updates: the pay cuts, the terrible ex-friend, and more

Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. Do I have to tell my boss where I’m going when I quit?

I wrote in back in March asking if it was okay to lie about who your new employer is to your problematic boss who is known to reach out to future employers to try mess things up for people resigning . I was already job searching at the time of my letter & one lead was promising. I actually got an offer a couple of weeks after you posted my letter. When asked where I was going I used your script to say I couldn’t announce that yet as the organization had asked me to keep it private until all internal processes had been completed. Some people (including problematic boss) said but they wouldn’t tell anyone and I insisted that I was just following the wishes of my new employer. This worked as I told everyone the same thing. I‘ve been at my my new job for a month now and the new company is great, everyone is so welcoming and excited to work with me. I got a 63% salary bump and get to move to my favorite state where most of my friends live. I’ve been sleeping so much better since I quit my toxic job! Thank you for all that you share and teach, thank you also to the commentariat. I’ll be a reader for a long long time to make sure I always remember what’s toxic in a workplace and how to conduct myself.

2. Should I do an optional work thing that would involve a ton of driving and a terrible ex-friend? (#3 at the link)

I wrote in about the terrible ex-friend becoming a new coworker, and I have an update!

I ended up going to the first meeting for the project, and everyone was incredibly delighted to see me. My ex-friend was there, and basically treated it as though we had never actually met. I had a fine time with everyone else, and was thinking it might not be as bad as I thought to give up a few weekends… and then my grandmother was diagnosed with dementia and I got Covid. With six weeks to the conference and everyone here on AAM telling me to run the opposite direction, I decided not to ignore the signs the Universe was putting out and promptly resigned from the project.

I ended up going on vacation during the conference, since my presence wasn’t required–and the conference ended up being a massive Covid super-spreader event. Almost everyone on that team has Covid, and I’m feeling like I dodged a cannonball. So! There’s that.

3. My boss is paying his son’s wife to do nothing while the rest of us take pay cuts

First of all, thanks for your advice and thanks to everyone who weighed in on the comments, I didn’t interact too much, but I did read all of them and definitely appreciated the feedback.

A lot has changed since then and as often happens, things got worse before they got better. Our pay cut ended up lasting 16 months, even though in the words of both Jeff (boss) and Mike (boss’s son) ”we did much better than we expected to during the pandemic.”

Regarding Carrie’s mysterious pay, I ended up not mentioning it to any of my coworkers, because I was concerned about backlash from Jeff. I’ve seen him snap over much smaller things, and I could in no way afford to lose my job at that point. I have a very strong feeling the payments were a way for Mike to maintain his pre-pandemic salary with an added tax exclusion, while making it look like he took a pay cut the same as the rest of us.

The past months have been some of the busiest and most stressful I’ve ever experienced. Our already full workload doubled, and during the worst couple months of it, I was having weekly panic attacks, and regularly working 12 hour days, as were most of my coworkers. During this time, I was very open with Jeff about the fact that we needed extra support, and that we can’t work at this rate forever. Jeff gave a lot of lip service to wanting to help us out by looking for new hires, but two months after he said that, he let it slip that he didn’t plan to hire anyone else unless we won 2-3 more big projects.

One more thing I didn’t include in my last letter is that our company was acquired 2 years ago by a much larger company. The new parent company has stayed out of daily operations for a while, but they’ve been increasingly frustrated by issues they’re seeing within my company, and are feeling blocked out, largely due to Jeff being completely unwilling to give up any control. I used to work with the CEO of the new parent company, ”Jenny”, and while we don’t speak regularly anymore, I’ve known her pretty well for years.

When she heard I had handed in my notice, Jenny reached out and asked if I’d be willing to have an open & honest exit interview directly with her, which I was more than happy to do. Our conversation ended up lasting over 2 hours, and I was completely honest about the strengths (mainly my coworkers) and the issues (mainly management & lack thereof) I saw. It turns out that Jeff has been (seemingly intentionally) misleading the parent company about a number of things, including role structuring within the company, their hiring plan, the fact that everyone can see payments to coworkers (Jenny was EXTREMELY concerned about this – she was told this issue was fixed just after the acquisition) as well as a few day to day operations and financial liquidity issues. Jenny will not be mentioning our interview to Jeff until after my last day to make sure I don’t get caught in the middle, but I suspect there will be some messy confrontation when she does.

So finally some good news – I revamped my CV & cover letter using all the advice I found on AAM, and I am thrilled to say I landed a stellar job in a completely new field! It comes with a 20% pay increase, stock options, and a team that highly prioritizes work/life balance and employee wellness. The new role is closer to what I studied and what I want to do long term, as well as being part of a much larger and seemingly much less dysfunctional company. Getting this new job brought such a sense of relief – I don’t think I understood exactly how unhappy I was during the worst of last year. Looking back, I now realize that my mental health was worse than it has ever been and I’m definitely still recovering from long-term stress & burnout. So needless to say, I am incredibly excited for this new chapter to begin.

I wish I could say I had some dramatic screw-you resignation story, but I just quietly handed in and worked through my 4 week notice. Jeff was surprised I was leaving in spite of the many times I told him how stressed and unhappy I was. I think he tried to be nice to me, but he did call me insane in the same breath that he said I would be missed. I start my new job in two weeks, and it honestly can’t come soon enough. Thanks again for all your help!

{ 77 comments… read them below }

  1. ThursdaysGeek*

    OP#3 – I hope you keep in touch with your former co-workers and send us another update sometime. Good luck on your new adventure.

        1. MsM*

          Yep, I have a feeling that’ll satisfy any appetite for drama the commentariat might have.

          1. All Het Up About It*

            I’m not sure if I’m ever immediately wanted an update to an update more!

      1. Petty Betty*

        Same. I hope Jenny gives the LW a really good play-by-play so the LW can update all of us.

        And specifically for the LW, I am so happy she is out of that toxicity.

        1. Kal*

          I second this comment! I really hope that the end result leads to major booting of management so that the remaining coworkers can have a decent, functional workplace.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I was kinda upset that Jenny didn’t offer OP a job at the parent company where she then shut down all the atrocious stuff Jeff and Mike were getting up to. I suppose that would have been rather too Hollywood to be believable though.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I wonder if Jenny didn’t offer the job at parent at first because she was unaware of the toxicity at the other location. It’s unclear from the update when the buyout happened, so also unclear how much of the toxicity was being concealed from Jenny (it also sounds like these were two completely separate locations). Could be OP leaving was the first indication that all was not as Mike and Jeff were painting it to be.

  2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    In a truly perfect demented world, you would have brought in a cookie for each one of your coworkers on your last day. Give two to Mike and tell him to make sure he takes it home to your other coworker since she couldn’t be in the office today.

    1. Bexy Bexerson*

      Brilliant, I love it! And you’re really living up to your username with this plan.

  3. Put the Blame on Edamame*

    3. “he did call me insane in the same breath that he said I would be missed.” What. A. Jerk. So glad you’re out of there, OP.

    1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

      Jeff sounds a lot like my current boss in attitude. Acts super nice to your face, but undermines and overworks you with his actions and decisions, and keeps everyone in fear of when he snaps.

    2. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

      Agreed. So glad OP doesn’t have to work with this piece of work anymore

  4. Harriet Vane*

    A satisfying set of updates! Glad everyone has ended up in a better place, and that bullets were dodged.

  5. It's a Beautiful Day*

    “Jeff was surprised I was leaving in spite of the many times I told him how stressed and unhappy I was. I think he tried to be nice to me, but he did call me insane in the same breath that he said I would be missed.”


    1. quill*

      The screw you quitting story is that an honest exit interview is likely to spell the end of Jeff working here.

      1. Antilles*

        Especially since I’m assuming the daughter-in-law being paid as a phantom employee came up in that discussion – when the parent company is already worrying about the financial numbers.

        1. So they all cheap-ass rolled over and out fell out*

          People commented on the original post that if it’s his business, he can spend the money (give it to relatives for fake jobs) how he wants. Ignoring the “cheating on taxes” aspect of what they were doing… It turns out, it wasn’t actually his money! Basically he was embezzling money via funneling it to family members.

          1. Observer*

            It turns out, it wasn’t actually his money!

            Yeah, that was a key piece of context.

            Alison, would your advice have been different had you known this?

            1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              And unless he is in an epic polycule, he is no longer married to HR. That could be hundreds of people, if not thousands

                1. quill*

                  Just combine AAM letters, stir thoroughly, and sift out the truly upsetting ones. Bake for half an hour at 350 F, and you’ll have an office sitcom.

          2. hbc*

            Yeah, when I worked for a company that was bought out in a similar way, the former owner had his personal and business mingled so badly that he really had no idea where the lines were. Luckily he wasn’t still in charge, but he was just blithely walking stuff out of the building to help out a neighbor and submitting reimbursement requests for lunch with his daughter. He simply didn’t understand why we had problems with so many “little” things he did.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Hmm when ToxicBoss1 was bought out by ToxicBoss2, TB2 reassured us that the company was actually doing very well. The only reason it wasn’t officially turning a profit was because TB1 had been paying himself a salary that was five times more than ours, plus the monthly instalments for his Mercedes car and BMW motorbike plus rent for an extravagant office with a beautiful view of the Sacré Coeur when in fact we could have all worked from home or even had the same office space on a lower floor without the view for half the price.
              TB2 blathered on for a bit about how TB1 had been too impatient to live the high life without putting enough work into the firm first.

              Ironically, he then went on to almost drive his own company into the ground by setting up an expensive and totally unnecessary office in the US, paying himself a huge salary so that his kids could all go to private school and buying himself a yacht.

        2. Sleepless KJ*

          It’s not that unusual to have family members on the payroll in a family owned business for tax “reasons.” When we had our business back in the 90’s our financial advisor even suggested it. But that’s a whole lot of dumb to try and continue the practice once the business has been sold and has a parent company overseeing things? Now I’m wondering if “Jeff” is my ex husband LOL

      2. Observer*

        The screw you quitting story is that an honest exit interview is likely to spell the end of Jeff working here.

        Yes. Not as dramatic, but MUCH more effective.

        In most cases, the dramatic stories are the fun ones to watch, but don’t really accomplish anything. Although, there are some exceptions, like the guy who quite with 2 hours notice right before a major project was due.

    2. Elenna*

      Ah yes, the standard “why won’t anyone stay when I pay them terribly, over-work them, and clearly don’t respect them at all, nobody wants to work these days” flavour of bad boss :P

  6. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    OP #2, I’m glad you listened to us the signs from the Universe.

  7. Purple Cat*

    “63% Salary Bump” It really is criminal what companies get away with. Glad you got out LW1!

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I was just thinking the same thing. Reading the older letters, 20-30% used to be huge. Now we pretty regularly see 50%+

  8. River Otter*

    ” Jeff was surprised I was leaving in spite of the many times I told him how stressed and unhappy I was.”

    I, too, had a manager who knew I was unhappy and was surprised when I left. This is the flip side of employees who are shocked when they are fired after being told multiple times that they are underperforming.

  9. INeedANap*

    OP #3, I am so happy you are off to better pastures! I hope you mentioned the fiancee’s “salary” since that may be illegal, or perhaps the parent company just doesn’t want to pay for an empty body.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I also very much hope (and I assume) LW#3 mentioned the payments to Carrie when talking with Jenny.

    2. Observer*

      Even if it’s 100% legal (unlikely), the company still should know, because it is CERTAINLY fiscal malfeasance.

  10. FalsePositive*

    OP3 — feeling confident about giving detailed information at an exit interview to someone who might actually be interested and able to make a difference is the best exit flounce (despite being less cinematic).

  11. It's All Elementary*

    #1). I have to admit I was hoping that there was a boss melt down story for you to tell us as you walked out on the last day and you still hadn’t revealed your new employer. I’m happy you’ve found something better all around!

    1. Observer*

      From the spectator POV, I agree. I would be a good story to tell.

      From the OP’s POV, though, I’m glad it didn’t happen. They were stressed out enough as it was, they didn’t need that kind of drama.

      1. It's All Elementary*

        Oh I would never have wished that on anyone! But I do love those employee stories who are able to walk out with their heart held high while the boss is having a melt down on front everyone.

  12. What even*

    #3. What I will never understand about the working world is why these conversations only take place after someone competent has handed in notice. Jenny knew something was wrong, she had an in with OP3, and still waited until OP quit to sit down with them. It is so strange to me.

    1. NotRealAnonForThis*

      I’m not understanding it either. I held no power and was not certain that my statement wouldn’t be used against me….until I held all the power and didn’t care as I was leaving anyways.

      How did my obtaining new employment swing the power 180 degrees? (Rhetorical question here – I’m asking “how is it that this is what happens” more than anything else)

      When my boss asked what it would take to keep me, I said it would require his appointed by other than him successor being tossed. Because that’s literally what it would have taken.

    2. NoiShin*

      I think in the case of Jenny, she didn’t want to risk it blowing back on OP3 if she had intervened between the notice period being handed in and OP3 actually being out of the workplace. OP3 is already leaving, intervening earlier won’t change that, and by waiting, OP3 won’t have to deal with her notice period being any more unpleasant than it already was.

    3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      And she was more concerned about the payroll being visible to all than actually dealing with the discrepancies in the payroll.

    4. MCMonkeyBean*

      Well OP said in this letter that initially they didn’t want to tell anyone about what the found in case it came back on them. It’s pretty normal that someone doesn’t want to share all the gory details until it is no longer going to affect them so after they hand in their notice is often the most logical time to ask.

  13. Elenna*

    Jeff (and too many other bad bosses): “You mean people who have repeatedly expressed their unhappiness here might… leave? They might have… other options??? Inconceivable!”

    1. Lacey*

      Yes! I didn’t work anywhere as toxic as LW3’s place, but I’d expressed frustration over the years and by the end I was visibly disgruntled most of the time. I thought my resignation would be expected, and welcome, but my boss was almost at a loss for words!

  14. Mephyle*

    #1 – It’s hilarious how ProblematicOldboss didn’t get it. “NewCompany asked me to keep it quiet.” Oldboss: “But I wouldn’t tell anyone.” No, Oldboss, it means that I don’t tell anyone.

  15. Pisces*

    #3: PastEmployer had his wife on the payroll in a token role, to comply with the letter of the law governing the structure of his business.

  16. Nora*

    I do wish #3 had included that the company was owned by a larger company in their original letter, I think that changes the advice completely.

    1. Peter*

      I agree, as an accountant in the UK there are two major changes.

      1) Carrie being employed is tax legal and recommended for entrepreneurs, but requires shareholder approval which presumably the parent company didn’t give.
      2) There’s a difference between Jeff cutting salaries when he owns the business and covid means that it is his ability to get funding that matters, and Jeff cutting salaries when he has the backing of a larger organisation to fund the business.

  17. esra*

    Getting this new job brought such a sense of relief – I don’t think I understood exactly how unhappy I was during the worst of last year.

    I feel you so hard on this. I asked the readers here about what I could do about a crummy boss last year (“Leave,” was their correct answer), but I stuck it out for a while longer. I finally gave up and got a new job a few months ago and felt the exact same, no idea how much it was weighing me down until I didn’t have to deal with them anymore.

    Super happy to hear you found something else + got to have the extensive exit interview. (I was working at a tech startup, so unless your exit interview comment is: “You’re amazing but they offered me a candy-coated unicorn!!”, they just tune you out.)

  18. RagingADHD*

    I’m glad #2 is happy, but how did they dodge a bullet if they caught Covid anyway? Six weeks out they probably would have been the least likely to get it at the conference. A “super spreader” event doesn’t give everyone a worse case.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      A lot of people don’t understand very much about public health.
      My friend’s grandfather had a heart attack at the height of the pandemic, he was so relieved to learn that it was “just” a heart attack and not Covid. Grandad, you’re more likely to die of another heart attack than of Covid…

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