updates: work fun scheduled on my behalf, the awful morale solutions list, 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. I’m too large to participate in work fun scheduled on my behalf (#2 at the link)

Thank you for answering my question about how to address being too large to participate in some planned fun on a work trip. I also really appreciate all of the commenters who suggested contacting the venues to inquire about sizes and accommodations, which honestly hadn’t occurred to me! I also enjoyed all of the suggestions for other activities we could do that were not impacted by the size of the participants. A few commenters seemed angered on my behalf, so I would like to reiterate that this was in no way meant to be callous or exclusionary. My boss is awesome, and he was picking things he knows I would love to do without thinking about my size being a factor.

I mostly ended up walking the middle ground. I didn’t come right out and start a specific conversation to address it, but I did steer the options toward activities where size is a non-issue. We ended up deciding on black light mini-golf and an outdoor show. When addressing my size was required with one suggested activity, I used humor to make it known but not A Thing. Both myself and the other manager are really into cars. On a previous trip we rented a supercar and had the time of our lives. He suggested we do this again so the other two attending with us this time can experience it, but having four people would mean trying to fit into the tiny back seat (it wouldn’t be fair to, pardon the pun, hog the front seat!). In a good-humored tone I said “I own a Mustang, so I know this dance. I don’t think you guys can handle the level of majesty involved in the wiggle, jiggle, and pizzaz of me getting in and out of the back seat. We should spare your hearts!” I laughed, he laughed, and he concluded it wouldn’t be fair for anyone to be in the back missing the full experience. Since two of us had already done it, we decided to let the other two go rent the car while the boss and I go on a scotch tasting tour I found after looking for barcades (which I didn’t know was a thing, thanks commentariat!) since we’re both scotch lovers. Win-win!

In the end I think it all worked out. The trip is actually next week and I’m so glad that Alison and the AAM community came through with solid advice. Now I am excited about the trip, rather than nervous. Thanks, everyone!

2. Fragrance reactions when I don’t work for the same company as the perpetrator (#2 at the link)

I wrote in about being allergic to Lysol.

I took your advice and I went to speak to the office manager. We set up a time for later in the day. On my way back to my office I could smell the Lysol cloud drifting out of my neighbor’s office. I hurried back to mine and lit an incense stick (we are allowed to light candles and such). Lysol lady comes by and pokes her head in my office and asks if I minded putting that out because it bothered her. I took the opportunity to explain my allergy to chemical smells and my reaction to them. She then asked me what I do to disinfect. I told her that I use Purell on what I can and if I have to spray Lysol that I do it at the end of the day and leave immediately.

From that point on I agreed to speak to her before I light incense and she won’t spray Lysol until the end of the day. There was one day I was out sick and she used that opportunity to spray everything down in her office, she said she even sprayed my door handle for me.

I’m glad it worked out for us in the end.

3. My boss asked me to create a list of solutions to awful morale

It took me about a year to leave the company from my letter. I did end up going through the motions of providing feedback and constructive action to improving staff morale. After a few months’ time, predictably, nothing had changed. When I pointed this out, their response was to offer me a raise and an improved schedule. I told them I wasn’t interested unless they would offer the same thing to everyone else who worked the same role (which was obviously a long shot, but it genuinely would have solved a lot of problems). Their response was, essentially, “we’re offering it to you because you’re the one raising a stink about it”, and that made me feel pretty gross. So instead I agreed to a WFH arrangement for the last few months until school started. This meant losing $1/hr from my pay and working an even worse schedule that apparently broke a few of our local labour laws, but the plan was for it to be temporary. Overall, WFH was way better for me since I could dodge almost all of the workplace negativity. The comfy pants/being able to hang out with my cats definitely helped, too. It even worked well enough that I eventually agreed to stay on part-time while I was in school.

Then…my school program got deferred by a year. It was early in the pandemic, and they were trying reduce class sizes so people could stay in-person. I was really disappointed at first but the school offered me the chance to change my program. I took a long look at my options and decided to change, which meant I still had to work a few months longer than expected, but at least it wasn’t a full year’s wait. And I’m really fortunate it worked out this way, since the program I’m in now is amazing! I love the material, it’s really engaging, and online classes have suited me really well. My grades are even better now than they were in my undergrad. There’s a lot of opportunity for me after graduation, and one of my instructors has tapped me for a super interesting capstone project in my final semester. I think I got really lucky. I probably would have enjoyed my first-choice program, but this one is a great fit for me in so many unexpected ways.

Anyway, it’s no surprise that after a semester of working part-time–and being regularly reminded by my employer that my WFH arrangement was a terrible inconvenience to them and I should be picking up more hours–I finally quit!! So I’m not back in the workforce yet, but I am excited that when I finally get there, I’ll be entering a whole new industry with a brand-new set of skills. Thank you and thank you to all the commenters who replied to my letter. It might’ve taken me longer than I hoped, but I finally got away from an employer that sucked and wasn’t going to change. :)

4. Are interviewers turned off that I say my son is my priority? (#4 at the link)

Unfortunately I still don’t have a job. The biggest update is that some serendipity led to me drastically shifting the jobs I am looking for. As some commenters suggested, I have looked for and applied to some jobs in my son’s school district. One day when I was applying for an administrative position I saw that there was an opening for a part-time Fine Art instructor. I have a Bachelor’s in Studio Art and was immediately excited about the prospect of actually using my degree so I applied. The job listing closed the same day and I got a call the next morning to interview with about an hour’s notice. Although I did not get the job, I did get positive if generic feedback from the interviewers. And it sparked something in me. Since then I have been looking for and applying to art instructor jobs at other school districts and charter schools in the area. While they won’t be on the exact same schedule as my son’s school they are likely to have the longer breaks line up. These jobs are few and far between but it allows me to really focus in and spend time on quality resume adjustments and personalized cover letters.

Speaking of resumes, I finally read your book “How to Get a Job” and am now in the process of completely reworking my resume. I have been using the dreaded functional resume (this was originally drafted in a business writing class and called a “skills based resume”) and while it includes my work history with dates, I can understand the reservations it would give hiring managers. My attempt to not highlight my job gaps may actually be doing the opposite. I have been getting interviews with this resume (I’m guessing because I have always had strong cover letters), but here’s hoping my record gets stronger with this change.

Thank you for all you do. Reading AAM every day is my break between searching job listings and sending in applications and it gives me a lot of hope.

Update to the update

I got a job! I got a job teaching art to elementary school kids. I couldn’t be happier. It’s not perfect. It’s a long commute and it’s not the same school district as my son, but it’s worth it. My husband has been amazingly supportive and after some childcare hiccups he has taken on a significant amount of the childcare tasks that I have previously handled. After so many years making sacrifices to support his career, I’m incredibly grateful that he is willing to do the same for me. I followed your advice to get this job and really wowed the hiring manager (aka my new principal) when I asked the magic question. Thank you for being such a great resource. I will definitely continue to follow. Who knows, maybe I’ll have some crazy holiday party stories of my own soon.

{ 69 comments… read them below }

  1. Sandman*

    A thousand congratulations to #4! That’s such a tremendous life shift – I’m so happy for you that you’ve found something that fits so well!

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yes, I love that they were able to really figure out what they wanted and target those jobs. What a win!

    2. Momma Bear*

      I’m also glad that OP has a supportive spouse who is a true partner and willing to make this work for her/the family. Win-win, IMO.

  2. Anonymous*

    I dunno. I laughed out loud when I read that OP 2 can light candles and incense in the office. Holy OSHA! I feel sorry for all the rest of the office. Just hope hope Lysol lady doesn’t spray on any open flames.

    1. Dave the Dog*

      I also laughed out loud that Lysol lady wouldn’t spray at the end of day because of an allergy, but turned around and asked to put out the incense because it was “bothering her”. HAH! Glad that sparked the happy resolution though!

      1. Forrest Gumption*

        My thought too! I once lived across the hall from a crazy person who would smoke in their unit, and the smoke would seep into the hall and into my unit. I asked her many times to stop smoking inside (we all had balconies) and she refused. So I started to spray Lysol in the hallway, to try to neutralize it before it entered my unit. Well guess who started angrily badgering me about the smell of the Lysol entering her unit???

    2. Kimmy Schmidt*

      Me too. Incense. INCENSE. In the OFFICE. No thank you, from both a scent and fire hazard perspective.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        I mean, aren’t those just wipes that have been presoaked with basically the same ingredients as the spray? I wouldn’t think they would affect an allergy less, would they?

    3. Threeve*

      I was really hoping the solution would be “let’s all keep the office artificial-fragrance-free,” and not “mutually assured fragrance destruction.”

          1. Bagpuss*

            Pretty much any incense triggers major issues for me (asthmatic)

            I did have a bit of an issue a while ago with a coworker who kept bringing in those reed diffuser air fresheners. They seemed to be convinced that I couldn’t possibly react to all of them and that if they just kept trying different scents they’d find one which didn’t make me ill. The first three times I took the reeds back to them (they were putting them in shared spaces), explained the issue and asked them to take them home.

            The 4th time I told them than any more would be going straight in the bin with no warning, after which it did stop, but it was very clear that they didn’t really believe that there was a problem and thought I was just being awkward.

            They have since left, which was probably the popular thing they ever did.

      1. Ashloo*

        Yeah, I don’t think I understand how layering heavy scent over a reaction trigger would work at all. I don’t often have headaches, not that combo would sure do it.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          That combo would probably kill me outright, honestly. I’m not even sure I’m being hyperbolic…

        2. Tabihabibi*

          Adding to the particulates likewise would not work for this asthma chick, but different bodies I suppose. The Lysol wipes are also awful; they don’t go as far so you can use them…on the other side of the building from me vs practically nowhere for spray.

    4. turquoisecow*

      I don’t really like Lysol, but incense in a small location like an office would get overwhelming quickly. In a big church it’s fine but in a small office I’d probably find it just as annoying. Also count me shocked they’re allowed to burn things in the office.

      1. CatDancing*

        I was shocked that Lysol Sprayer was instantly snippy about the incense.

        “I don’t care if YOU get sick from my pointless wild spraying of stinky disinfectant,” and then, “EXCUSE ME, YOUR SMELLY STUFF BOTHERS ME!!”

        Yeah, does it?

        I’d have offered to make a deal. You don’t spray YOUR stuff, I won’t light MY stuff. Besides, the original letter was published in April 2021, and it was pretty well established by then that COVID transmission was aerosol, so her Lysol dance was self-soothing but ineffective.

        1. allathian*

          I don’t think it was as contentious as you make it sound. They agreed to talk to each other, and that’s usually the way to resolve these matters. That said I’m glad open fires are banned in my office building, incense would probably make me sick. I attended a Russian Orthodox wedding once, thankfully it was in winter so I could get away with standing in my reasonably comfortable snow boots (my pant legs were wide enough to hide the boot legs) rather than in uncomfortable dress shoes, but the incense almost did me in. And this was a big church!

        2. Very Social*

          Huh? I’m pretty sure that IS the arrangement they came to. Sounds like it was very clear and amicable, too–a great resolution.

    5. Staff Officers Speak When Spoken To*

      I was in the Navy about a dozen years back, and shared a stateroom with a medical officer who liked to light candles in our room. This was fantastic because we had numerous exposed pipes running along our ceiling. Jet fuel. Fuel oil. You get the point. One pinpoint leak and we’d have blown a hole in the side of the ship. I calmly* pointed out to her that perhaps there was folly in her choice of decor and she put them out but I’m pretty sure she used them when I wasn’t in there.

      *ha! As if.

  3. CatCat*

    #1, so glad you’re excited rather than nervous now. Sounds like you have a good relationship with your boss.

  4. LimeRoos*

    Yay for great updates!!!

    and maybe, perhaps, if OP1 is kind enough (and the tour has passed), they’ll let us know all about the Scotch tasting in the weekend open thread? I’m a huge fan of Scotch and so curious now! Favs are Kilchoman Machir Bay, Caol Ila 12 year and Moch, and the Balvenie Caribbean cask.

    1. OP #1*

      Unfortunately the scotch tasting tour ended up being closed down the day, but we still enjoyed tasting several at a fancy resort bar. Balvenie Caribbean cask is just amazing, but my all-time favorite is Balvenie Double Wood. I love anything that spent time in a sherry cask, personally. Cheers!

      1. Chauncy Gardener*

        Love Double Wood too, but the old time Laphroig (pre recent bastardizing) was the best, in my opinion. Not everyone’s taste, I know

        And your boss is the BEST. Scotch tasting with your boss…that is awesome!

        1. Anonymous*

          If you’re into Laphroig, try Ardbeg. It’s delicious, same peaty punch as Laphroig but more complex briny notes I think.

          1. OP #1*

            I prefer sherry notes to peaty/smoky, but I do enjoy a good Laphroig on occasion. I’ll add Ardbeg to my list for the next tasting opportunity – thanks!

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              Sherry cask Glenmorangie would probably be right up your street, then. The malt itself is very clean, no smoke or peat at all.

      2. Claire*

        I was looking at the Balvenie Doublewood as a thank you gift for my dad for a huge favor he just helped with!

      3. LimeRoos*

        Oh bummer, but sounds like it was still a great time! Oooh, the double wood is really tasty too. The GlenLivet Nadurra’s are lovely – they have one that’s aged in Oloroso Sherry casks that is very tasty, highly recommend a try if you see it. Cheers!

  5. Samantha F*

    OP1, what a great way to use humor to get over what could be a very uncomfortable situation. Really laughed at ‘not being able to handle the level of majesty’. I think it was a real kindness to your boss, who does sound well-meaning (honestly this could be me too, it may not have occurred to me either that all those activities would be difficult due to somebody’s size, though once it’s spelled out it’s pretty obvious).

    1. Gerry Keay*

      I totally agree, and I love that OP didn’t put themselves down or self-deprecate in their humor! I really love the way they handled the situation.

  6. OP #1*

    OP #1 here with an update to the update: the trip was wonderful and I had a blast! My boss really is awesome. Further example: for the end-of-year holidays my boss asked around and figured out the PERFECT gift for me – an additional week of paid time off for 2022, to be taken as one consecutive week (he specified he hoped it involved gaming until all hours in my PJs, which is pretty much my favorite thing of all time), a nice bottle of scotch, and $1,000 in cash to go toward my sleeve tattoo I started a few weeks ago! Just…wow! The fact that I can spend a week gaming at home and don’t have to “justify” PTO by going on a trip, and the fact that he understands that tattoos have zero impact on the quality of my work, it just blows my mind. I couldn’t be happier! It makes a world of difference when your employer realizes you have a life outside of work and acknowledges it thoughtfully.

    1. You can call me flower, if you want to*

      I wish we also had a Best Boss of 2022 competition, because yours would be a serious contender. I’m so happy for you OP! Enjoy your gift.

      1. DyneinWalking*

        I ‘m all for this! Alison, can you make this a thing?

        Bad bosses deserve to be shamed, but good bosses deserve to be recognized. It would be rather uplifting; and besides, it would illustrate the things that employees actually appreciate.

    2. Elizabeth I*

      Hey OP#1, I am honestly a little gobsmacked at how incredibly well you handled that whole situation – the way you were able to use humor to redirect the choice of activity while also allowing everyone to save face and feel more united and positive as a team. You didn’t have to do that, but you did – and with serious aplomb.

      You are a freaking bad-ass, and I love hearing stories like this because I can learn how to be more of one myself.

      Anyways, you rock! Enjoy your awesome end of year gifts.

    3. Momma Bear*

      WOW, that’s a great update! So glad things are going well for you. Work life balance is so important, and a boss that really gets you? Priceless.

  7. J.B.*

    I’m really glad to hear about #4 and hope that the job situation continues to work out. It can definitely be a change in focus for the whole family and you forget the many things that need to change.

  8. bluephone*

    “She then asked me what I do to disinfect”
    …You wash your damn hands before eating, drinking, preparing food, touching your face, and after using the bathroom???? You wipe down surfaces with some kind of disinfecting cleaner that won’t trigger your allergies while keeping in mind that surface transmission has basically been ruled out as a huge transmission vector for COVID (at least compared to RESPIRATORY transmission DUH) since like May 2020. So why is your coworker still bathing herself and her office in Lysol spray? Can she seriously not work from home? Because it sounds like she needs to before she poisons the entire floor and/or has a covid-anxiety-induced nervous breakdown.

    I’m sorry, I just can’t with these people who are obsessed with disinfection theater but like, bitch and scream about COVID vaccines or think nothing of sending their preschool age kids to preschools with no mask policies and teachers that won’t get vaxxed (because little kids were never walking petri dishes before COVID anyway)

    1. Anononon*

      Woah. It’s clear from the letter that OP and her coworker worked this out. I understand your general frustration, but I don’t think it needs to be directed at coworker, especially your last paragraph.

      1. Kat in Boots*

        Yeah, I think the people who are really deeply into disinfecting everything tend not to be the same as the anti-vaccination camp. I’m aware that there are exceptions though, cause none of this is logic-based.

        I think we just need to be happy for the writer that everyone is now co-existing and co-working peacefully.

        1. Lessie*

          Agree. All the disinfection theatre people I know are devoted mask-wearing, social distancing, vaxxed people. One of them still refuses to meet anyone (even those vaxxed) indoors, and insists on keeping masks on for outdoors gatherings.

          1. Greyscale*

            My personal experience is different and matches more with what bluephone is saying. I’ve found that those who don’t want to mask/get vaccinated but who still want to appear smart get overly focused on sanitizing, and then use that as an excuse as to why they arent doing the things that actually matter. (Ex: they act as though they won’t get COVID because of how much they use sanitize, or say things like, “this is all unnecessary, just wash your hands and you’ll be fine.”)
            It drives me nuts not just because of COVID, but because I hate the idea of how this is might be affecting microbial resistance when it’s done in such a large-scale, often haphazard way.

    2. Drop in Commentator*

      Ouf, not to mention OVER disinfection is bad and can lead to resistant bacteria or superbugs (also see why antibacterial soaps are supposed to be used only in medical/high risk settings)

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        yes! I’ve always said that hygiene is overrated. With Covid, it’s now gone through the roof. and the solution is always disinfectant and plastic, yet more plastic.

  9. Albuquerque Boiled Turkey*

    OP #3 I’m so glad things worked out for you, but you had to take a paycut to work from home?! That’s bullshirt.

    1. Candi*

      OP 3’s work seems to be heavily into microcontrol territory in my book. Heavy “how dare you (have anything) nice” seems to be in there too, but I’m not certain.

      1. Batgirl*

        Ah yes, the management strategy of using misery or discomfort as a managerial success marker is right up there with the micromanager who can’t assess your work, so they just want to watch your presence.

  10. BabaYaga*

    Number 2: my response to an irritating scent was to produce an even more irritating one! It’s hard to find somebody more self-absorbed than the LW. Unbelievable.

    1. JustaTech*

      I think “self-absorbed” is a bit harsh to the LW. First, response to scents are incredibly person-specific, so I am going to take the LW’s word that their incense doesn’t elicit the same symptoms as the Lysol.
      And it was effective in that it created an opportunity to have a productive conversation with the Lysol-sprayer that resulted in a mutually beneficial solution.

      It’s not the method I would have used, but if it worked and everyone is at least satisfied with the outcome, then it’s all good in the end.

      (“Self-absorbed” I think would have been if the LW kept burning the incense even after the Lysol-sprayer asked the LW to stop.)

  11. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    I’m very happy for you, OP. With any luck, once you have some experience, you’ll be able to find a similar job that’s closer to home.

    Just one thing, it’s perfectly normal for your husband to take over some of the childcare. It’s good for you, for him in his role as a father and for your offspring. No need to go overboard with the gratitude.

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