updates: religious decor in a shared office, not donating blood, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager! All this week and next, I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

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

1. Religious decor in a shared work space

When I got back from lunch the day my letter was printed, my boss was in, so my coworker and I popped into the office and just asked if the religious stuff was hers. She said it was, and we just nicely asked if it would be possible to move it/take down what was on the monitor since it was a shared space and the taped-up things were distracting. This is where it gets funny! We recently took over this office from someone who no longer works in our facility (corporate buyout = lots of shuffling around), and apparently there was a Bible verse already taped to the existing monitor the first time our boss got into the office! We had our wires crossed a little bit about when everyone had been in the office for the first time, and she assumed one of us had put the verse up, so she figured it was alright to put up some things of her own! We laughed about it a bit and she is fine with taking the personal items down in favor of getting some new office supplies and a desk organizer instead.

I’m glad we took the calm, assume-the-best of people approach, and this work relationship can continue to be as great as it was before this conversation.

2. How do I explain why I’m not donating blood?

My question was about how to deal with the blood drive at work as a closeted gay man. Luckily, it wasn’t too much of an issue but wanted to provide an update. My main concern was the person who was organizing the event – she is both extremely nosy and extremely gossipy. I knew she would talk if I made up some excuse no matter what I said but I’m happy to report I didn’t have to say much at all. The sign-up for the blood drive was on-line, so when she came by, I told her I’d take a look at my calendar and figure out a time. Due to COVID protocols, they were only taking two people at a time, so the appointments filled up fast and I just didn’t grab a slot in time (Darn!).

The reason I moved back home three years ago was to be a caregiver to a relative and unfortunately, I know my time in that role is ending soon. I plan to move back to the city I lived in before where I was able to be myself. It’s been a stressful time from many angles, but it was nice to see all the support in the comments. Sorry I couldn’t engage in them as I was working but I appreciate the responses.

3. Do you have to control your emotions to be professional?

I’ve been thinking about sending an update for a while; seeing my question posted in the 2016 highlights list inspired me to finally do it.

Since writing to you, I realized much of my job-related turmoil came from the fact that I had spent many years as a square peg in a round hole. In my career, I was surrounded by people who were utterly devoted to the work we did. Many of them had a calling to do this kind of work. I never had a calling to do anything, and felt like something was wrong with me because of that. At best, I tolerated the work we did; it just wasn’t meaningful to me even though on paper I was a great fit for it and many people might describe it as “worthwhile.”

Getting fired spurred me on a journey of learning about myself. Part of that was learning to accept myself for who I am instead of trying to be who I “should” be. After a lot of volunteer work, time with my loved ones, mistakes, and self-reflection, I did find a field that is a good fit, and I have a totally different work life now. It isn’t perfect, but it aligns with my beliefs, allows me to use my strengths, and offers a good deal of flexibility. It’s something I plan to stick with as long as opportunities continue to come my way.

Some of us are perpetual “works in progress,” and the messiness that comes with that can be beautiful in its own way.

4. Are better managers … ever actually worse?

I really appreciated the answer to the question I asked when I noticed someone I perceived as a better manager had left me and some colleagues feeling worse about our jobs. The response, as well as things the commenters pointed out, helped me realize I was totally wrong in my understanding of what a good manager looks like. I think that helped me let go of some guilt I’d been carrying for feeling so frustrated under Jack. Many commenters pointed out that given a choice between a hands-off bad manager and a heavy-handed bad manager, they’d rather have the hands-off manager. This helped me gain an appreciation of my new boss, who also tends to be pretty hands-off, so I’m feeling pretty happy with where I am right now.

{ 28 comments… read them below }

  1. Falling Diphthong*

    I’m glad we took the calm, assume-the-best of people approach.

    I’m really glad to read of this approach working. Even if there’s only a 20% chance of a rational explanation (or the person being quite happy to change whatever it is because they don’t much care about it), it’s often best to give that a chance to be the case. And then you aren’t huffing about how “well I assumed, I couldn’t have known, etc.”

    1. Antilles*

      IMO, it’s usually worth at least *trying* the polite approach first if the other person is generally reasonable. If it turns out that it was just a mistake, then it gets resolved simply and amicably and everything’s great. If the polite approach fails, then you still have your options open and can escalate with a more aggressive approach as needed. But if you start off with the strong aggressive approach, then you’re committing to that strategy; there’s not really a viable de-escalation to “go back” to a more soft and polite approach…and potentially taking the polite and amicable ending off the table too.
      I do love that the ending is basically straight out of a sitcom though – we thought she was going too far but she thought it was us! everybody had a good laugh, the answer was a simple $10 desk organizer, now everything is back to normal and it’s like this entire episode of TV never happened!

    2. Koalafied*

      Yes, I practice this and a closely related policy that I call, “What if I’m wrong?” Whenever I think someone else has told me something that makes no sense, or given me bad instructions, instead of starting with “no, that’s not right” or “your directions didn’t work,” I think, but what if I’m wrong? And decide to instead say something like, “Hm, would doing that be possible in X scenario?” Or, “I think I followed your directions correctly but I’m still not getting the result I need. Would you mind taking a look at it to see what I might be missing?”

      If it turns out I was right originally and they gave me bad info or bad directions, that will come out in response to my questions, but if it is turns out I was the one who didn’t see a button that was right in front of my face, or was unaware of something already in place to mitigate the risk I was worried about, I haven’t just come off like a jackass berating someone else over my own mistaken understanding of the situation

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        With my boss/shift leads I go with “can I please borrow your eyes – I think I’m missing a step.” The first time I said it I got a chuckle, but it has consistently worked for me, and it seems to remove all pressure from either side to be right.

  2. Американка (Amerikanka)*

    #3 I am glad you found a job better suited to your personality and preferences! I am also a square peg in a round hole at my job so am in the process of finding a job in a somewhat different that better lines up with my strengths. Reading you update gives me hope to keep applying and trying even when things feel hopeless. Wishing you the best!

  3. Living400lbs*

    One note on giving blood – there are many medical reasons to not give blood, including medications. “It’s not possible”, “My doctor will tell me if things change” and “It’s not serious, but it’s private” are responses I’ve used.

    1. anonymous73*

      That was covered well in the original post, and based on the update “reasons” wouldn’t have mattered.

    2. Meep*

      Even a non-medical one: “I do not support Red Cross of America due to its price gouging and misuse of funds.” Just for those who have moral grounds for not donating blood. I will, but never to Red Cross – which mainly sponsors these things. Give directly to blood banks or hospitals, I beg!

    3. RC+Rascal*

      I faint when I try to give blood. You might try saying that, or just be vague and say it is difficult for you to give and it tends to make you ill.

      1. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

        I faint when just drawing blood for testing, which is way less than the pint or so they draw for donations. I’ve also been turned away twice from donating blood when I was younger due to my blood being “too thin” (basically, anemic enough that donating would be a bad idea but not so anemic that I have health problems).

        It sounds like the blood drive organizer would have gossiped no matter what he said, though.

    4. Matt*

      I could donate blood despite some medications (they are on the “green” list), but I haven’t ever tried because my veins are such that even a routine blood draw for the usual lab tests evolves into rocket science for the poor doctor or nurse involved. I ended up in situations where I was told to walk through the office with circling arms (in hope that the veins would come out this way) to being punctured in the back of the hand with an extra thin special needle, and so on. The good thing is that I could never become an IV drug addict, but I couldn’t imagine that big blood donation needle ever going into my regular arm vein.

  4. Squirrel Nutkin*

    Aw, you warm my heart, update #3! Best of luck as you continue your journey. : )

    1. ferrina*

      Yes! This made me smile. Life is weird and messy. I don’t think it’s bad to be a work in progress- we should all be growing and learning as we can (I like the term “Lifelong Learner”)

  5. Purple Cat*

    Love the update from LW3. There’s a lot of self-reflection and growth there. AND I find it awesome that a LW from 2016 is still around and commenting. Kudos to Alison for running such a great site.

  6. Observer*

    #2 The reason I moved back home three years ago was to be a caregiver to a relative and unfortunately, I know my time in that role is ending soon

    I’m sorry to hear. You sound like a kind and caring person. I hope your eventual move goes well for you.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreed. Wishing you the most peaceful of transitions for you and the person you are caring for.

      And please don’t forget to care for you as things get closer to the end – that is when both of you will need the most help. Hoping that you have that help when you need it.

    2. WoodswomanWrites*

      I’m glad this sticky work situation worked out well for you.

      What a caring and thoughtful person you are. I’m sorry to hear about the situation with your loved one. I’m sure you are brightening their final years. I wish you well as you navigate that journey and return to your home community.

  7. Observer*

    Due to COVID protocols, they were only taking two people at a time, so the appointments filled up fast and I just didn’t grab a slot in time (Darn!).

    I’m glad it worked out.

  8. Zelda*

    Some of us are perpetual “works in progress,” and the messiness that comes with that can be beautiful in its own way.

    Dear LW3, *all* of us are perpetual works in progress.

    You spend your youth preparing to be a doctor/lawyer/firefighter/whatever you siad you wanted “to be when I grow up.” And then you leave school, and… there is no moment when you are “grown up”. I can’t tell you the date, but I remember very vividly when I realized that all that preparation isn’t for one static thing that when you achieve it, you’re done. It’s *all* process, and none of us is *ever* a finished product, not in this life.

  9. Florida Fan 15*

    I can so relate to LW4. I worked for a bad manager for several years. He was awful and I was so happy when he retired I almost skipped into work. The manager I got next was a nicer person but also a bad manager. The first was hands off, whereas the second was the worst micromanager I’ve ever known.

    I wouldn’t want either of them, but if forced to choose I’d take the hands off jerk over the nice nervous wreck. At least he left me alone a fair amount of the time.

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