update: I found my boss’s highly critical notes about a coworker

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager and I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

Remember the letter-writer who found their boss’s highly critical notes about a coworker? Here’s the update.

The primary update – We don’t have HR, and the only members of the company who were above me in hierarchy at the time were Elizabeth and Bruce. I felt a lack of ownership when it came to drawing attention to the situation or deciding what the correct course of action would be. My final determination was to seek out the counsel of Amy (Bruce’s Executive Assistant) who had been in charge of cleaning out Jessica’s office. When I showed the notes to Amy, she instantly made the decision to shred them (we have a third party company who shreds our documents and those are kept in secure, locked boxes until picked up). I also left it to Amy to decide whether to inform Elizabeth about the situation (as far as I know she did not). I had also gone through the cabinet to make sure no other notepads had any written pages on them – and I found one notepad with Jessica’s notes from a common meeting a few years prior, so I shredded those.

Some general updates about everyone involved:

Elizabeth is no longer with our company. She gave notice about six months in (citing the not-great fit on both sides as well as an opportunity she could not pass up). Elizabeth remains … a mixed bag in my opinion. Before she left the company, she ensured that I received a review and a raise – after not having a review for over three years. However, there were some professionalism problems evident. For example – Elizabeth and I were having a very serious one on one discussion and while I was talking she reached into her drawer, pulled out her floss, and proceeded to floss her teeth. I was stunned and I assume I stopped speaking, because she gestured for me to continue. I asked if she needed me to come back and she replied that no, it was fine – and flossed all of her teeth. Not in an “Excuse me, this popcorn kernel is stuck, please – one second” with a turn away and quick floss. It was both hands in her mouth just sawing away at her gums. At that point I think she had already mentally checked out (our serious discussion was about something she had done without thinking and I was doing my best trying to minimize the fallout).

The real benefit of Elizabeth is Regina, who Elizabeth hired prior to leaving. Bruce promoted Regina into the role Elizabeth had vacated and we are all delighted to work with Regina.

Bruce is … still Bruce. After Elizabeth left he went around seeking guidance on what had gone wrong (he has a history of taking resignations a little too personally), but I honestly think that the situation worked out as best it could. Elizabeth was a “rebound” in a sense and, while I did not wish such a short tenure on her, Regina was able to step into the role without the crushing weight of constantly being compared to Jessica.

As far as I know, Jessica is doing well in her new job. The same for Lila – Lila, the unknowing recipient of this vitriol, found a great job elsewhere and from all accounts is thriving. Lila’s last day was close to Elizabeth’s and, while I think Lila might have stayed with Elizabeth gone, her new work environment sounds much healthier for her and the work well-suited to her skillset – along with the lack of baggage she still had here as Jessica’s close friend.

As for me, Enid (the NotePad Goblin), I’m still using up dregs of old notepads and imagining myself in Sweet Valley.

Thank you, Alison and the commentariat, for your kind words and suggestions. I was at an absolute loss with no HR and the problem involving my only supervisors, and so I greatly appreciated the anonymous third-party guidance. Keep up the great work!

{ 77 comments… read them below }

    1. Enid The NotePad Goblin*

      It really was – I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner. It was in a conversation in the comments that the idea stuck me. I’m so incredibly grateful for the awesome readers and commentariat of this very helpful site. :o)

      1. Hermione Stranger*

        I’m so tickled by your naming scheme. Do you listen to the Double Love podcast by any chance? It strikes me as right up your alley!

  1. Radio Girl*

    Enid, thank you for the update.

    Fortunately, I have never found anything untoward at work, but I have seen people do oddly personal things at work. Seems like you handled it all with professionalism.

    1. Everything Bagel*

      I used to sit near a person who BRUSHED HIS TEETH at his desk. Water in a coffee mug, swishing the toothbrush in the mug, rinsing with water from the mug and spitting back into the mug. Yeah.

      1. Nope, not telling*

        I had a coworker who brushed her teeth while wondering around our small office, spit in the break room sink, and stored her toothbrush (and paste) in a drawer in the break room.
        Anyone want three guesses what I found in a break room drawer a few weeks after she moved on to a new job?

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        Oh, gross. Seriously, this is just… gross. Why can’t people do that in the bathroom sink like normal?

    2. Anon for this*

      It’s always amazed me what personal tasks people will do in public. I saw a guy *clipping his toe nails* while sitting at a gate in the airport, waiting to board a flight. So gross on so many different levels.

    3. Enid The NotePad Goblin*

      I tried to remain as professional as possible in the moment. I did later regale a friend of mine with the flossing story to make sure I wasn’t totally skewed in feeling grossed out by it. She concurred that I was reacting normally.

    1. Office Lobster DJ*

      I will echo that cheers and add that I really admire your insight, Enid. It would have been easy to paint Elizabeth as a cartoon villain or write off Bruce as bumbling, but your full, measured consideration of the situation, dynamics, and players shines through.

    2. Enid The NotePad Goblin*

      Thank you! I did purchase myself some smaller notepads on Amazon since those seem to have fallen out of style in my office’s supply cabinet, but I still use up the big notepads as I find them.

      1. Just Sayin'*

        You should look into getting a Rocketbook so you can reuse the same notebook over and over again. No shredding and you can digitally save your notes.

  2. anonymous73*

    For future reference, it is 100% okay to say “I’ll come back later” and walk away if someone is doing something personal like flossing their entire face hole. #ewww

  3. learnedthehardway*

    I’m glad that Lila ended up in a better company and role, and that you ended up with a better manager in Regina.

  4. voyager1*

    Not sure I could have made it through the teeth flossing. I probably would have started laughing.

    Maybe she had hot date or something.

      1. Cat Tree*

        Think of all the little flecks you have to constantly clean off your bathroom mirror. Then imagine being in the place of that mirror. I’m with you on the retching.

        1. allathian*

          Oh yuck! I use those sticks that look like miniature bottle brushes to floss my teeth, mainly because after getting orthodontic treatment in my early 40s, I still have retainer wires stuck behind my teeth from canine to canine, and I can’t use the traditional flossing thread. An added advantage is that I can floss my teeth without opening my mouth, if I get something stuck between my teeth. So I might do it at my desk when nobody’s looking, even at the office, but it would never consider doing it in front of anyone else, even if flossing with my mouth closed means that the yucky stuff isn’t going to fly out of my mouth…

    1. Enid The NotePad Goblin*

      Elizabeth is happily married, so it’s possible she was meeting her husband for a nice dinner – or more likely she just had something stuck in her teeth and wanted to get it out ASAP. I didn’t witness it myself, but according to several of my co-workers Elizabeth was very fond of working through lunch, usually eating while in meetings (which, based on her schedule meant she ACTUALLY got to eat, so I can’t fault her for that). I likely happened upon her at her usual private flossing time.

  5. NotRealAnonForThis*

    Am I the only one who remembers how Bruce and Regina wound up in book 40/41? ::eyes wide open::

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Drawing a blank. Refresh my memory. Isn’t Regina the one who died from a drug overdose?

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Yes, it’s amazing what my brain remembers from a book I read about 30 years ago. I’d forgotten she and Bruce dated though.

        1. NotRealAnonForThis*

          Yes and yes, which means I dropped my coffee cup over the fact that they hired Regina as Jessica’s replacement for Bruce!!!!

          (Vaguely recalling it wasn’t so much an OD as it was a heart issue that meant she shouldn’t have done any sort of stimulants….because my brain remembers really odd details…)

          1. EvilQueenRegina*

            Considering Bruce was cheating on Regina with Amy at the time, I did kind of raise my eyebrows at Amy being his executive assistant!

        2. Pants*

          I remember when she got her cochlear implant and was able to hear him say he loved her for the first time. Then she did coke and died. But first she wrote a letter to Elizabeth so it arrived after Regina had died. That’s not morbid or anything.

    2. GammaGirl1908*

      Totally coming here to giggle at the source of the names! No Roger? Where are Caroline, Olivia, Ken, Cara, and Todd?

      For nostalgic fans, there is a Sweet Valley recap podcast called Double Love that is hilarious. The hosts are ruthless in noting that Jessica Wakefield is a complete psychopath.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        Clearly I had not yet read the whole thread! Same recommendation made earlier, a few posts down.

      2. EvilQueenRegina*

        Todd possibly in Vermont at this point, but where is Winston and Maria, Robin, Annie, Sandy, Jean, Dana, Aaron…more will come to me. As for Caroline, it’s a good thing it wasn’t her who found that notebook, the risk of someone like her finding it was exactly why I advised against putting it back!

    3. 1-800BrownCow*

      Geez, people. I’m now feeling old as my memories are seriously drawing a blank. I read the books over and over and over, along with the dozens of other books I’d borrow from the library every 2 weeks, and I cannot for the life of me remember these story lines.

      This is why I tell people that if I have something new to remember, because my brain is overflowing, some other memory had to leave in order to make space. And I don’t get to choose what leaves. Like this week, I need to remember that my daughter’s favorite My Little Pony character is Rainbow Dash. And I’m pretty sure in order for that to be filed away in my brain, some critically important detail about work has now left my brain and when my manager asks me for that critically important detail, I’m not going to remember. Yep, that’s exactly how it goes.

  6. AdAgencyChick*

    The tooth flossing is what’s going to stick with me about this update forever.

    1. Mid*

      Same. I thought it was weird when my parent started flossing in my living room, but IN THE OFFICE while HAVING A CONVERSATION is so, so gross. I’d rather they started cutting their fingernails honestly.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Seriously. I can deal with someone cutting their fingernails. Not really good to do toenails in the office (ewww) but brushing and flossing outside of the bathroom, and while talking to someone? Ick, just ick. Also very, very rude.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Totally. I’m ashamed to be an Elizabeth. (And she is the main reason I loved those books when I was a kid.) (In the books she was awesome.)

    3. Kyrielle*

      If it’s sticking with you, maybe flossing a bit more would help get it loose?

      …or not. :innocent:

    4. Enid The NotePad Goblin*

      It is also going to stick with ME forever. :o) I have worked several different kinds of jobs in my time and I’ve never had someone fully floss their teeth in front of me while in the office.

  7. KittenLittle*

    Elizabeth is also dentally checked out! Our receptionist has a habit of flossing her teeth with a pick while I’m talking to her. It’s…weird.

    1. Forrest Gumption*

      Our receptionist used to be obsessed with her eyelashes – she would put copious amounts of mascara on to the point where they were about 1 inch long. Then she would spend all day separating them with a pin. This practice ended one day when she accidentally stabbed herself in the eye right as an important client entered the lobby.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        Ten thousand screaming frogs could not convey my horror here. Pin to the eye, ouch ouch ouch.

    2. anonymous73*

      Assuming you have customers or clients coming into your office, someone needs to tell your reception to stop grooming herself at her desk. It’s bad enough when someone does it at their own desk (still gross), but as a receptionist here part of your job is to greet people walking in, ummmm that’s a hard no.

    3. Enid The NotePad Goblin*

      KittenLittle – THANK YOU for that delicious pun, and giving me a good laugh! And yeah – maybe I’m a prude but I feel like dental stuff should be handled in private or at … like the dentist’s office or something. Not really out in the open air.

  8. HigherEdAdminista*

    LW, thank you for this update! If you aren’t listening to it, check out the Double Love podcast. If you are imagining yourself in Sweet Valley… this will add some delight to your days!

      1. HigherEdAdminista*

        I’m so excited to find another Double Love listener! They really crack me up and make my week a bit more delightful.

    1. Enid The NotePad Goblin*

      I’m adding it to my list – thank you! I was a little younger when I first got into Sweet Valley, so I’m more familiar with the Sweet Valley Twins and Unicorns series – but I did read a bunch of the SVH books, watch the show, and have the Board Game (which a cousin handed down to me).

      1. ElizabethWakefieldIsMyIdol*

        It’s so awesome to see one of my favorite book series’ character’s names mentioned here. Very, very good memories of reading the books while growing up.

    1. The. WHAT.*

      Some of us just have a delight in using up old notebooks. There are NotePad Goblins everywhere.

  9. quill*

    Still baffled, but great job getting the raise, OP!

    Elizabeth’s flossing habits are making my teeth itch.

  10. Observer*

    Interesting update. Thanks for coming back.

    I think that calling Elizabeth a “mixed bag” is on the mark. But what you describe also highlight the fact that Jessica apparently had some fairly significant issues as well. Which makes it an even better thing that the new Operations Manager is not being compared to her.

    1. Enid The NotePad Goblin*

      Yeah, Jessica had some issues as well – things that I kind of brushed off as “normal” or an issue with me and not her … but with some distance I think that there was some toxicity with her job that didn’t play well with her personality. I wish her nothing but the best and am endlessly grateful for the opportunities she gave me and all that she taught me – but this feels like a better place for all involved, even if getting here was messy.

  11. Free Meerkats*

    Greeting Fellow Notepad Goblin!

    Previous manager left a pile of notepads, steno books, and full size tablets with one or two pages used that I’ve been using since he left about 3 years ago. Haven’t made a dent in it.

    1. Not Australian*

      Sounds like my dad’s infamous stationery stash; he died in 2001, and I inherited enough document wallets, file dividers and envelopes to run a small government department…

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        LOL! My spouse and I over the years we’ve been together have amassed enough office supplies to run a small office – file folders, hanging files, sticky notes, pens, tape, note pads, notebooks, mechanical pencils, a stapler or three, etc. What is really odd is that sometimes we use stuff up! Both of us have small business side gigs, and that stuff turns out to be useful. But we are trying not to buy more unless we run out now.

  12. Sylvia*

    I would’ve started dry heaving at the tooth flossing, and I’m someone who tries very hard not to make others feel bad. But with teeth I just can’t.

    1. Lana Kane*

      Yeah – I’m one who cannot comprehend why anyone goes into dentistry!

      When the floss came out I would have just been focusing on holding my gag reflex in check and the meeting would have essentially been over (for me at least).

  13. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

    I just love the Sweet Valley High naming theme. I want to believe Bruce’s license plate is actually 1BRUCE1.

  14. tessa*

    “…while I was talking she reached into her drawer, pulled out her floss, and proceeded to floss her teeth.”

    Ew, ew, ew ew ew. EW! NO, people!

    1. Enid The NotePad Goblin*

      That was my internal reaction! It was like an ERROR message going off in my head. Again, if we 1) knew each other A LOT better and 2) had a convo that went “Hey, do you mind? This thing in my tooth is driving me nuts!” with a quick turn-away, I would have been okay with it. Not overjoyed, but understanding. And it makes me a little sad that the most memorable thing about her to me is the horror I felt at seeing the entire inside of her mouth.

  15. Catabodua*

    It seems most folks are sharing gross out stories, but I’m very interested in the notes. I had to go through a former employee’s emails to look for a contract that was in process and found a long email chain between multiple folks – most still employed there – who were making fun of a different current employee.

    I forwarded the chain to HR because it contains some really vile stuff. They were all hauled in an written up, but that seemed to be the end of it. I wondered how else it might have gone in other companies.

    1. Enid The NotePad Goblin*

      If we had HR or even a person above me who was not directly involved in the writing of those notes, I would have forwarded the notes I found to them. But unfortunately, I did not have that. And I was terrified that the woman who wrote those notes could write a list about me that could cause me to get lambasted like Lila or fired. In the long run, I think it worked out as well as it could have. But I imagine that there are healthier companies where this could have been handled better. :o)

  16. The Wakefield Twins’ Red Fiat*

    Just huge thanks for all of the amazing Sweet Valley references!!

  17. Azith*

    Elizabeth’s teeth flossing is weird but irrelevant. If nothing else, I’m glad she ensured OP got a raise, and hired Regina.

    Frankly, Bruce sounds awful, and Elizabeth doesn’t sound much better. If your new boss trashes your predecessor to you, and/or other staff, what do you think they’ll say about you?

  18. Hapax Legomenon*

    Enid, your writing style is so refreshing. Do you have any blogs or posted fanfic? I would read the heck out of it.

    1. Enid The NotePad Goblin*

      Thank you for the very kind words! I do have quite a bit of writing, but I’m mostly a playwright – and all of those scripts are under my real world name. I’ve had some false starts with blogging before (mostly a lack of follow-through on my part), but maybe I’ll try to get back into it. If so, I’ll find a way to let you know (carrier pigeon, maybe?!)

  19. That One Person*

    Oh man I remember this since, as I commented on the previous, I had a similar experience so close to this being published! Glad that shredding was ultimately the route taken here especially so there was no splash back at Lila for it, and even happier that Lila’s in a new place that’s working out better. Given how unpredictable Elizabeth strikes me as it was probably the safest route all things concerned.

    Now that I think about it, I’m almost certain I had to throw out a pack of those single use floss sticks too…but at least I don’t think my old supervisor wouldn’t have done it while talking to someone. I can also understand someone having a packed schedule as sometimes my mum has so many meetings back-to-back that she can’t even get a bathroom break for hours…but at that point you accept it gets pushed off, not just act more casually around someone. Now I’m REALLY curious of Elizabeth’s perception of you given she was comfortable enough to floss in front of you! (Or…maybe she just really didn’t care like you speculated.)

    1. Enid The NotePad Goblin*

      I really hope that your situation also ended well (or at least as well as it could have).

      Maybe it’s weird of me, but I find the use of a single-use floss stick/pick more professional than a foot and half long string of floss – or at the very least, much more discreet. I might not have even noticed at first if she was using one of those sticks/picks.

      I also realize that my sense of professionalism has been built around the situations I have been in. But full-on flossing while in a very serious meeting is definitely on the “not professional” side.

      And yeah, I don’t think Elizabeth liked me very much on a personal level, but professionally she seemed fine with me. We have a lot of similar personality traits and I’m sure the things that annoyed me about dealing with her were similar to the things that annoyed her about dealing with me. I’m glad she got another opportunity that sounded much more up her alley in terms of scope and responsibility.

      1. That One Person*

        Oh yeah no worries for mine! I essentially knew before being rehired that my supervisor wasn’t coming back through other people since they’d talked about it with my boss and explicitly stated they weren’t going to be brought back. Since I was going to be the only one here I opted for my supervisor’s old desk since I liked the spot between windows and some visibility in general when people come to my room/office. When cleaning out the desk is when I discovered the notes, and since I didn’t think my boss would care (these notes were pre-COVID anyways) and I knew ex-supervisor wasn’t coming back I just ripped those pages out and kept the rest of the pads – no reason to try to forward them to my ex-coworker and nobody here would give two hoots about them!

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