updates: the toxic positivity, the boss neighbor, 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. Manager’s toxic positivity is getting us down

I wish I could say that we had an open discussion with the principal, and that she took our concerns to heart, but it didn’t seem worth it since we all knew she would be leaving in two months. Plus, I think most of us felt so bombarded with keeping up with the bare minimum of our daily tasks that the prospect of facing yet another situation where we’d be told how we’re not resilient enough was just too much to bear. Our new principal is much more understanding and open to hearing our concerns, then working with us to find solutions. However, it took a few months for us to trust that.

The major benefit I got from writing to you originally was reading the comments. It was a relief to hear from others who agreed how frustrating this would be. After finally having a real conversation with my partner about the daily nightmares I had been having for six months, as well as several other disturbing mental health symptoms that I’ve never experienced before, I realised that it wasn’t possible for me to keep trying to the extent that I was. The constant feelings of rage and powerlessness over the terrible decisions being made by our politicians all the way down through the entire education system were just too overwhelming. It was an extremely difficult decision to make, because a lot of my sense of identity comes from being reliable and able to “suck it up”, but I finally admitted that I needed to reduce my work schedule. I’ve been struggling with intense feelings of guilt for not being able to just carry on, but I’m slowly working through them. I’ve been having therapy, exercising, sleeping better, not having nearly as many panic attacks, and I feel like I’m doing a much better job with my reduced teaching load. I don’t know yet how long I’ll need to do this, but I’m really trying to allow myself the time I need. This is hard because I still feel the need to tough everything out and it feels a little like giving up to not push myself to do it all.

So I guess, in the end, I followed my principal’s advice and practised some self-care. Probably not in the way she was advising though. *shrug* I have learned that many employers will take advantage to the extent that they can get away with it. It was up to me to make myself less available and take care of myself. Your readers’ comments truly made me feel like I was not alone during a very vulnerable time, and I appreciate that more than I can express.

2. I had to fire someone and I feel like a failure

I absolutely took your advice and the advice of lots of the commenters. I was able to find a great new hire for the role and he’s fitting in with the team fantastically and has taken to the work like a fish in water. The team and I talk openly and freely about our workloads and how we’re working with or getting along with other members of our team.

About 2-weeks after Bob’s dismissal from the company, we found out that he’d been working for all of 2020 with one of our competitors and working on their deliverables at the same time he was working on ours.

Thank you so much for providing a sounding board for us when we need a third party perspective.

3. My new boss lives a few doors down from me (#2 at the link)

The restructuring did happen. My job was moved to the department where I thought it would be. But the would be boss of mine who lives in my neighborhood, got let go by the company during the restructure. So I never reported to him. Now I have a boss who I love and does not live in my neighborhood.

I never reached out or asked around to find out what happened with my former would be boss. I haven’t seen him since, but he does still live in our neighborhood (something you were right about in your reply, that we would probably not see each other much). His getting let go could have possibly been due to the restructure and not performance based. I do expect to see him out on Halloween, since he has kids and our neighborhood has a huge trick or treating crowd every year.

4. My coworker made a rude comment about my grandmother’s death

My boss did speak to my coworker privately, and pointed out that she had really upset me when I was grieving for a family member, and to think how she would have felt in my place. I never got an apology, but she was (frighteningly) nice to me for a while afterwards. I don’t think I will ever fully trust or like her again (she wasn’t high on my ‘favourite co-worker list anyway, so not too much difference) but I can put it out of my mind for the most part.

We managed to get my nan’s house sale through though, with a few bumps in the road, and at my parents request I have organised a family trip to near where we scattered my grandad’s ashes, so that we can have a tribute trip and scatter her there as well.

{ 60 comments… read them below }

  1. Aitch Arr*

    “About 2-weeks after Bob’s dismissal from the company, we found out that he’d been working for all of 2020 with one of our competitors and working on their deliverables at the same time he was working on ours.”

    I would be conferring with legal counsel about this.

    1. WellRed*

      It certainly provides interesting data point for comments on recent posts suggesting if people can get away with this, why not?

      1. Danish*

        Hm, I suppose it does and it doesn’t. Like, setting aside the legal aspect of competition… as a regular low-level employee of a general corporate company, I don’t feel that there would actually be any conflict of interest if, again, an employee were able to feasibly make it work timewise and deliver GOOD work.

        Because the thing is, I’m not emotionally invested in my company’s product, or in anyone’s product. I can 100% work with customer X on their product and then turn around and work with customer Y on there’s; I’m not designing anything. I don’t have business decision authority. I am a button pushing grunt. “Competitors”, in a business sense means nothing to me. If I work for both Coke and Pepsi, I, personally, am experiencing no conflict of interest. I can give the same amount of emotional investment to both jobs, because the amount of emotional investment is zero.

        Idk I guess my point is, I can see a jobs-don’t-like-this argument, but that’s there whether or not bob worked for a competitor, and “it was a competitor” doesn’t otherwise change my opinion of “if someone can swing it…great.”

        1. Freddy Bar*

          Yeah, but Alison’s reply and many commenters ignored the effect of someone working two jobs, on other colleagues. For example for the manager, it’s not that easy to fire someone just because they are somewhat underperforming. So the person working two jobs might have also had a super-stressed out manager like this OP, but apparently that didn’t matter because yeah, work two jobs and stick it to the man, woohoo, who cares if that means other colleagues shoulder the burden.

          1. LQ*

            But don’t you know, it’s not your fault if you’re a jerk to your coworkers is your boss’s fault for letting you get away with it, you never have any responsibility to your fellow humans because your company should control all, but never micromanage.

        2. Amy*

          I don’t think it’s about emotional investment but about our brains not being able to completely compartmentalize. If I work at Pepsi and moonlight at Coke and we’re both pitching to be the exclusive vendor at Yankee Stadium, what do I know from a Pepsi versus Coke perspective? If in a Coke meeting, they told me one thing, do I forget it on the Pepsi account? If I know Pepsi is pitching and Coke didn’t get called in, can I not let it slip? If I’m
          pitching Coke and I know I’ll get 1% commission but will get 1.5% on the Pepsi account, do I throw Coke?

          I work in sales and actually have a colleague who is married to a direct competitor. They basically need to have a complete wall of silence around work. It’s too hard otherwise.

          My dad also used to talk about this when having a military security clearance. He would never talk about military current events outside of work. It was too hard to separate out – do I know this info from a classified briefing or did I read it in the NYT?

          1. Dramatic Intent to Flounce*

            Yeah, I think it depends a lot on precisely what info and decisionmaking abilities he had access to. Sounds like not too much… but nonetheless I wouldn’t be surprised if legal wanted to know, because while suing Bob probably isn’t a fruitful prospect, the odds of Potential Issues they’d have to be involved in are way higher. (Probably nothing that would go to actual lawsuit, but like. The kind of mess you want to be able to have all pertinent information for on hand and neatly filed the moment it starts looking messy.)

            1. Missy*

              Yep. Back when I was working in a General Counsel’s office there was nothing we hated more than when staff would come to us AFTER something had gone sideways to tell us all the warning signs and bad decisions they made months ago that got us here. Especially because often times there are time limits involved and they start when someone knew, or should have known, about the problem. Not when they finally tell legal.

      2. Boof*

        I think most of those comments come with a helping of “if you are doing the job fine”. Bob was NOT doing his job fine, bob practically wasn’t doing his job at all! Not to mention, Bob was working for a competitor too! So there’s a huge conflict of interest there that wasn’t in some of the other “I work two jobs” threads.
        Of course, I do suspect Bob would claim he was working both jobs just fine

        1. RabbitRabbit*

          This right here. He absolutely wasn’t working fine, and if the LW hadn’t been in the middle of a massive health crisis, he would have been out much earlier.

        2. anonymous73*

          In addition, he was expected to be available from 9-5 M-F. It doesn’t matter if one job is less busy and you have bandwidth to do work for a second job. If you’re expected to be available at certain times, then you need to be FULLY available.

          I was hired in August to support a contract. I don’t have much to do, so my boss put me on another project, but the job I was hired for takes priority. I have had to miss meetings on project #2 because a last minute meeting came up for project #1. I can handle this easily because they’re both for the same company, but if I were trying to juggle 2 jobs at once, it would cause problems.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            What I wonder is if he was at the other job first, and the job with OP was priority two because it was job two.

            And maybe he thought he was going to get fired from one job or the other – so had both jobs thinking “well, both probably won’t fire me.”

      3. TrackingCookieMonster*

        I don’t think this situation is comparable to what has been otherwise argued. There’s a big difference between working two unrelated jobs at once and working for two direct competitors at once.

      1. OPfeelinglikeafailure*

        Well… we found out when he massively unconnected with everyone on our team on LinkedIn but didn’t disconnect with our big boss prior to updating LinkedIn to show the other company and back dated it to his original hire date which was in 2020. HR and Legal took over from there. Especially as he had access to our finances and customer listings while working for a direct competitor.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Sounds like critical thinking isn’t one of his strong suits. Glad legal has taken over.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      Legal counsel? Probably no point. Even if they could in theory get a judgment against Bob, I suspect that he is what is known in the legal biz as “judgment proof,” i.e. blood from a turnip.

      What I wonder is if the competition knows Bob was two-timing. I suspect not, and that they would be very interested.

      1. Omnivalent*

        Suing Bob is far from the only reason to talk to counsel about this situation. For example, if Bob was leaking commercially sensitive or protected customer information to his other job, or if they were well aware of what he was doing and benefiting from it.

    3. Observer*

      I would be conferring with legal counsel about this.

      I wouldn’t bother. Sure, he deserves it, but there is almost no way the OP’s company is going to be able to recoup anything close to the cost of suing.

    4. Cube Farmer*

      There was an article in Buzzfeed earlier this year or some time last about a guy who was working two jobs, he thought successfully. I wonder if it was Bob.

    5. WFH with Cat*


      This is definitely a situation where I would be wanting to claw back money paid to Horrible Dishonest Gaslighting Bob.

      1. WFH with Cat*


        Also, I just have to say, your user name always makes me smile. (And crave thin mints, but that’s okay!)

    6. OPfeelinglikeafailure*

      Oh we did! What we do is proprietary and we have access to all financial and customer data so this ended up with legal as soon as we found out about it.

      1. Grumpy Old Sailor*

        I’m very glad Legal got into it. Any chance you would be able to give us a further update? Even if recovery of damages is unlikely, it would be interesting to know what else may have happened. It’s also interesting (well, to me, anyway) to speculate about Other Company he was working for, and how they viewed the situation, assuming they weren’t complicit from the get-go? They might be asking themselves what financial & customer data Bob had access to that he might’ve leaked to your company? Even if he didn’t, I’d be very surprised if they didn’t see the potential for such a situation – again, always assuming they didn’t essentially plant him in the first place as some form of commercial espionage.

  2. WoodswomanWrites*

    #1, the pandemic’s overall difficulty for everyone’s job has been especially acute for teachers. I’m a former educator myself and I still know many, and every single one of them has faced an exceptional level of challenges during the pandemic. I have no doubt how dedicated you are to your students’ well-being, and I’m glad to hear you’re committed to taking care of yourself as well. And thank goodness your new principal is more reasonable than your previous one.

  3. Chashka*

    I just want to say that I am loving all of these updates. I feel like I am getting Christmas presents early.

  4. Critical Roll*

    LW 4, we are often inclined to be uncharitable about the actions of people we don’t care for, and grief can be such a heightening thing we hit the ceiling over stuff that would barely phase us otherwise. However tone-deaf and rude this comment was, this is not worth your emotional energy at all. It’s great that your boss took it seriously, though.

    And luckily we don’t have to like our colleagues to work with them successfully, or we’d all be in trouble!

  5. Baska*

    #2: Wasn’t there a letter-writer at some point who was talking about working for two employers while working from home, and claimed that it would all be fine? Wouldn’t it be funny if it was the same employee #2 was talking about?

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        It would be pure poetic irony. We’ll probably never know – but it would have been funny to have gotten both (very different opinions) sides of the story.

    1. Nope.*

      Yes and the overall message I gleaned from both Alison and the commenters was that they were absolutely fine with someone doing so, so I’m curious to see how that jives with the comments on this letter.

      1. no?*

        Really? Because Alison said repeatedly in her reply that it wasn’t okay to do. She just said she couldn’t get as intensively outraged about it as she would have previously.

      2. iliketoknit*

        I mean, I think a big caveat was that for working two full time jobs, you had to legitimately be able to successfully do both jobs, and Bob clearly couldn’t. (I wonder if one of the reasons he wanted to leave at 3:45 originally was to spend time on this other job??)

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          It sounds like the second job thing likely didn’t start until they were remote in 2020. If it was another 9-5 office job, leaving at 3:45 would not do much good if he just showed up there for like one hour each day!

      3. HereKittyKitty*

        No, commenters were saying they aren’t too peeved about it if they weren’t competitors and were performing well in both jobs.

        This employee was not performing well, working with a competitor, and behaving like a jerk. That’s entirely different.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Agreed, Bob failed on pretty much every point that the commentators on the working two jobs letter raised as important.

    2. TrackingCookieMonster*

      Pretty sure that LW was talking about working two unrelated jobs at once, not working for two direct competitors at once.

    3. anonymous73*

      If memory serves, that person was a director for both companies and female, so I’m guessing it’s not the same person. I’m hearing more and more stories about people doing this so many are WFH, so I’m sure there are plenty of these stories.

    4. Lenora Rose*

      I believe the “not in competition” part was key t some of that, and even then Alison wasn’t so much approving as not *as* disapproving as she used to be.

      People work two jobs all the time – it’s just that those two jobs tend to be one full time and one part time, and/or in different fields, or at a low enough level (eg food service) that it doesn’t matter if they’re in the same field. Two higher end white collar jobs are much more unusual, but not outside the bounds… assuming several conditions… both of which were broken in this case.

  6. DJ Abbott*

    #1, you are so right about employers taking advantage! I’ve been watching that at my grocery store job. It was supposed to be part time, but I had to set firm boundaries so I wouldn’t be scheduled 30+ hours a week. Many of the associates were talking about how they were scheduled essentially full-time hours, but considered part time so they don’t get all benefits.
    Some employers are good about not doing this but sadly, many are not.

    1. hoping to leave the service industry*

      Something I found out from my previous job was that if you work an average of at least a certain number of hours a week (i believe it was 32 hours) at one location over the course of something like 120 days, you are legally full-time and you’re entitled benefits. It might only apply to medium to larger-sized employers- I am not really sure. I found out about this after the manager of my previous store informed me that in two weeks they would be cutting my hours by at least 30% because if I continued to work that number of hours or more, I was technically full-time. I felt pretty shocked about this and upset that a) my company was cutting my hours significantly with little notice after they had relied on my labor during a global pandemic, b) a multi-billion dollar corporation that masquerades as progressive would rather cut hours when they were struggling to hire than pay benefits and c) I hadn’t actually been working an average of 32 hours, it was more like 30, so had they continued to schedule me for 28-30 hours they would have been fine. I actually asked a labor attorney in my family if this law was a thing and he told me it was. I was surprised I didn’t know about it.
      Anyways, I felt very disgruntled by this situation but luckily it wasn’t hard to find another customer service job where I could earn more money at this time. I had no qualms about leaving my former employer despite them being short-staffed because it was the natural consequence of their short-sited decision.

      Long story short, I would tell your coworkers to look into this law. It might not apply to them, but they might as well do some research. If they want full-time benefits, I’d advise them not to bring it up until 120 days (or however many days the law says) go by. If they want to work fewer hours and this law does apply to your employer, they might get their hours reduced. I am by no means an expert- I am just a tired service industry worker sharing my experience.

      1. DJ Abbott*

        Absolutely! You need to look out for yourself because employers like that will not!
        I’ll see if I can pass the word about the law. I’m only working there one more day myself, yay!

    2. Generic Name*

      And employers who pull these type of shenanigans are wringing their hands and complaining that NoOnE wAnTs tO WoRK.

      1. DJ Abbott*

        Exactly! I’ve heard the managers talking about that too. They’re not really upset, just observing it’s hard to hire right now without getting into the reasons. At least they’re calm and dealing with it. It is a corporation and they probably don’t have any control over salaries and benefits.
        Meanwhile, two of my colleagues who were there a few years left because they requested raises and were told no. This is not rocket science!

  7. All the words*

    LW2, please accept my sincere thanks for taking the right step of firing Bob. I’ve worked with many Bobs over the years with management who let them continue this type of behavior for years. They simply refused to manage these types of employees because of conflict aversion. It’s always a miserable situation for everyone else, who have to clean up “Bob’s” messes, pick up “Bob’s” slack, work their full shift while “Bob” robs the company of a couple hours daily.

    THAT is a management failure. What you did was the opposite, as difficult as it was for you.

  8. singularity*

    LW#1: I feel your pain so much. I’m also in education and the constant barrage of toxic positivity is maddening. I’ve taken to tuning out the people who I know will open their mouths and spout off platitudes and useless pieces of advice. I haven’t had to sit through any trainings on self-care yet, but some of my colleagues did and let me tell you, the people running the training didn’t appreciate the irony of making teachers use their personal time to attend a ‘required’ training on self-care. *eye-roll*

  9. new-ish manager*

    LW #2 – It’s easy to feel bad with all the “advice” (not from Alison) out there broadly laying blame on managers when someone isn’t performing. I’ve had a similar situation – not counting the egregious behavior of blaming you for your own illness – but basically everything else ,especially the gaslighting. I still felt/feel bad.

    It’s our role as managers to make every effort to conduct recruitment in a way that prevents this. It’s our role to address poor performance and provide resources to facilitate improvement. But is it our role to drag people across a line if they won’t even take one step forward?

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