updates: volunteer’s mom hangs out in our office, coworker wants us to pay for things we never agreed to, 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.

1. Volunteer’s mom is hanging out and distracting an employee (#2 at the link)

This was a tricky situation. Above all, I wanted to preserve a positive relationship with my employees. It was becoming a common occurrence for me to come into work and find volunteers and staff hanging out and chatting for long periods. This behavior only occurred when the volunteer’s mother was there. Since mask mandates were still in place and covid transmission was high, I talked privately with my staff members and told them I didn’t think it was a good idea to be socializing in a confined area with a group of people, even if they trusted and felt safe with those people. I contacted the volunteer’s mother separately and told her they were welcome to come in after hours, in the interest of keeping everyone safe and healthy. We are an animal shelter and their volunteering is really more about spending time with the animals, so they’re still able to do that and the problematic issue was resolved.

2. Coworker wants us to reimburse her for purchases we never agreed to

I went the direct route. I put on my “big girl“ pants, handed her my share (cash) and asked that in the future, if she decides to make any large purchases, to please discuss it will all of us beforehand. As far as the shirts, I simply stated that I’m not really fan of patterned shirts. I also had to request, kindly, that she remove me from her “meme” texting distribution list. (I was getting inspirational quotes 3-5 time a day.)

We won’t be best friends, but at least my resentment isn’t interfering with our work relationship. I can live with that.

I love reading advice columns. It seems most advice given boils down to some version of “communication.”

3. My manager and I get caught in conversational feedback loops (#2 at the link)

Thanks for answering my question in summer 2020. I realize in retrospect that I was struggling a lot more with the flow of conversations because of Zoom (duh!), so your advice really helped. I completed my work with Ann, very successfully, and I’m now in PhD work with a different supervisor. Like my previous supervisor, he’s also not someone who tends to move conversations along very quickly, so I’m getting even more practice at steering the flow of a meeting as the junior person and making sure I get the information I need. I think this is an important skill to learn—especially in the field of higher education but probably everywhere. Thank you!

4. New colleague is obsessed with changing my team’s name (#3 at the link)

The guy obsessed with team names had a point, in a way. It was weird for Teapot Support and Industrial Teapot Support to be two separate teams who didn’t work together, since they were inherently related. A few weeks after I wrote to you, a reorganization was announced where that team joined mine, with the name-obsessed guy and me as peers reporting to the same lead.

This did not go well. He perceived the reorg as a demotion, and acted like it – super condescending, questioning his new team’s competence, their qualifications for their roles, and why their jobs existed. I, admittedly, thought he was a jerk, and made that way too obvious. The ensuing drama damaged my reputation at the company. I don’t like to think of myself as someone who creates personal conflict with colleagues, but in my defense, he really sucks.

The guy obsessed with team name changes is now managing the people I used to manage, and things aren’t going great. The sort of person who fixates on team names is not the sort of person who succeeds on his merits, it seems! I wish it were surprising to me how little he accomplishes, but it is not.

Luckily, I now have the opportunity to stay out of it. Prior to the reorg, I had already entered the application process for a role in a different department, and this change only motivated me to expedite the transfer, which luckily has turned out very well. After I left, he had to take on the work I used to do, and learned how ill-equipped he was to do any of it. “Entry-level,” my ass!

Since moving teams, I’ve realized how much my own dissatisfaction and boredom in my prior position caused me to react emotionally to conflict. My function’s perception as unskilled, and my personal standing within the company, gave me a chip on my shoulder, and I was more sensitive to his silly crusade than I should’ve been. My new position is much more challenging and I have more autonomy and authority than I did before. These days, I am just trying to be good at my job and feud with fewer jerks. The team name, obviously, never changed.

{ 32 comments… read them below }

  1. JelloStapler*

    LW 4 I’ve been there – when I’m unhappy and resentful and therefore my tolerance for BS is low and I overreact. I’ve gotten very good at working through it instead but all it takes is one person to put that growth at risk. TBH, he sounds like a blowhard.

    Glad you found a new place!

    1. Mockingjay*

      “The team name, obviously, never changed.”

      OP4, you just have to laugh. This perfectly sums up how ridiculous Name Obsessed Guy is.

    2. Lacey*

      Yes, I super sympathize with LW4. When you’re dissatisfied and bored with your work, it’s so easy to get caught up on this other stuff. Especially if someone’s being a jerk about it.

    1. Rose*

      Don’t mean to be rude to OP but this stuck out to me as well. No large purchases, no patterned shirts, microwave was paid for. So many qualifications to “stop assuming Im going to pay you back for things you buy.” I hope the coworker took the hints! But she seems pretty clueless so I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t.

      It sounds like OP feels rude for establishing the boundary, but it’s actually incredibly rude to demand money from coworkers for random stuff you bought.

    2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      I’d say that “large” is “any amount that you want us to split it between the whole team”.

    3. PollyQ*

      Agreed, and I wouldn’t have paid anything towards the already purchased refrigerator, either. But it seems like this is now a solved problem without residual bad feeling, so kudos to LW for getting to that point.

      1. Reality.Bites*

        The last place I worked had subsidized snacks, so a canned soft drink was 25 cents.

        Don’t even bring me a Diet Coke without asking and expect a quarter.

    4. Nysee*

      Am I the only one who thinks the person doing g the buying and then expecting reimbursement is making a profit on all of this?

      1. Chalk Dust In The Wind*

        It doesn’t have to be a profit to reflect inappropriate self-interest. A younger version of me used buying coffee supplies for the office and getting reimbursed as a way to convert household grocery funds into untracked cash; no profit, but it still was in hindsight pretty questionable.

    5. anonymous73*

      I’m disappointed that she caved and gave her the money for the fridge. If she was going to put her “big girl pants” on she should have told her that she was not giving any money towards ANYTHING that was purchased without her consent. Period. She didn’t set firm boundaries and I foresee something like this happening again in the future.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I expect she wanted to put her lunch in the fridge, and it would have looked bad if she didn’t chip in.

      2. Antilles*

        It’s absolutely happening again in the future because OP did not take the “direct route” or “big girl pants” or anything. Reading the post, you know what’s missing from the OP/co-worker conversation as written in the update?
        -No phrases like “never again”, “this needs to stop”, or similar phrases indicating that this is not okay.
        -No mention that OP actually explained that she’s irritated.
        Instead, what this came across as is OP being caught off-guard but actually okay with the purchase. And also that buying clothes and expecting OP to pay for them is fine, just not patterned shirts.

      3. Lego Leia*

        If OP is planning on using the fridge and microwave, then I can see paying for “my share”.

    6. NorthBayTeky*

      I had a co-worker that would routinely bring in her cast-offs from home and ask us to give her money. One time it was her old forks and spoons. I grudgingly gave her a dollar. It’s not like it was real silver, or even a set. It was a bunch of stuff she accumulated over the years, so it was a total mish-mash. One time she brought in her old bean bags. I wouldn’t give her any money, aside from the fact I don’t use them (some people take naps on their lunch break) they have an unpleasant musty smell.

  2. Purple Cat*

    I love reading advice columns. It seems most advice given boils down to some version of “communication.”

    This all day.

    1. Yam44*

      Agreed. There are also so many great updates that are some version of ‘I got a different job and everything is better now’.

      At AAM there seem to be mostly two kinds of problem: ones that are solved with communication, or ones that need to be solved by getting a job away from crazyclowns.

    2. short'n'stout (she/her)*

      A lot of LWs also seem to come from a place of self-doubt, so it’s useful for them to hear “no, you are not being unreasonable” or “this is not how a well-functioning workplace operates”.

      1. Rose*

        Yes! I think even normally fairly confident people can be thrown off by someone who is blatantly awful. For the most part, we’re all living by this social code where you don’t cry or yell at or reprimand or act incredibly rude to someone unless they do something egregious.

        When someone steps way outside these bounds it can be so jarring and perplexing that you automatically question “is this me?”

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      And sometimes it seems the OP knows they need to communicate, but are hoping for a script or talking points to make the conversation a little easier.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        yup like “how can I tell him he’s a jerk for eating my lunch without upsetting him?”

        1. Rose*

          In defense of the LWs I think it’s also often a question of “please give me a script because this person is doing something so wildly outside of social norms that I am at a loss for words” or “this person is doing something so stupid that trying to phrase things politely sounds extremely sarcastic.”

    1. Julia*

      There’s something about the way she writes that is very snappy and entertaining – it lands well on the ear. You’ve got a talent, LW!

  3. Trawna*

    L4. I used to work with this guy. Used up all the air in every zoom room agitating for non-things. His rabid ambition covered up his general incompetence, until it didn’t. I saw on LinkedIn that he got a new job. My sincere condolences to his new colleagues.

  4. outofmywallet,begone*

    #2! You didn’t have to..no…I’ll go there and say shouldn’t have paid her a penny towards anything. Your share was 0! I’m glad you committed going forward (I hope you stay resolved if your coworker gets amnesia) to not paying her.

  5. Nysee*

    Am I the only one who thinks the person doing the buying and then expecting reimbursement is making a profit on all of this?

  6. Florida Fan 15*

    “Luckily, I now have the opportunity to stay out of it.”

    Kudos to you, LW4, for recognizing this is something that can be done. I swear I feel like I spend half my time enforcing boundaries with my employees —
    “That’s not your job. Please do your job and let them do theirs.”
    “It doesn’t matter if you think you could do it better. You can’t do his job for him.”
    “I understand you wouldn’t do it her way but her way isn’t wrong. Leave her alone.”
    “No, we’re not putting this to a vote. You may live in a democracy (for now) but you don’t work in one. Please go back to your desk.”

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