updates: the photoshopping coworker, the boss at the barbecue, 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 coworker photoshopped my head shot to make me look younger and thinner

Before my letter was published, I immediately responded to the person and asked him if there was a problem with the original headshot, because I would be happy to return to the corporate photographer for another round. If there was no problem, please replace the edited photo with the original immediately. He replaced the edited photo the next day, but he did not send a reply to my email.

After Alison responded, I felt more empowered to discuss the situation with the temporary supervisor/mentor for my rotation. I showed him a side-by-side of the original to the edited headshot, and he literally gasped. He thanked me for letting him know and he spoke with the admin assistant. In hindsight, I really should’ve said something to the admin directly, but I am averse to confrontation and tend to cry when I’m mad or frustrated (the worst!), and I didn’t want to risk crying in the office or raising my voice.

I appreciate everyone who took the time to comment; this was truly egregious photoshop that left me looking like I’d had loads of plastic surgery on my face. I was worried that my colleagues would see this headshot and think that I was the one who submitted it! It looked only vaguely like me. Imagine using the strongest facetune you can find and submitting that for your company headshot, and that’s what he posted.

I’m still at the company, I love it and will be here for a long time. About a year after I finished that rotation, I took a permanent position in that leadership division. The admin assistant never made eye contact with me or spoke to me unless I spoke to him first. I think he truly thought he was being helpful and being kind to me – there was obviously no malintent. I used that unedited headshot for years, it was one of my favorites (even with the freckles and the extra 20 lbs).

2. How can I convince my employee not to work until 2 AM?

Your advice definitely helped.

This particular employee and I have had several conversations on this topic over the last year and have gotten to a place that works well for both of us. She honestly believes that she does her best work late at night since it’s a time to be free of family obligations and other distractions of the day. I don’t have any problem with this as again she produces consistent quality work. As far as sending late-night emails, the solution that we ended up agreeing on is that it’s okay if she’s sending these emails when they’re only to me, her manager, but for anyone else the “Delay Delivery” option in Outlook is a better choice. This solves the problem of her wanting to make sure I am up to date on her work without causing others to wonder why she is working at 1 am. I’ve also made sure to let her know that it’s OK if she takes some time for herself earlier in the day, even if it’s during traditional work hours (as long as she’s not missing any important meetings). She has been very accepting and gracious about all of this.

Another aspect of managing that this has brought to my attention is how important it is to communicate clearly on deadlines. I realized that I am sometimes guilty of not communicating clearly enough on deadlines, sometimes resulting in my staff rushing to get things done that I didn’t actually need until days or even weeks later. I think that in my mind, I would often think “there’s plenty of time to get this done, I don’t really need to set a firm deadline” but I’ve realized that doesn’t always translate that way to my employees, and I feel terrible when I realize I’ve made someone feel obligated to work late at night unnecessarily. Trying to be better at communicating on this has also helped me in making sure that people are only “working late” when they choose to or on the rare occasions that it’s absolutely necessary.

3. My coworker goes through my desk and throws away things I need to do my job

The advice I received from Alison and the commenters was really solid. I especially liked the idea about a locking desk. While that was not an option for me, I have begun using a set of locking filing cabinets to store anything that doesn’t go home with me each week. More than anything, it was nice to have someone validate my outrage. After ten years of her nonsense and no real resolution from my boss, I was starting to doubt myself and wonder if I was overreacting.

However, before the response to my letter was even posted, Jane approached me at the office and referenced something she had found while looking through my desk and I let her have it. I was very careful to keep my tone professional and to not raise my voice. But I was very firm when I stated that if something is within my workspace, then I am handling it and she need not be concerned. She was obviously angry about the pushback but really has no options short of going to my boss to admit that she again went through confidential documents without authorization again. That seems to have worked for now.

In other news, starting January 1, I will no longer be an employee of the company but an independent contractor. My boss and I have been discussing this for the last year. This will allow me to take on other clients outside of my current firm, but it also gives me the opportunity to spell out in my contract that I am not responsible for any documents/items left in my workspace until the scheduled day that I come into the office to collect them. If Jane (or anyone else) goes through items left in my workspace prior to me taking possession, it is an internal matter that will have to be dealt with by my boss.

Thank you to everyone for your advice and commiseration.

4. My boss showed up at my friend-group barbecue (#2 at the link)

I wish it had been as easy as asking the friend not to invite my manager. That was the request made by the core group friends to their friend without me even making that request. Their friend was incredibly offended and said that my manager had a great time and should be invited all the time. By the time I heard about it, the core group friends had disinvited their friend from any of the core group gatherings though. My manager brought it up in a couple one on one meetings, saying it was a great night and they really enjoyed my friends. Well, yeah, my friends are awesome but they too were uncomfortable with the dynamic.

I was recently promoted within my organization and am transitioning out of my manager’s group into a new group. I thought that would be the end of it, but my previous manager is being pretty cruddy about the transition and demanding more of my time than allotted in the transition planning. They also tried to invite themselves over for the core group Halloween party since we were no longer in a manager-managee scenario. I said no, my friends had made it a point to keep it to a small group with all the Covid outbreaks. Hopefully this will be the end of it, especially once I’m fully in my new role and no longer communicating regularly with this manager. Thanks for all the advice from the community and from you. It was so nice hearing I wasn’t crazy and getting some really constructive ideas on how to handle things!

{ 56 comments… read them below }

  1. The Smiling Pug*

    OP #3, was there something in the original letter that Jane had been doing this for ten years???

    1. The Smiling Pug*

      I just checked the original letter and yes it was mentioned there. Sucks a lot more that this has been going on for so long.

      1. LW3*

        Yes, it has been going on for ten years off and on. It’s not constant, just often enough to absolutely infuriate me.

        As for being an independent contractor, I did quite a bit of research on fair wages for my various responsibilities before I submitted my proposal to my boss. I asked for a pretty significant raise and my boss agreed. I looked into the taxes as well, so I feel comfortable with the pay.

        I’m so grateful for this community’s insight and advice.

        1. The Smiling Pug*

          Hello LW3! Thank you for responding, and I’m so glad that the switch to contracting ended up being the right one for you. :)

          The support from this community is amazing. So glad that AAM exists.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Agreeing with Smiling Pig, glad you are happy.

          And maybe once you are just a contractor and former boss watches Jane start messing things up without you there as fast to pick up the pieces she’ll finally get around to dealing with Jane….but I’m not going to hold my breath while I wait either.

    2. RabbitRabbit*

      Since LW 3 is going to be an independent contractor, I hope they got a huge raise to deal with the tax implications.

      I’m also wary of this outcome in that it seems like the boss really needs to do more about Jane without needing this to have happened.

      1. The Smiling Pug*

        I’m hoping that LW 3 gets a raise too: taxes are brutal on contractors, especially during a lean time.

        And yeah, this solution doesn’t seem that great either. It seems that Boss is merely moving the employees around instead of actually addressing the problem with Jane. It’s a Band-Aid solution.

        1. EPLawyer*

          It’s not great. Even with the clause that OP is not responsibe if something is not there, well, its still will be dfficult to do the job properly if Jane takes stuff. Boss needs to tell Jane to knock it off or she is gone. Not coddle her and then let the others go to contractor status to avoid dealing with Jane.

          1. The Smiling Pug*

            Exactly! I’m glad that it worked out for LW, but Jane has been doing this to all the employees off and on for a decade. Boss needs to step up and deal with the problem.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Yeah, it wasn’t just the OP’s desk. The letter said Jane felt like she wasn’t doing her job unless she knew what was going on at ALL the desks.

        I wonder how the other employees felt about that. I probably would have blasted Jane to her face if she went through my things.

        1. The Smiling Pug*

          I would’ve been so upset with Jane for going through my desk. I’m a very private person, and I don’t like when other people go through or touch my things without my permission. I’ve been that way ever since I was a small child.

            1. The Smiling Pug*

              Exactly! It’s like reading someone’s email over their shoulder. It’s just NOT DONE.

            2. tangerineRose*

              That was bad enough, but Jane also threw away things that the LW needed for work! I wouldn’t be happy about someone going through my desk either, and I don’t think I have anything all that private, but if someone throws away stuff and therefore makes it much harder to get my work done, I’m going to be upset.

        2. Threeve*

          It sounds like it’s almost something of a compulsion–beyond just being a busybody and having a deep misunderstanding of what her job was supposed to be.

  2. Anon just in case*

    My manager recently added to our team by hiring someone who works at all hours. In fact, my manager knew this about her (she’d been a contractor with another group we worked with) and was impressed by it. “Good work ethic” is what she said at the time. As someone who likes to be sneaky about working late or on weekends (I fear it might show that I can’t accomplish what I need to during regular working hours) I wasn’t so sure.

    And it turns out I had good reason. New co-worker works at all hours because she has very poor technical skills and needs the extra time to do things it was assumed she could do before hire. She personifies “Team Player” – I will give her that. She works and works until she gets a thing done. But her output is terrible, so I am now sneaking to work late at night and on weekends so I can re-do the majority of her work (or just do it myself in the first place; I have found that’s easier than correcting hers.)

    The moral of the story is: don’t be so sure that working long or extra hours is the sign of a hard working valuable employee, someone who needs coaching to pace themselves.

    1. The Smiling Pug*

      “The moral of the story is: don’t be so sure that working long or extra hours is the sign of a hard working valuable employee, someone who needs coaching to pace themselves.”

      This +100. This also extends to schoolwork as well. During college, unless it was opening weekend with a show/a paper was due, I didn’t feel overwhelmed. My friends were staying up past midnight trying to get everything done, and I didn’t have the heart to tell them that maybe they shouldn’t have binge-watched that new season of their favorite show during the day.

    2. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      I hope you’re mentioning to your manager that you are redoing this person’s work. “Would it be possible to get Mildred some additional training? I’m finding that I frequently have to repair her whatsits. I know she’s still ramping up, but the rework is starting to eat into the time I have for my assigned duties.”

      1. Bagpuss*

        yes, I think you need to stop doing her work for her, and loop your manager in about the level of work that isn’t done to the necessary standard.

    3. Double A*

      Yes, I am not at all impressed by people who regularly can’t accomplish their job within their allotted hours.

      That said, why are you covering for this person? You’re making them look more competent than they are and also regularly working outside your core hours.

    4. Me*

      Oh no don’t do this ” But her output is terrible, so I am now sneaking to work late at night and on weekends so I can re-do the majority of her work (or just do it myself in the first place; I have found that’s easier than correcting hers.)”

      You have to loop in manager that this person is increasing your workload by submitting incorrect work – you should have plenty of proof. Do not cover for them.

      This is how bad employees stay in positions for years and even eventually get (shudder) promoted.

    5. Anon Too*

      I agree with the others that you need to stop covering for her. Your manager needs to know what a bad job she’s doing.

      My team will be “losing” a member shortly whose work only got worse over time in the couple years since she was hired. Our boss tried to be hands-off but was forced eventually to confront her shortcomings from the work that was directly under his review, versus stuff he could say we were in charge of handling with her. She’ll be gone after the start of the new year and even though our workloads will technically go up, the amount of handholding will go down.

    6. my roflcopter goes soi soi soi*

      I’ve found that most of my ‘all hours’ colleagues have been performing ‘hard worker’ more so than doing actual work.

      1. Candi*

        I like to do work late at night -but I don’t do extra work, I do a normal amount of work on a shifted schedule. (It’s college, currently I can get away with it.)

        I personally think it’s the bias toward the 8/9-5/6 weekday that makes management think “late work” is extra/harder work.

    7. Observer*

      ut her output is terrible, so I am now sneaking to work late at night and on weekends so I can re-do the majority of her work (or just do it myself in the first place; I have found that’s easier than correcting hers.)

      Why are you doing this?

      If you are hourly, it’s illegal. If you are not hourly (which is what it sounds like) it’s just a TERRIBLE idea. If it iever comes out, no one will thank you. And you could actually get blamed for hiding the problem.

      Either tell the boss, or just let her terrible work speak for itself. Just make sure that it’s clear that you did not do the work. If you boss wants to know why you are not fixing it, point out that it’s New CW’s job for a reason. It’s not within a reasonable schedule to do your work *AND* HER work.

    8. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I will say I think there is a difference between working a divided schedule to get things done at night because then you aren’t distracted with kiddos or spouses; and working all hours because you just can’t meet the required quality and quantity output in your scheduled hours. I got the feeling from the update that OP2’s employee was doing the split schedule technique now.

    9. SuperDiva*

      I think the moral of the story might be that you’re doing yourself and your employer no favors by engaging in secret overwork yourself to cover for the new coworker’s poor skills….

    10. Hokius*

      Continuing on with that moral, I recently had a one-on-one review session with one of my bosses where he informed me that I’m being dinged on my review scores because I don’t work at least 45 hours a week. He has never presented a business reason WHY I should work more hours, and implies I’m one of the best he’s hired for this role and that my work output is great and there are no complaints. Still, I should be working 5 extra hours in his mind.

  3. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    LW#4: Good for you for maintaining firm boundaries between work and personal life!

      1. LW#3*

        I am so lucky that I have great friends! My old manager pulled an end run and requested I remain in his group 50% all of December to help with the workload my absence has left (instead of negotiating with my new manager, he went two levels higher so not much we can do and no, my new manager is not impressed), so I’ve already gotten a couple comments about holiday gatherings but Covid is still a valid excuse (unfortunately). I cannot wait to be able to have all the time I need to do my new job with a manager who so far seems to respect personal boundaries. It’s to my original letter because it didn’t seem incredibly relevant, but I think the fact that my other two team members in the old group I were close and got along very well on a personal level made the manager feel left out. Oh well – soon it will be over and I definitely recognize the importance of keeping firm boundaries.

        1. allathian*

          Ugh, I’m so sorry you have to deal with that.

          Your former manager should get out of management if they can’t deal with the fact that their reports have a closer and friendlier relationship with each other than with the manager.

          That said, I’m glad to hear your core group of friends has dropped the friend who brought your former manager to the BBQ, so I do hope the issue will go away for good.

    1. Susie*

      Agree! I cannot believer the manager talked to OP about it and tried to invite themselves to a party!

    2. Insert Clever Name Here*

      And what a fantastic group of friends to respect and backup your boundaries! Those folks are gold.

  4. Dragon_Dreamer*

    The boss who wants to be part of your friend group strikes me as creepy. Why push so hard to join in with your friends when you aren’t at work? Depending on the genders involved, I have to wonder if the ex-friend who kept inviting your boss was trying to facilitate a relationship between you and the latter. I’m glad your core friends have your back.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      As both the LW and the manager had partners who they brought to the gathering, I don’t think the friend-of-a-friend was trying to facilitate a relationship.

      Friend of friend liked the manager and their partner and the manager liked the friend group. They wanted to hang out with the cool people. It probably doesn’t have anything to do with the LW, but the manager just found a fun group of potential friends that they’re blocked from because of work relationship. There’s no sign they were interested in being friends with the LW or the LW’s until the party.

        1. Threeve*

          It’s certainly wildly inconsiderate–both the boss and the friend-of-friend who pushed back on the entirely reasonable request to not invite the boss in the future.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            Then trying to invite themselves to the Halloween party based on that one party. That would be WTF presumptuous even without the work relationship or the pandemic.

            1. Mannequin*

              And then forcing LW to stay in the old department 50% of the time through December…it strikes me as creepy too.

    2. TechWorker*

      If you read the letter, both the LW and their boss were at the party with their partner, so this seems… pretty unlikely.

    3. Aquawoman*

      I think it is that they enjoyed the group and have bad boundaries (see–inviting themselves to a party/taking more of employee’s time than allowed).

    4. Little Lobster*

      This is me reading way too much into this situation, with the caveat that I’ve met people like LW’s boss before: The boss just might be a bad person who’s been shunned by every other friend group they’ve ever had, and is now desperate for people to hang out with. I’ve found that people like this do this “push very hard to be accepted by a certain group” schtick because of insecurities and a need to convince themselves that they aren’t the bad person everyone thinks they are because, hey! Look at how many friends they have! Except they don’t, and thus the pushy attitude.

    5. confused*

      I don’t understand what the boss did wrong in either the original letter or the update.

      She attended a barbeque to which she had been invited, and didn’t know she was supposed to leave when LW showed up? Then later continued to have fond memories of the barbeque and the people she mistakenly believed were her new friends? Then she asked if she could spend Halloween with the people she continued to mistakenly believe were her new friends?

      What did she do wrong other than fail to get the upspoken message that the “core group” doesn’t like her?

      1. whistle*

        I don’t think the manager did anything wrong in the first letter (nor do I think OP implied they did anything wrong, which was why it was conundrum how to ask them not to come back). In the update, though, I do think it’s wrong for a manager to specifically request to be included in a subordinate’s social event, especially when no further invitations were extended since the initial one.

      2. Candi*

        She started crossing boundaries when she tried to make herself part of the OP’s friend group when all but one friend didn’t want that.

        One party doesn’t make you new friends, it makes you acquaintances. (In most cases. Exceptions exist.)

        The big problem is that manager should not be friends with reports. It causes problems, many documented on this very site.

    6. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      From the letters boss struck me as lonely and bad at boundaries (and wondering if the latter was causing the former) with a heavy dash of “clingy/needy” for good measure.

  5. Prefer my pets*

    Probably the single best part of working from home the past 1.5 yrs for me is that my supervisor & I have just quietly agreed that I can work late hours even though that isn’t technically allowed. I’m a true night person (delayed sleep phase disorder…though personally I think it’s only a “disorder” because society sucks) and am infinitely more productive and able to think at midnight than noon. Once we’re forced back into the office, I think we’re going to go through the reasonable accommodations process for me and switch me to something like a noon to 830pm schedule which would still let me join meetings but also give me some work hours during a more natural time.

    (Wish I would have known you it was a genetic thing that’s pretty impossible to switch as a teenager so I could have picked a career where desire for night shifts was a benefit not a near impossibility)

    1. Zona the Great*

      Totally agree with you. I am coming off of years and years of very severe insomnia (averaging about 15 hours of sleep in a 7-day period) and having to be up and at the office at any set time triggers it and I start all over in my recovery and treatment and habits.

    2. Nanani*

      100% agreed that delayed sleep phase isn’t a “real” disorder in any sense not imposed by social structures. Yes it impedes daily life but only because so much of daily life is designed for morning people instead! Without such schedules, it would not be impediment.

      Good luck with that accommodation!

    3. Retired Prof*

      My grandmother worked swing or night shift her whole life because that’s how she was built. Her daughter, my mother, was also a night owl. My whole childhood I thought it was weird that other kid’s moms made them breakfast because that was obviously a dad’s job. My mom got up around lunchtime. And my brother has never worked a job where he had to be at work before noon. Absolutely genetic.

    4. allathian*

      Ugh, I’m sorry. I hope that you’ll be able to be more supportive of any younger family members who are also built this way. I agree that it’s only a disorder because as a society we’re still stuck in agrarian traditions.

      I’m a pronounced early bird, and so I benefit from the way society is structured, but given the way the 24-hour world works, night owls are needed too. Have you ever considered switching careers to something where you could work nights?

  6. Observer*

    #1- I think that in this case, it probably was a good thing that you spoke to the supervisor rather than the Admin directly, despite the fact that it’s usually better to go directly to the person who did whatever. The fact that he ” never made eye contact with me or spoke to me unless I spoke to him first” tells me that he doesn’t seem to handle critical feedback too well.

    1. SuperDiva*

      He was probably deeply embarrassed, although I agree it seems extreme that he never managed to move past it and behave professionally.

  7. MCMonkeyBean*

    LW1–I actually think the way you handled it was perfect. Generally confronting coworkers about our issues directly is ideal, but it needed to be very clear to that person that this was not just some random hangup of yours, or that you’re just “too sensitive” or whatever. I think it’s best that someone with more authority made it absolutely clear that this was not an acceptable thing to do ever. You responded to him directly with the immediate issue, and then let the boss deal with the bigger picture and I think that is perfectly appropriate.

    LW4–Dang I had thought any potential awkwardness would come from dealing with the friends side of thing, I can’t believe your boss actively tried to push to be invited to join you guys! I’m glad your core friends had your back though!

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