updates: the negligent safety partner, the commuting time, 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 five updates from past letter-writers.

1. My safety partner won’t accompany me when he’s supposed to

Oh boy have things not been going well. At first things did go well, I spoke with Zach being very direct like you suggested and it worked. Then, both of our schedules got very busy and he wasn’t available the within the dates I was required to do the site visit. So I brought it up with my boss and got… no response. (Lucky for me, the visits were put on hold due to another pressing project.)

However, since then, my boss continually ignores emails or in person requests from me. Most of these are about site logistics or my specific duties, and I literally cannot get these answers from anyone else. (I have asked other coworkers multiple times, and because they are on different teams, everyone refers/defers to my boss.) Recently she texted me to ask when I would be in the office because she wanted to overlap. I gave her my hours and said to let me know if I should adjust them to match hers. She never responded and when I got into the office she had already left.

I’ve starting talking more earnestly with my coworkers who have been a part of the greater team much longer, and they have all agreed that communication is poor and it’s extremely frustrating. However they all offer the same excuse, “[Boss] runs so many amazing programs, she does so much for our company. She’s just really overworked and busy”.

Maybe I am young and don’t understand (this is my first non-seasonal position) but shouldn’t one of manager’s primary roles be to be able to communicate with their direct reports? She’s so busy that she can’t respond to my information requests, so I literally have to put my work on hold. I’m hourly, if I can’t work, I don’t get paid!

Needless to say, I feel completely isolated at this job and have started searching for another.

Thank you for your advice for when it did work! I apologize for my response turning into a bit of a rant. I read back your advice to respond to all of it, and was cackling at how you suggested that my boss would want to know. I’ve since learned it’s the complete opposite. Sometimes I think she forgets I exist!

2. Interviewers were obsessed with my commuting time (#3 at the link; first update here)

As I mentioned in my previous update, I got a temp-to-hire placement with the option of staying on as a temp while I kept looking if it didn’t work out. Well, it didn’t work out – nobody spoke to me throughout the day except to say “do this,” the work I was given only took up about a third to a half of my day, and absolutely none of it justified being in the office at all, let alone the cost of gas. I brought up the possibility of working from home, but since I was a temp, I wasn’t allowed. The only bright spot was that I was allowed to listen to podcasts or play movies in the background all day. They offered me the job permanently for a laughably low amount of money, two work from home days that would go away as soon as the pandemic was sufficiently “over” and with no increase in work to keep me busy.

I stayed a temp and kept looking, spruced up my resume and cover letter using your advice, and got an offer for almost double the pay at a nonprofit, on a team that is permanently fully remote! I’m still in my probationary period, but life is already so much better than at the temp job or my toxic previous job. The team actually communicates throughout the day, and while my workday isn’t jam-packed, I’m not losing my mind with boredom, either. I’m making more money than I’ve ever made in my life (at a nonprofit, no less!), on the least toxic team I’ve ever worked with, at a workplace that actually cares about the wellbeing of its employees – I’m almost worried I’m getting spoiled and won’t be able to handle working anywhere that doesn’t live up to this! Thank you for answering my initial letter, and for all your advice!

3. I obsessed over a job — did I ruin my chances? (#5 at the link)

I actually ended up receiving a call and being asked to interview for the role about a week after I wrote in, so its absolutely true what I’ve read on your site about employers following their own timelines for hiring, and not to read anything into it. I had my first interview, it went very well, I was confident, well practiced, and developed good rapport with the HR rep and the manager for the role. However I quickly realised that job was going to be less high-level than I anticipated, so guess what? It wasn’t my dream job! About 2 weeks later (today) I received a phone call saying they weren’t progressing me to second interviews, and when I pushed for feedback they had similar reservations to me in that I was over-qualified and that the role wouldn’t be challenging enough to keep me interested long term, but they did make a point to say I interviewed really well and had a strong skill set. In between my original letter and the phone call I had a performance review with my current company which was glowing and they agreed to a 10% pay rise (without any knowledge of me interviewing elsewhere), and I think I’d already decided to stay before the call about the second interview. All in all, I’m in an incredibly fortunate position to not need to leave my current position, it was a very positive experience, and it really was not worth the panic I demonstrated in my first letter. I plan to keep working hard and displaying my capabilities at my current job, but will keep an eye out on opportunities in the next 18 months as it’s definitely an industry sector I want to move into long term.

4. Rejecting an offer because of the company culture (#5 at the link)

I took Alison’s advice and script basically verbatim. Less than two weeks later I received a similar offer where the in-office policy was allegedly far more flexible, but the salary package and healthcare benefits were strangely structured and ultimately the $10K increase in base would’ve somehow actually been a backwards step for me financially. I also declined this offer and am *still* searching after almost 18 months, but those two offers have given me the confidence to be able to say no and not settle for a role that isn’t right across the board — salary, benefits and the flexibility my family needs. Thanks, Alison!

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

I originally wrote in that, although no longer working for a living, I had used Alison’s interview advice when auditioning for a local community chorus after many years of not singing, other than in my Honda and the shower. Using her advice plus support from my church choir director, I got in, wheee! We’ve sung one concert so far, with another in six weeks with the Symphony. It has been so great! The way that you get better as a singer is to sing with singers better than you.

I mentioned that I had used a variant of the Magic Question to ask what I needed to do to eventually be competitive for the much-smaller, much-more-professional (and exciting!) Chamber Chorus.

Two days ago, I got this email:

Hello! When you auditioned for the Symphony Chorus, you indicated an interest in singing in the Chamber Chorus.

One of the altos in that ensemble let me know recently that she is scheduled to undergo surgery next month. This will likely jeopardize her availability to sing with the ensemble for its performances in June.

I know this is crazy-late, but are you still interested? I would need you to sing A1. The music is challenging (but wonderful!). The performances are…

I now have an invaluable 7-week-long audition (as opposed to a 30-minute one) to sing in a select group that tackles gorgeous, complicated, holy-shiznit music (tasks), where everyone is expected to prepare individually and bring their Best Stuff to rehearsal (work.) I’m still taking private lessons to get my full voice back, and I’ve got a ways to go. But what a chance to (1) decide if I want to be in this group, and (2) show the conductor (aka hiring manager) what I can do.

People! What I sort of did in my work life, but has been reinforced from my reading here:
– Every day counts. We’re human, and we’ll all have our bad days, but aim for being your Best Self every day at work. In my case: never skipped rehearsal, was always prepared, took notes, was professional. (Singing on pitch helped, lol. Hard skills are important along with the soft skills.)
– Let your manager know that you want to advance, and ask, ask, ask what you need to do to make that happen. I don’t think I would ever have gotten that email had I not asked the Magic Question.

I’m a sub, and grateful for it, but I do hope that this gig will prepare me for the real audition in fall. Fingers crossed!

{ 33 comments… read them below }

  1. Dust Bunny*

    LW1, Nah, this organization is a mess.

    Your boss either has way too much going on/possibly is bad at delegating or is hiding from her responsibilities by being too busy all the time. You’re shouting into the void.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreeing – OP1, this is a them problem, not a you problem.

      Wishing you much success in the job search.

      1. quill*

        If you can’t run the safety program, you can’t be in charge of the safety program. If boss’ community outreach is so valued and takes up so much time, they need to hire someone to do the actual managing part of the job.

        1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          Indeed. This is one of the mistakes a lot of companies make – promote their rockstars to do things they aren’t actually rockstars at, especially management tasks.

          Management is a whole suite of skills, often very distinct from the actual responsibilities of an organization, or arranging day to day matters. Hire someone to manage the office and programs who knows what they are doing at that, and let the rock-star with the public or other organizations focus on their strengths.

          1. D'Arcy*

            My company found that out the hard way by promoting a number of highly skilled veteran employees to supervisory and management roles and then finding they didn’t have the skill set for it. Unfortunately, they then swung the pendulum the other way and started putting new hires with previous management experience but *no* knowledge of our field in those roles, which worked just as poorly and also caused significant resentment among existing employees.

      2. tamarack and fireweed*

        Just chiming in to agree. Both safety consideration and coercing you to reduce hours without discussion when you’re supposed to be full-time are terrible, and terribly negligent, attributes of this particular job. If the boss is indeed doing great things the best thing to hope is that one they they’ll realize that they were short-changing their people with their slap-dash approach.

    2. AskJeeves*

      Agreed! The boss is not doing her job, full stop. This is entirely a management issue and not on LW to fix; if a manager is too busy to manage, the organization needs to hire someone who can. Also, the organization is possibly violating labor law if they’re not paying LW for time when she is “engaged to wait” but isn’t receiving the supervision/information necessary to do her work.

  2. Lucien Nova*

    Congratulations OP 5! As a member of my own community chorale, and who’s been a part of the chamber group within said chorale, I’m so excited for you! (I almost thought it was my chorale except for the fact we’re on summer hiatus till August…)

    The way that you get better as a singer is to sing with singers better than you.

    I never thought of it this way but you are absolutely right. I’m going to apply this to my own singing and keep on pushing myself to improve.

    1. Clisby*

      Once when my son was about 10 and on a soccer team, he was talking to my brother-in-law, who played club soccer all through university. My son said their record wasn’t great, partly because they were up against significantly better teams (this was true.) My brother-in-law said, “You’ll learn a lot more by going up against a stronger team than playing a weaker team.”

  3. Avyncentia*

    Congratulations LW5. That ‘s so exciting! I hope you enjoy the new chorus and that it turns into a long-term position.

  4. Miss Muffet*

    LW5 I just love everything about your update – as a singer currently in between choirs (jobs?) due to some vocal cord issues. What a wonderful opportunity, with way less pressure than a regular audition! I just love how you showed the work-parallels!

  5. Avery*

    I feel for you, LW1. I too am stuck with a manager who is too busy with other work for the organization to actually… manage me, and it gets in the way of my work, too. Luckily in my case I get paid regardless of whether I actually have things to do, but it’s frustrating just the same. Getting out is probably the right move for you, though I don’t think it is for me, at least not just yet.

  6. RJ*

    OP#1, I worked at an engineering firm where our on-site/commissioning team was overworked to hell to put it mildly. When it came to safety partners and on-site visits, they were done/scheduled without question or delay and other tasks delegated or postponed. This is definitely a problem with your boss and I wish you luck and speed on your journey.

    1. Terrysg*

      Yes, the idea that safety isn’t important is frustrating and opens up the company to a world of hurt if/when soming goes wrong. When a safety issue is uncovered, a mitigation strategy is put in place, and then just ignored, the company is100% liable for any issues.

    2. Terrysg*

      OP5, go altos! I have ended leading a teenage/youth choir I’ve been doing it for 4(?) years and I still have sooo much to learn. But singing is fun!

  7. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    LW#1 – regarding “If I don’t work I don’t get paid” If you have a planned schedule and are available for working and you can not accomplish things because of waiting on other people to get back to you, you still report that time and should be paid. That is on them to provide you the information and tools to do your job.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      That’s very much what I was thinking. Alison sometimes refers to the “waiting to be engaged/engaged to wait” test for on-call pay, and the LW is definitely expected to be at the office and ready to work for 8 hours a day! The fact that they can’t get their boss to give them assignments doesn’t mean they’re not there to work. I would organize my desk, realphabetize my files, do research/online trainings, anything to try to fill the time when they can’t get assignments/tasks.

    2. Ashloo*

      Yes, search in earnest for a new job and bill for your time waiting around! This is absurd.

  8. Swiss cookoo clock*

    LW1: “Recently she texted me to ask when I would be in the office because she wanted to overlap. I gave her my hours and said to let me know if I should adjust them to match hers. She never responded and when I got into the office she had already left.”

    She’s your boss. Sometimes, if you want face time with the boss, you need to accommodate the boss’ schedule, particularly if the boss is senior and busy. (If you were an entry-level worker, would you expect the CEO to tailor her schedule to accommodate yours?)

    I’ve also found that continuous texting and e-mailing back and forth for the purpose of setting up meetings often results in outcomes like this. Propose a specific time with an invite and let her accept/decline. Apps like calendly can help with this.

    I’m assuming this boss does not have a PA to schedule her time. Just show up in the office when you know the boss will be there and request a few minutes at her convenience.

    1. Student Affairs Sally*

      Well OP said they were waiting for boss to respond so that they would know when the boss was going to be there. OP can’t read the boss’s mind.

    2. FashionablyEvil*

      What? I don’t understand the advice here—the boss asked for her availability, LW gave it, and didn’t get a reply. I don’t think the issue here is that LW isn’t trying hard enough.

    3. OhNo*

      Not a good plan if the OP is hourly. You think they should show up early to have a work meeting with the boss for free, and then stick around for their actual paid, scheduled hours? Nah.

      Being a manager means sometimes you have to accommodate the needs of those who work under you in order to manage them properly. It’s part of the job description.

    4. Willow Pillow*

      Given that the boss initiated the request to overlap, what was stopping her from booking said meeting?

    5. Martin blackwood*

      How do you interpret “[I] said to let me know if I should adjust them to match hers” if not as accommodating the bosses schedule? Neither of them are familiar with each others daily schedules, so LW couldn’t just Show Up and chat with her, which, if it was as simple as that, I think there’d be less issues

  9. Dr. Rebecca*

    OP1: if there’s someone above your boss in the chain of command (your grandboss, HR, hell someone who’s been there 25 years and has an iron cold will and a stone face will do) GO TO THEM NOOOOWWWWW, OMG. NONE OF THIS IS OKAY. YOUR BOSS IS FULL OF BEES.

    1. As per Elaine*


      I wouldn’t necessarily say that you should be your boss’s highest priority (sometimes higher-up people have more important priorities that take precedence, and their attention on the other thing is worth you sitting idle (which, yes, they should be paying you for)), but to effectively manage you, she needs to make your needs high-enough priority that they get attended to at some point. If you had to wait three hours (or, heck, even three days) for her to get you what you needed, that would be annoying but in some circumstances would be the best decision for her to make. The fact that you can’t get her time or attention at all and as a result cannot do your work is BAD.

    2. Very Social*

      That’s what I’m thinking. If you can talk to anyone at all above your boss about these issues, do so. You don’t have much to lose.

  10. Squirrel Nutkin*

    LW #5 — I am tickled pink for you! : ) And what a great reminder that good work skills are also good life skills.

  11. Hlao-roo*

    OPs 2, 3, and 4 – congratulations to all of you! It’s so important to see examples of people turning down job offers that aren’t the right fit for them. I know Alison often reminds job-seekers that they are interviewing the company as much as the company is interviewing them and it’s great to see people putting that advice into action!

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