updates: my coworker won’t take corrections, raising ethical objections about a client, and more

Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. My coworker won’t take corrections and blames his mental health (first update here)

We not only caught up on fixing all of John’s product issues, but I’m also being considered for a promotion! If I get this position, I will be the Technical Lead for this team, and able to make some judgment calls for designs I couldn’t before!

We had to sit through a ton of DE&I meetings, as well as have the whole team basically have group therapy sessions to show that the company DID care about the team after allowing John to be actively racist at work.

Our manager took a huge step towards clearing our names as supporting or hiding John’s racism and badmouthing our team by announcing his departure and why (“John’s views are NOT in line with this company”) We’ve since had applications to come join the team!

I feel less stressed, and I’ve signed up for some communication classes to help me with my own word choices. I still don’t know how to make red “less aggressive” but the new members have asked us to go back to red ink for notes on corrections so that our notes stand out.

Thank you and everyone else in the comment section!

2. Raising ethical objections about a potential client

Five(ish) years after I wrote in to ask you how to raise ethical objections about a client with my boss, I’m back with an update. (TL;DR: it got worse before it got better)

Shortly after the letter was published, both I and another colleague spoke with boss in private about our concerns. He really wasn’t happy about it, but we had made our case and we weren’t fired…so that was all we could hope for at this point.

Later on, boss had a team meeting to announce we would not be moving forward with the client. He also reprimanded both of us in front of our colleagues for raising the issues we did.

Numerous other issues/incidents came up over the following years which made me realize that it was time to move on. Using your cover letter/interview tips, I found a multinational agency that offers better benefits and a big pay bump. I’m moving on after I serve my notice period.

Thanks for your advice back then, as well as that of the commenters. I think I did the best I could then, and I’m looking to do the best I can moving forward.

3. Friday good news (#4 at the link)

18 months (or so) later, I am still with the same company but in a different role.

The role I was initially hired for started off great. We were launching a new site, I was a one woman team, I was busy, sharing ideas, creating new processes. After 6 months, the company hired someone above me. They were hired to “manage” me as well as hire, train, and manage hourly admins for the department. I embraced having an onsite boss to manage the department so I could focus on what I was hired for.

But then they took a lot of leave (in excess of what they had. Their boss was at a different site and did not know they were leaving early, coming in late, taking WFH days when it is not possible to do this job full-time from home.) I did say something and someone “looked into it.” But nothing was ever done.

They hired 4 admins, but had me train them. I trained them, and was also directed to manage them. When I tried to coach one of the admins for performance (as I was told to) the documentation was then discarded which then took away my credibility with the team. The team became toxic as my boss would not hold them accountable either.

Things weren’t completed, things weren’t followed up on, things weren’t communicated. Despite asking, requesting, nearly begging, I did not receive any stretch or extra work. My peers at other sites would get assigned projects from their boss, then schedule a meeting with me so I could get them started. I was the GO TO. But, my own boss pretty much dismissed me. My role got smaller and smaller and I basically became a spreadsheet person.

Despite my covering for my boss, I got lower on my review than I believed I deserved, and when I asked, the response was “Don’t worry, I got the same score.” That just made me mad.

Plus because of how positions are “graded” there was no way for me to be promoted in that department because you can’t skip a step, but there was no step to go to just above me.

I hated it. But I absolutely love this company and the rest of the people I work and interact with. An opportunity opened up in another department that I had been working closely with. One of the team members was promoted and the whole team was very vocal about wanting me on their team. My experience in that area is mostly peripheral, but I have skills and talents that the department needed.

So 6 weeks ago, I was transferred and promoted with a healthy raise. Almost immediately, I was able to streamline and make some processes easier for them. I have also already been given opportunities to shine in front of sr management. The best part is I am considered and treated as a valuable member of the team.

In the meantime, I am still in temporary housing, but my teenaged son graduated from high school and just finished his first year in college.

4. My manager doesn’t believe I’ll be back two weeks off after having a baby (#2 at the link, first update here; second update here)

I worked the second job for almost two months and then the job ended (I completed the work). So I went back to school so I can finish and get my degree. It was wild juggling full time school, full time work, and the baby, but I did it AND I’m confident I made the Deans List which is exciting (I had to leave school a few years ago because my family became homeless and it was untenable to continue attending; my GPA tanked so being on the deans list proves it wasn’t my fault)! And! Super excited! I’m starting my own business. When I tell people they immediately jump to the conclusion that I’ve joined an MLM but no! It’s a real actual social venture and I actually just won an award and seed money to get it up and going. 

Thank you for all your advice and you can bet I’ll be using the things I’ve learned from reading your website to ensure my business is a respectful and equitable place for all people to work.

{ 43 comments… read them below }

  1. Delphine*

    “Later on, boss had a team meeting to announce we would not be moving forward with the client. He also reprimanded both of us in front of our colleagues for raising the issues we did.”


    1. Elizabeth West*

      The boss was clearly miffed that OP punctured his balloon. The ethical objections were valid, but people who’ve jumped enthusiastically on the wellness wagon train aren’t always down to hear about it. If the boss had been more objective, i.e., not a devotee of their practices, OP might not have had to write in.

      I’m glad OP found something much better.

    2. tamarak & fireweed*

      There’s a lack of reality principle here in this company. You don’t publicly reprimand anyone, and certainly not for bringing a concern in a professional manner, and even more certainly not if you actually act in line with the concern.

  2. ThisIsNotADuplicateComment*

    Unless I’m misunderstanding the first update to the first letter it sounds like the only reason John wasn’t punished for his racist comments is that the company demanded proof beyond “I/Co-worker heard John say this”. Which is a management/HR/policy problem – not your fault! Even if they were given by the best speakers out there having to take a ton of training just because I didn’t secretly record my co-working and the company didn’t trust my (and my other co-workers’) words would be a bitter pill to swallow.

    1. KSharp*

      I’m the letter writer for #1, Basically that’s the gist. They’d already talked to him about how some of his wording could come off in context, but he’d blame quality and racism on poor metal health. It just took literal “I have proof he’s not doing what he needs to do”

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Please don’t internalize “how do I become less aggressive” based on one jerk who found a way to get what he wanted by shouting “aggression.”
        Everything he said including a and the was to avoid doing work.
        Was he mentally ill? Doesn’t matter. He did not not want to work.
        Leave him in the past and do not spend another second wondering about yourself based on him at all.

        1. KSharp*

          I’ve always had a minor problem with word choice and tone, so it’s less worry about being aggressive and more “How do I stay professional when I want to spew profanity”

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        The parts I don’t understand are “We had to sit through a ton of DE&I meetings, as well as have the whole team basically have group therapy sessions to show that the company DID care about the team after allowing John to be actively racist at work.” and “Our manager took a huge step towards clearing our names as supporting or hiding John’s racism and badmouthing our team by announcing his departure and why (“John’s views are NOT in line with this company”)” These seem to be saying that y’all had to clear your name for… Not reporting John’s bigotry often or loudly enough? After you had finally managed to get rid of him? I must be missing something here.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          It sounds like OP’s team had developed an unfair reputation due to John’s racism. Other teams didn’t see John being reprimanded or fired, so they didn’t know he was being reported. He also may have deliberately made it seem to others that everyone on his team believed as he did. He did a lot of damage, and this piece was part of it.

          1. KSharp*

            All of the above. He badmouthed us by saying we were lazy and “hiding that we have no more work” when I was drowning because his work was so terrible. Other teams would hear his bigoted comments (and the fact that he harassed several women on LinkedIn to get coffee) and thought we supported his behavior.
            He was on our team for about 6 months, but what he’s said is vile and can last forever.

            1. Observer*

              That’s not terribly surprising. I remember your first letter where you mentioned in the comments how he’d told the QA things about others that weren’t true to get everyone fighting. So, it’s no big surprise that he tried that tactic elsewhere.

            2. learnedthehardway*

              To some extent, I blame the other department’s staff for taking John’s word at face value. I mean, COME ON!! Couldn’t they possibly have considered the source? Or maybe have taken it upon themselves to complain about John’s bigoted comments? Or possibly have – I don’t know – gotten a second or third perspective on whether your team was really as under-performing as John said they were?

              I feel like the issues are broader than just John here – having your entire department do DEI training when it was clear that John was the issue, other staff taking John’s gossip as gospel truth… I think there are more bees in this hive than just John.

              1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                I think it may have been a case of John was the loudest person around and was drowning out all of the rest. So because everyone else was acting normally and professionally – the only person making any noise was John……and he was making quite the stink.

                1. KofSharp*

                  Before he fully went off the deep end, he was a charismatic person who’d “trap others with social obligations” and then would just keep talking.
                  He also had a desk surrounded by many different teams while half the team is in a much smaller satellite office.
                  So you have loud, charismatic, and appalling vs much quieter, almost separate team and suddenly everyone who doesn’t interact with the team on a regular basis is suspicious

              2. TootsNYC*

                or–if John was there only 6 months, what did they see happening BEFORE he got there, and why didn’t they give the people they’d already been working with more of a benefit of the doubt?

                1. KofSharp*

                  I only joined this company last year (part of the 2021 Era of the Great Resignation, I could write a whole book on my last company) and I’m not super great about making friends with new people, especially not in other offices.
                  I’m in a satellite office about 16 hours away from the main office that he was situated in. He had more ears available.

            3. Retired editor*

              Not sure of the context about red being aggressive for corrections — it is pretty standard in editing. However, I will note that when I have a choice, I prefer to edit black or blue text in green (bearing in mind that for a lot of my editing career, I was editing on paper).

              A lot of red in a document does bother me and causes some of the muscles around my eyes to tighten, leading to occasional headaches. The problem with red seems to be idiosyncratic and linked to text — my wardrobe includes a lot of red, but my wardrobe choices have stringent texture and fiber limitations. This has led me to conclude I have sensory issues of some sort (along with various allergies). I also wonder if my sensitivity to red in documents was affected by office lighting and screen lighting.

              1. KofSharp*

                There was a whole comment thread on the OG post, we had to change the red ink because it was “too aggressive” for corrections, but pink was “too girly” and then he deleted comments in other colors and pretended he hadn’t received any marks.

                One of the jobs I had to correct, he’d stashed for his entire tenure, billed 4 times the amount budgeted for it, and I had to start over on the job because he’d somehow done it so wrong that it’d crash if you tried to change anything.

                BTW changing my lil tag because it looks like there’s a “counterstrike” player with that handle.

                1. TootsNYC*

                  The last time I had to color-code markups, my team used purple. Research used green. Editors had blue, black, or red.

                  Every now and then someone would get a cool purple pen, and I’d have to go over and tell them to stop.

        1. KSharp*

          Sorry, it’s a play off something from college, not counterstrike. I once used 10 sharpies from brand new to completely dry in under 24 hours for drawing practice so I was “Killer of Sharpies” and it got condensed from there.

  3. Anon for this*

    LW#4 – I’m totally rooting for you and I hope you crush your business!

    1. Irish Teacher*

      One of my lecturers said this when I started college (many years ago), that the mature students are the ones who do all the work.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yeah I went to uni in my 40s and was way more serious than those coming straight out of school. Those in my age group who didn’t make it, were juggling too many other responsibilities like children and mortgages. One was working full-time and her boss wouldn’t give her any time off for training because the course wasn’t needed for her work and would actually give her an out.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I noticed it as an undergrad. The older students got SO much more out of college, were SO much more efficient in their projects and papers, etc.

  4. TrippingOnBY*

    LW4, do you sleep?? Seriously you have incredible drive and commitment! Congratulations – you’re clearly going to do so well with your new endeavor!

      1. Mimi*

        Talk about it not being LW’s fault their GPA tanked when their family became homeless– with a small child and a full-time job, they’re doing great!

  5. Van Wilder*

    “When I tell people they immediately jump to the conclusion that I’ve joined an MLM…”

    Ah, yes, just like people assume of every man starting his own business. Oh, wait…

    1. TootsNYC*

      actually, nowadays I assume most men who say “I’ve started my own business” are signing up for a financial MLM, or some other MLM. Maybe not makeup, but something similar.

  6. Blarg*

    LW4 – you’re kind of amazing. Most of the time when I hear people are venturing out on their own I kind of hold my breath for them. But in your case, I’m confident that you’ll be able to do what you need to do. And that you have the wherewithal to pivot and change and make it work, whatever it is, in whatever you’re doing. All the best!

  7. TootsNYC*

    “how to make red pen less aggressive”
    I once worked with a guy who was abrasive and aggressive in person.
    I once went to his boss and said, “people are getting angry when they see his notes. He writes them in a felt-tip marker, which makes them wide, and he prints in slightly larger block letters, and it looks like he’s angry. Given that he’s often angry to people in person, something needs to change. Can we insist that he write in blue or green–anything but red?”

    So I think a person can use red aggressively. But it will be influenced largely by how they are in person, or what their relationship with someone is (LW#1 was often in contention with John, so that would influence how he reacted, as would his own knowledge that he was a fuck-up).

    If I were truly worried about it, I’d:
    -use a thinner point

    -write in slightly smaller letters, and maybe not block-print

    -write my comments so they aren’t crowding the text, so it looks like I took a step back and am not looming over the written material (this guy wrote right next to the text he was commenting on, and it felt as if he was so angry he couldn’t help himself)

    -use framing language when appropriate (“try this:….” or “fixed dangler”) so the text on the page is not abrupt. And of course, avoid snottiness (this guy also would add an “!” or write “this is wrong, fix,” so there’s that as well–but even when he only rewrote a section, it still felt abrupt). You don’t need to frame everything; a simple fix doesn’t need framing every time. But sprinkling them in will keep it a “conversation” and not a “scolding.”

    -throw in a positive comment every now and then. Again, not every item, but if you write “nice!” next to a nice turn of phrase, or “ha!” beside something that’s sort of funny, you become a person on the page who is writing in red so it’s visible. And not an angry teacher correcting papers.

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