 2020 and came armed with a lot of photos of my pets and several scripts. My new work came with some really laid back, artistic coworkers and a surprisingly good medical plan. And everyone has pets, so that made the photos a good plan.

I continued working my therapist on my anxiety issues, along with a behavioral therapist by referral. This past summer I was diagnosed as Autistic Level 1 and discovered I have a learning disability at the age of 40. It explained a lot about why I was so confused and concerned about social interactions. I feel like I’ve found my language to explain why I’ve been a little different my whole life. At work, I’ve had to disclose my disabilities for social interactions with an ADA letter. My manager is aware I’ve been widowed, as it does come with specific dates on the calendar that are harder for me to manage. Everyone at work is aware I’m Neurodivergent, and it’s been well recieved.

I’m so grateful for the comments from the readers and your response. There are just not a lot of resources online on “How To People When You’re Widowed”. I was so happy to hear the idea of keeping things light, focus on pets with photos and refocusing the conversation would be acceptable. I think talking about it so much in therapy also helped me realize I was obsessing over my “work mask” and to investigate why that may be. Which eventually led to a diagnosis.

4. My boss is bombarding us with daily sales pitches for an app

Things just kind of petered out. Two or three or three people did sign up and everyone else pretty much ignored the emails and the updates became less and less frequent, and the last one i saw was in September, so yay! Can’t wait to see what kind of ‘perk’ they come up with for next year. Thanks again for your always excellent advice!

5. Taking a better paying job would destroy my current company

Your advice (and the advice and support in the comments) was instrumental to me taking significant steps to change my life; I credit your response and your readers’ comments for gently knocking some sense into me and I’m much happier now. I reflected on my larger career life while also looking for new positions and have decided I am going to go back to school for computer science, and have taken a new job at a mid-to-large company with fantastic benefits on a top-places-to-work list where there is tons of room for growth and they are eager to promote from within; my new job is an administrative support position for the company’s IT department, which I was offered specifically because they know I’m going back to school for computer science and I am being intentionally positioned to move into a new career role there once I’m qualified. The company is more professional, healthy, respectful of boundaries, and even though I’m no longer in a managerial position I’m making more than I was before.

My previous employer has indeed struggled with the position not being filled, and I’m not sure if the position is filled even now. Before I left, I taught my boss how to do my job, and wrote a lengthy manual to guide whoever fills the position. My former manager still texts me often to ask questions about how to do certain things, and I don’t mind responding briefly when I have the time, but I no longer feel responsible for the success or failure of my previous company, despite leaving a crucial role unfilled. One of your readers commented, “Don’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm,” and that became my mantra for that situation, as well as other situations in life, and it has been very helpful for me to ground myself and remind myself that my boundaries are important too. Thank you so much!

{ 63 comments… read them below }

  1. banoffee pie*

    I remember the guy living at the office and I was hoping somebody high up might already know about him. I think I was in the minority when I said I’d just leave it alone anyway, but at least now OP can stop worrying about the fire codes, insurance etc.

    1. MMT*

      I had a coworker (‘Fergus’) who lived in the office for about two months without permission. I work for a pretty large, bureaucratic company in a major US city. Unlike the LW’s coworker, Fergus just had a cube, which he slept in, and certainly didn’t have permission. He kept it a secret but another coworker got suspicious when he came in early one morning and Fergus was scrambling to pack up his sleeping bag and look like he was hard at work. Fergus knew he was going to be leaving the company to go back to school across the country and decided it would be better to just end his lease on time (two months short of his departure) and save some money by living in the office. He managed to pull it off and I say more power to him – it is not cheap to live here.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        Once a temp I managed stayed out after transit stopped running and was near the office, so he just slept on the sofa in the break room. I only found out about it because he told me, and my response was to tell him to keep that to himself in the future because it’s probably not allowed. I didn’t care if he DID it as long as I didn’t find out! If his presence was undetectable, far be it from me to care, but I don’t want to have to decide whether I’m lying for him or not if someone gets suspicious!

        1. PT*

          One gym I worked had a manager who was expected to provide early morning coverage before the subway started running in the morning. But they didn’t pay him enough to be able to afford a cab ride (because they also didn’t pay him enough to live near work, he lived at the end of a long subway line), so he had to sleep in his office on the days he had to do so. Then they had the audacity to get mad at him for sleeping on site.

          He was like, look, do you want me to open, or do you want me to sleep at home? I can only do one or the other.

      2. tamarack & fireweed*

        In a large European city I used to live, there was a pretty well-know case in the university grapevine of a senior professor – I think a pure mathematician – who lived in the office for a while. After his divorce he decided to realize his long-term dream to start living on a house boat. He found a boat and bought it, but it had to be moored in the town he bought it in for a while for repairs, and then there were some logistical/administrative problems getting it to the city where the university was. So he just lived in the office without permission.

        I believe the slow-moving wheels of the administration did ultimately get to him, and start leaning on him. He supposedly succeeded in moving onto his boat, but I don’t know if he got it moved, or ended up retiring and joining up with his river boat.

      3. Meep*

        I had a coworker (he was a contracted external trainer) who lived about 2 hours away and was expected to be in the office a day once a month. He is a camper so he would often come down Friday morning and camp the weekend before going back to his city. Once when they forced him down to be here for a three-day training at the last minute and refused to pay for a hotel room for him, he camped in the office. In this instance, I said nothing at all.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Timely because I just heard something to add to the conversation. A building owner in Louisville discovered someone living on an upper floor of a commercial building. They went in to renovate a long-empty space, and it wasn’t empty. Kitchen and all.
      It’ll be interesting to see how long the person was living there, because Kentucky has laws where after a 15 year residence, a squatter becomes an owner.

      1. Manders*

        What? Where? This Louisvillian needs to know!

        My colleague sometimes sleeps in his office. Originally he was stationed at a satellite office about 2 hours away, but several years ago they closed that office and moved everyone here. He chose not to move because his family liked living where they are. So for the last few years he had rented a small apartment nearby and used it a few nights a week to crash. But with Covid restrictions he got rid of the apartment, and now that we are more opened up, he comes down maybe once or twice a week and stays in his office. But honestly I doubt anyone knows (other than the custodial staff!) and the building/type of work is not necessarily a 9-5 workplace.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          My old boss at the laboratory job slept in the building when he came in (he lived out of state). There was a Murphy bed in his office and a shower in the basement.

          I didn’t find that strange; he was just trying to save money. It did annoy me when he sat at my desk and moved all my stuff around, though. His own desk was bigger than mine!

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Sorry, I’m not from there so they didn’t give me details–not even sure if it’s downtown or the suburbs. I did ask for a link if they see it hit the news.

      2. Littorally*

        A lot of places have adverse possession laws, but it’s a lot more complicated than “after 15 years the squatter owns the place.” Is Kentucky particularly permissive in that regard?

    3. June*

      I’d also leave it alone. Especially when brand new. It’s not OPs job to worry about fire codes and insurance IMO.

  2. Bookworm*

    #3: Wow! I’m so glad so many positives happened to you. Thank you for sharing your update. And thanks to all the LWs as always.

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      I think a lot of people would buy every single book in a series called “How to People When You’re…”

      I mean, I already have several For Dummies volumes on my bookshelf as it is…

      1. Jonquil*

        I don’t want to teach OP anything she probably already knows, but there are quite a few resources out there for young widows. I’m not one, but my friend was widowed at 38, and she has found great community online. Nora McInerny (@noraborealis on Instagram) has written a couple of books about her experience of being widowed at 34, and there are quite a few online communities for younger widows. A lot of it does focus around the challenge of raising young children while dealing with widowhood, which may not be appropriate for OP, but there are some more general widow communities, like the one built around Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B book, although it tends to skew older.

        1. WidowedWeedWorker*

          OP here, thank you! I’ve found a lot of online groups for widows, survivors of domestic abuse and autistic women. I can’t really handle a lot of in person meetings, but I did go to a few from Survivors of Suicide and a Facebook group called The Brave Ladies Club, for suicide widows.

          I don’t talk about being widowed much, but a few ladies at work know and my manager. Everyone knows I’m autistic, because I’d rather people know than think I’m rude because I still don’t remember their face after 3 months or because I don’t understand sarcasm.

          1. Detached Elemental*

            Hey OP, just wanted to say hi from someone else who was diagnosed autistic this year. Nothing to add, just wanted to show you’re not alone.

            1. Scotlibrarian*

              Another person recently diagnosed here, last month, aged 49. It’s so wonderful to finally have a diagnosis so I can tell myself I’m not bad or lazy because im fantastic at some things but terrible at others, my brain works differently, and that’s ok. I’m glad things are going better for you, op, anxiety is awful and I’m glad you found a helpful therapist

              1. Watry*

                I’m so glad I ran across these comments today. I’m planning on getting evaluated once I can bring it up with my therapist, but I’m nervous. One hears a lot about how hard it is to get diagnosed as an adult, especially an AFAB one.

                1. Katt*

                  I am currently waiting for a referral! It is very nerve wracking, for sure. I wanted to go through the public system but that is apparently going to take years, so I might just save some money and go through the private system, even though it’s so freaking expensive… And I know I’m an adult and I am successful enough that a lot of people don’t need it, but… ARRRRRRGH.

                  Isn’t it fun? I am also so glad that I ran across these comments today!! Actually, until I was about 21 or so, people used to think I was autistic quite often. I then spent a couple of years busily building a mask, and now no one really thinks that anymore, they just think I am strange sometimes. That being said, I get the impression that I seem rather hot and cold to people – one day I’m an amazing friend, then suddenly I disappear off the face of the Earth for two weeks. So, I don’t actually know if that’s a good thing.

            2. TiredEmployee*

              Same here, diagnosed in June aged 29. On the one hand yay, I’m not “fundamentally broken” like I thought. On the other hand I thought it was fixable depression making life hard, not permanent neurodivergence. Grumble grumble.

          2. AJoftheInternet*

            I just want to add my blessings and well-wishes. As the daughter of another young widow, I know how isolating that can be, and how much grief (and how many kinds) that can bring. May you always find people who can listen well, be able to form the words for your feelings, and continue to grow in understanding and peace.

          3. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Hi OP! I love your update and am happy to hear you are doing ok. Much love to you and your pets.

          4. Squirrel Nutkin*

            So glad things worked out for you better than you had feared, that’s awesome! : ) And hey there from a fellow prosopagnostic face-blind person! I too try to get out in front of the problem by telling people I’m moderately face-blind, though I’ve still had some very embarrassing non-recognitions on occasion, like having a whole conversation with one person thinking it is someone else. Welp. We do our best.

            1. Squirrel Nutkin*

              Gotta say, Zoom is a great assistive tool for the face-blind! Everyone is so nicely labeled, and if the people I tend to confuse with each other are both on the same screen, it gives me a chance to try to practice noticing and remembering the differences between their faces.

    2. allathian*

      Every time someone posts about their journeys of self-discovery, it warms the cockles of my heart. I mean, obviously being widowed at a relatively young age, and especially losing a fairly young loved one to suicide is a horrible experience that I wouldn’t wish on anyone (and that I doubt anyone who hasn’t gone through it themselves can understand fully, I certainly can’t), but if going through that trauma prompted you to get a diagnosis that helps you manage your life better, something good came out of the awful, and it’s okay to be happy about that.

  3. Squirrel Nutkin*

    These all warmed my heart! And LW #2, I am so very happy for you AND for your soon-to-be-ex-boss, who wound up looking a class act by eventually owning their issues and trying to prioritize what would be best for you. Yay!

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreed. I’m so glad the boss for OP two was able to take a step back, realize they’d crossed boundaries, address the root cause of the issue, and ACTUALLY. apologize to OP. That’s one of the nicker updates I think because it sounds like Boss is actively trying to improve and set up OP for future success.

    2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Seriously. I want to hug the LW’s boss in a workplace appropriate manner for 1) recognizing this was a her thing; 2) owning up to it and letting the LW know it wasn’t an LW thing; and 3) caring enough about the LW’s career to help set her up after the boss retires.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah what a twist for that one! A good story where everyone tries to work on themselves and they hopefully all live happily ever after.

    4. Bumblebee*

      I agree! What a lovely update. OCD can be really debilitating so it’s so nice to see someone be able to take a step back from themselves and actively work to make their own and other’s situations better. I wish both of them all the luck in the world, especially the LW with their new position!

  4. JelloStapler*

    Such a positive update, LW #2!

    LW #5, as an empath and recovered people pleaser, that’s my mantra too.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Wonder if the Old CEO overrode the COO, and in response the COO decided to wash their hands of the situation.

        At any rate my major concern was accidents happening and nobody knowing that Fergus was living there. If it’s known he’s there then (while I don’t love it) he’s at least likely to be looked for should the absolute worst happen to the building after hours.

        1. Kevin Sours*

          I think it’s more that the old CEO put the company in a very awkward position. The employee very likely relied on the banana crackers assurances the former CEO gave and going back on promises by previous management is… problematic to say the least. On the other hand, it’s nuts and can’t keep going on. I don’t blame the COO for wanting the person who’s going to have to deal with the consequences of how the company navigates that situation to be the one to make the decisions.

          Plus I would not be surprised if this doesn’t make the top 10 list of landmines the former CEO left behind. At which point it’s all going to meld into a mindset of “let the person we’re going to hire to clean this up clean it up”.

    1. Dhaskoi*

      I think it’s one of those things where the perception is that it’s really crazy, but that’s not necessarily the reality.
      Depending on your commute, your finances and how long you plan on doing it, I can empathize with the impulse.

      Admittedly, it did sound like Bob had moved in pretty thoroughly, which is a slightly different matter.

    2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Mr. Gumption must work in banana crackers places or it is just his industry, but at least 1-2 times a year a coworker is sleeping in the office due to being kicked out/in the process of divorcing by their SO. It is so common that they even have a board to sign up on. It is an office that is open 24/7 to staff due to periodic long days/weeks and there is 1 group that is staffed 24/7 so maybe that makes it less weird?

      1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        I can definitely see that happening, and I don’t think I’d bat an eye at it. It’s the level to which the LW’s coworker has moved in that is banana crackers.

        I also needed that privilege check from Dhaskoi. I sometimes forget how lucky I am to have no commute most days and the financial security (finally, at 46) to not be constantly worried I won’t be able to pay my rent if an emergency like my car breaking down happens. Just thinking about the past when that was the case makes me anxious and way more understanding of the live-at-the-office thing. Thank you for that. :)

      2. River Otter*

        I’m sorry, there is a sign up sheet to sleep/live in the office? O.o
        I wasn’t even fazed by the original letter, but the thought that this is such a common thing that there is, I guess, a designated part of the office for couch surfers and a reservation system…That fazes me.

        1. Imaginary Friend*

          In pharma places where labs have living cultures that need to be checked on their schedule, not some puny human sleep schedule, I can totally see this happening.

  5. Mid*

    My office building has a gym in it, so there’s a full shower and lockers. The number of times I’ve considered trying to live out of the office instead of paying the skyrocketing rent where I live…..basically, good for the coworker in #1. I hope things continue to work out for him.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreed – that sounds like it will/would be an “interesting” conversation. Wonder if it will actually take place?

    2. Mr. Random Guy*

      Yes! “Here are your keys, here’s your onboarding paperwork, and also Bob is living at the office. How would you like to handle that?” Their jaw will hit the floor.

  6. Candi*


    Yes! Yes! I’ve been there! The stress of wondering why you’re so strange, why you don’t seem like anyone else, why you can’t do what other people easily seem to do, why your mind tilts in a way no one else seems to get.

    And then… you get the answer! You aren’t strange and weird! There’s an explanation, a name for it! You’re no longer alone!

    That moment… there’s nothing like it. Congratulations, and best wishes as you go forward in your life.

    1. WidowedWeedWorker*

      Yes! It’s been a whirlwind, and frankly, the more I talk about it, the more I’m finding people in my life feel better discussing their own issues. I’ve had 2 coworkers come to me and say they’ve started getting help after seeing the difference in my confidence the past few months (One was high anxiety, the other suspected she was ADHD).
      I’ve found that reading or listening to books by autistic women has been extremely helpful too. There’s people out there that understand what I’m going through and why I’m so different! It’s amazing!

      1. Candi*

        The first time I picked up a book about ASD and case studies, it was like “whose been looking over my shoulder my whole life?” It just fit?

        I got the official diagnosis later, but that moment of understanding. And for me, being able to name it -it was the first time I believed the old stories about names having power.

  7. anonymous73*

    #5 I’m glad things worked out for you. You always need to put you first in your career. A company will not hesitate to lay people off/cut pay if it helps their bottom line. That’s not to say that they don’t care about their employees or wouldn’t feel bad about doing it, but this is why you shouldn’t make career choices based on the effects of you leaving. Even if they are the best company in the world, if you’re underpaid, unhappy and/or there’s no room for growth, you need to do what’s best for you.

    1. Antilles*

      I agree and I’m also going to add that as part of this “take care of yourself”, #5 should really no longer be answering texts either. They’re not paying you for that time and energy and they should really be fixing their own problems by filling the role – rather than continuing to rely on an ex-employee to keep answering questions long after leaving.
      A single short email or a quick call a few days afterwards? Sure. Beyond that timeframe and level of commitment, heck no.

  8. noahwynn*

    In college I “lived” at work for a few weeks during winter break each year when the dorms were closed. I worked as a paramedic though, so there were already beds and showers at the station though. Also, I would pick up a bunch of extra shifts to make extra money and it just kinda worked out. I’m pretty sure my supervisor knew what was going on but no one ever asked questions. I couldn’t afford to go home to my parents and my coworkers didn’t care because I would take any shift they wanted to drop around the holidays.

  9. I'm just here for the cats!*

    #2 I’m glad that your boss is giving you a good recommendation. Their explanation totally makes sense on why they were telling you to organize. They were feeling overwhelmed and trying to keep a hold on anything they could. I’m glad that your boss realized what she wants was doing.

  10. Polite Persistence*

    #1: I worked at a company that had motion-detector alarms from 9pm-6am…so staying overnight wasn’t an option. A new hire decided to combine working late with the wine she bought at lunchtime. She passed out, woke up to police glaring at her, and was escorted from the building…never to return. I applied for her job and got it. Part of my pitch? “I promise not to pass out drunk at my desk.”

  11. DrRat*

    I just want to say that “Don’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm” is the advice I wish I had heard when I was in my twenties. If you manage anyone, if you’re a parent, if you work in mental health or social services, please keep that in your mental Rolodex for future use.

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