my boss gossiped about me to my mother-in-law, my team gave me bad ratings, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My boss gossiped about me to my mother-in-law

By a coincidental set of circumstances, my mother-in-law has become BFFs with the wife of one of my managers. I didn’t find out until I was in the process of getting hired at my job and when I was told, I’ll be honest, it made me nervous because my MIL is nosy.

Recently, my MIL has informed me that said manager told her he would not hire me as a manager because of my attendance. (If this is exactly what he said, I’m a little confused because I’ve not applied for a manager position.) I know my attendance right now isn’t the greatest but I am working on it. I don’t know if this is relevant, but I was having a lot of car trouble and was having to try to get rides to work.

It feels wrong for him to talk about me and my attendance to my MIL. I’m also wondering how much other stuff has been said about me and is this even legal? I live in Georgia if that matters.

It’s legal. There aren’t many workplace privacy laws in the U.S. and none prevent a manager from gossiping about someone’s attendance or what jobs they think a person is or isn’t suited for. (Of course, there are defamation laws, but the bar to meet that is very high and wouldn’t apply here; you’d need to show that the statement was false and also caused you injury.)

But it’s wrong! Your manager shouldn’t be gossiping about you to your mother-in-law. Depending on your relationship with your boss, you might be able to explain you’re in an awkward situation due to his wife’s friendship with your in-law and ask if he’d be discreet in the future about discussing you. (You shouldn’t need to ask, of course! But sometimes people
don’t think things like this through and a nudge can help. Not always, but sometimes.) Alternately, you could consider asking HR to take it up with him although you’d need to consider what you know of how they operate and what the repercussions might be for your relationship with your manager afterwards. Which sucks, but is the reality of it.

You could also try asking your mother-in-law not to discuss you with your boss, pointing out that it’ll be far easier for you if there’s a firewall there. Or at the very least, if they do talk about you, perhaps she can be convinced not to pass it along to you. This, of course, will depend heavily on what your mother-in-law is like.

2. My team gave bad feedback about me as a manager

I am the manager of a small department. I like to think I have a good, open relationship with all of them but the results of a recent survey showed that over 50% of the team responded negatively on questions regarding their immediate supervisor (me). This has hit me hard as I try to go above and beyond for my team. I rarely deny time off, often covering shifts on my own time; I say hello and goodnight to every team member every day; and I always try to find something non-work related to talk about with the team. What can I do to build these relationships to level I thought they were?

What was the specific feedback they gave? Usually when people have concerns about their manager, it goes beyond stuff like saying hello and goodbye and chit-chatting; it’s generally more substantive stuff like not getting useful feedback, not feeling they have clear expectations or being subjected to unreasonable ones, not feeling you advocate for them to upper management, being micromanaged or not getting enough guidance, feeling their work goes unrecognized, not feeling their input is heard, and so forth. (I’m not saying it’s necessarily anything on that list, just giving a sampling of what management issues often look like.) Hopefully the survey contained specifics; if not, it’s worth talking to people one-on-one to get a better understanding of their concerns.

For what it’s worth, the fact that you listed mostly fluffy stuff as what you’re getting right makes me think you might not have given enough thought or attention to what you need to be doing as a manager, and that itself could be where the problem is!

3. I asked for a promotion and a raise and it was denied — now what?

I finally worked up the courage for the first time in my 15+ year career to ask for a promotion and a raise, and it was denied. Now what? There was nothing I could do to work towards this or prove it was warranted, I was just given the company line of “we can’t give off-cycle promotions at this time.” I actually love my job, but I’m severely underpaid and am doing more work and have more responsibilities than my peers with more senior titles. I love my boss and I don’t want to leave, but I’m being undervalued and feel dejected after I finally worked up the courage to ask for this. Where should I go from here?

Ask your manager what a path to promotion would look like — what would you need to do to get promoted in the future, and what’s a realistic timeline for that? And since they mentioned they can’t give off-cycle promotions, make sure you know what that cycle is and how far in advance of it you should broach the topic again.

If you don’t get a clear answer, then assume that for whatever reason a promotion isn’t going to happen there and that you’ll need to look outside the organization to get one. (Which isn’t to imply that you can’t do that regardless of what your manager says. If you’re underpaid and overworked, it makes sense to look at what else is out there. You don’t have to leave if you don’t find something you like better, but you should at least look.)

4. Should slacking off 15 years ago be counted against someone running for office now?

A former coworker (Sam) is a candidate in the upcoming election for county clerk. Sam did a good job and got along well with coworkers when I worked with them. When they left for a new position, their duties were divvied out to the rest of the team until someone could be hired to fill the position. The project I was assigned to cover should have been started a couple months before Sam left. When I took over, we were close to the first of three deadlines and their work for that deadline should have been almost done. In reality, Sam had barely started so I had to scramble. I later found out that Sam had slacked off on other tasks and projects in their final couple of months.

This happened almost 15 years ago and it looks like Sam has held roles of more responsibility since then. I don’t know what was going on for Sam in those last few months. Maybe they had personal things going on that made doing their work extremely challenging. Maybe they saw no need to do more than make themselves look busy because they were planning to leave. If Sam had been struggling, they could have asked for help. They did not. Instead, they did very little work and let everyone think they were doing their job.

Should I vote for Sam because I do think they can do the job if they set their mind to doing it? That would mean giving them the benefit of the doubt that they had a valid reason back then for not doing their work and not asking for help. I’d need to assume that they have changed in the last 15 years and would not do that now. Or should I not vote for Sam because they slacked off once before when reaching the end of their time in a job and they might do so again? I’m leaning toward not voting for them – but am I being too harsh?

I don’t think slacking off one time 15 years ago means that Sam is likely to do it again. 15 years is a really long time. Plus, who knows what was going on with Sam then. If you otherwise knew them to be conscientious and responsible, I’d assume something else might have been going on to explain what happened at the end.

That said, you can vote or not vote for Sam for any reasons you want! If you don’t have faith in them or just have a bad taste in your mouth from when you worked together, they’re not owed your vote. (If you were thinking of actively campaigning against Sam because of what happened when you worked together, I’d discourage that, but that’s not what we’re talking about.)

5. Demotion in title but raise in pay

I’m in a strange situation at work. We have pay scales and titles which are standardized by a department outside our control. Recently, that department has decided that our pay scales should increase — I will get a very large raise along with everyone else in my department.

However, the pay raise is accompanied by a change in the list of available titles. The titles available within my pay scale are a clear and obvious demotion — think “Director of Technology” being changed to “Technology Aide” or “Technology Tactician.” I am not comfortable with this.

There is some potential for wiggle room on the titles, but it will require my department head to advocate strongly in favor of my preference, and it’s still not certain to work. My department head will probably be willing to try, but I need to know if I’m being unreasonable before I push. I’ve gotten feedback from some friends that a raise is preferable to a good title, and I should drop the issue. Do you have any advice?

Assuming the new title doesn’t more accurately reflect your job than the old one did, yes, it’s worth pushing back on. Point out that it’ll read as a demotion outside the company and for the rest of your career. Also, in some cases a lower-level title can make it harder to get things done with people outside your organization; if that’s the case here, mention that too.

Large raises are good! But titles do matter too.

{ 210 comments… read them below }

  1. Heidi*

    For Letter 4, it might help to do some research on the other candidates running against Sam. If Sam’s opponent is qualified and would do a good job in the office, then the OP might feel better about not voting for Sam. If the opponent isn’t great, then maybe voting for Sam will seem like a better option.

    1. MK*

      Sure, but it’s also possible that Sam didn’t slack off at all. I would be more certain of this if the OP had filled his role outright, but with his duties divided among several people, maybe he was very overworked and had to prioritize.

      1. Koalafied*

        Unfortunately with a role like county clerk there’s often not much research to be done. It’s such a minor hyperlocal office that it’s quite possible no newspaper or local advocacy group has done more than print a list of names running. In many places it’s also a nonpartisan office, so you can’t even make a set of assumptions based on the letter next to their name, because there is no letter next to their name.

        1. Holly*

          How…does that work then? Are there campaign materials, so at least you can find out what the candidate claims/promises to do? Do they have websites? I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this (we don’t have these kind of hyper local elections where I live).

          1. Aabbcc*

            I use the League of Women Voters guide when preparing to vote. They send a survey of a few questions relevant to each position to all candidates. The survey also includes information like education and professional background. Although the answers aren’t extensive, I find it’s sometimes my best bet to find information about local races.

            1. Texan In Exile*


              And clerks matter now way more than they did before because the extremists are trying to infiltrate the US elections systems. I am a pollworker and the woman who runs the elections here has gotten death threats.

              1. Rebecca*

                They’re also on the front line for LGBTQ+ rights, as they’re the ones that can refuse to issue marriage licenses. This actually happened after the original SCOTUS decision, and the courts forced the clerk to issue licenses. It’s exactly the type of case that the current SCOTUS could use to say “religious freedom” is more important than human rights. It matters.

              2. Texan In Exile*

                PS By the same token, school boards and library boards matter, too. Either run for those yourselves or support your like-minded friends and neighbors. Our democratic institutions are being destroyed from within.

              3. Clisby*

                “County clerk” must mean way different things in different parts of the U.S. Where I live (Charleston, SC) there’s no such office. There’s the county clerk of court, who has nothing to do with elections, or issuing marriage licenses, as someone else mentioned. So I don’t even know what this position is. But seconding

              4. DJ Abbott*

                Where I live there’s an organization called IVI-IPO that questions all candidates and posts recommendations. They don’t do as many candidates as they used to, but what they have is useful. There are other organizations and citizens posting information also. Maybe there are similar local organizations doing this in OP’s area.

          2. Koalafied*

            Yeah, it doesn’t work so great. They evolved out of a small town-ish context where the people running for office would be known to voters because of their involvement in the community. Often in a volunteer leadership role, involved with schools, a local charity, scouting and other youth programs, and so on.

            Many counties have converted roles like this into unelected positions because in the modern day few places are really small enough that candidates can run on reputation alone without the backing of a party and without running much of a campaign beyond yard signs in their family and friends lawns. Places that do still have them as elected offices will frequently see figures like 50% of returned ballots not marking any selection for that office.

          3. doreen*

            With some of these elections , there are campaign materials ,websites and/or debates – but for a lot of them, there really isn’t much in the way of promises the candidates can make or positions they can take. Just as an example, the city clerk in my city was probably able to change the marriage license forms on their own to make it clear that no one’s name automatically changes upon marriage and anyone can change their name – but that’s because it was already the law. Thy could change the forms on their own, but if the law said a woman’s name automatically changed the clerk would not have been able to change that law. A candidate could promise to make office hours more convenient or cut down on waiting time, but there won’t be any candidate taking the opposite opinion, so it’s not very helpful. Elected judges can’t really take positions, so their materials tend to be similar to a resume – education jobs and possibly a mention of spouse and/or kids.

          4. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

            There tends to be little enough information published about candidates for obscure local offices that the candidates may be delighted to answer questions from anyone who gets in touch with them and says something like “Hi, my name is Gollux, I live in Dictionopolis, and I’m trying to decide who to vote for.”

            This is how Naomi Kritzer started her Minneapolis/St. Paul/Minnesota election blog, because she wanted any information at all about candidates for Soil and Water Board (which I think is no longer an elected position). She posted the answers she got, and a few years later she was getting emails from strangers asking her to please write up the X district state assembly race.

          5. I just play one on TV*

            It’s the clerk of courts. They basically run the court calendar, collect fines, and send information to the state. In most cases, it’s the career staff doing the work anyway, and the elected person is basically a figurehead.

            1. Hyper local radio station*

              A County Clerk handles birth, marriage and death certificates. DBA’s, property records, etc. At least in my state, they don’t run the courts. Certified Court coordinators run the courts calendars, etc. District court clerks handle the criminal and civil stuff.

            2. Just Another Cog*

              In my county, the clerk is the one who hires the staff. The staff in our local office are all relatives/church members/friends of the elected clerk. Not ideal.

          6. Hyper local radio station*

            I work for a small market local radio station. We cover these types of Elections in our area. We have candidate forums, political statements, point & countrtpoint segments, campaign ads running…all for these types of small Elections.

          7. GreenDoor*

            The hyper-local offices tend to be positions like County Clerk, Clerk of Courts, Register of (property) Deeds, etc. They are not political positions where they’d be making laws or controlling the local budget or anything. They’re high level administrative (clerical) positions that, for whatever reason, are elected offices. (Which is kind of cool because they are usually non-partisan and aren’t under the bias/influence of who ever is Mayor, Governor, etc.) In this case, the OP should use what they know of Sam – did they have a *pattern* of being a slacker? If not, assume this was a one-0ff, or Sam being overworked and having to prioritize. Maybe the boss even told Sam to focus on other things? Balance that against what you know of the other candidate and vote accordingly.

        2. Christmas Carol*

          County clerks control who gets to vote, and who counts those votes. I wouldn’t call that a minor hyperlocal office in today’s climate.

          1. Koalafied*

            To be clear, I wasn’t commenting on their significance or importance, but in terms of whether they get enough attention for there to be coverage a voter can look for. Many newspapers and advocacy groups don’t cover races any more local than statewide offices and possibly citywide races in the largest cities. Small city and county races only get covered if that city/county happens to have an active chapter of an advocacy group, or still has a thriving community paper that publishes local stories, and a lot of places just don’t have that.

          2. I just play one on TV*

            That is not the case in all counties. In most Pennsylvania counties that isn’t even an elected position.

          3. to varying degrees*

            Not necessarily. Here we have a separate Supervisor of Elections for that, also an elected position.

            It’s always good to know what exactly one’s local elected offices do as they can vary wildly depending on it’s structure. Where I’m at the county clerk (formal title is Clerk of Courts and Comptroller) is in charge of the courts but is also the main person for the day to day running of county budgets and finances. The position is created based on the state constitution (as the other county offices are) and their roles are defined by the constitution (unless the county is a charter county, in which case it has separate rules/structure). I’ve bene involved in a lot of local campaigns and typically one can reach out to the candidates (check with whatever office is in charge of the election and request the candidate’s listed contact information) to inquire on their position on whatever matter of interest.

          4. mollying*

            That is not necessarily the case in every state! In Florida, elections are overseen by the Supervisor of Elections, which is an entirely different constitutional office. And even in states where clerks are nominally responsible for elections, the amount of power they actually have over decisions that meaningful impact voter participation varies a lot.

          5. Clisby*

            Not where I live in the US. Our county board of elections is appointed by the governor (recommended by local legislators). It’s not an elected office.

        3. Irish Teacher*

          This whole discussion is really interesting to me, as Ireland doesn’t really have these kind of elections. We do have local elections for county councils, but not for individual positions.

    2. Sabine the Very Mean*

      #4 could be written about me in my last role. I left it having accomplished nothing substantive. However, my boss told me on day one that I was paid too much to be trained so I was on my own to learn a newly created role. She was abusive and scary. But no one on the outside would know those details and could very well be calling me a slacker right now.

      1. Venus*

        In this case it sounds like Sam did a good job up until 2 months before they left, so there was a track record of good work.

    3. Bilateralrope*

      At the very least, look at opinion poll results and see if Sam has a chance of winning. If they don’t have any chance of winning, then what you think about them doesn’t matter because a vote for them will have an effect very similar to you not voting. Focus on deciding between the candidates who might win.

      Unless it’s an STV system. Then ignore the opinion polls and rank all the candidates.

      1. Penguin*

        It’s pretty unlikely that anyone is running opinion polls for county clerk, unless it’s a VERY large county.

    4. Britchikaa*

      We’re asking AAM who to vote for now?

      Who on earth is that obsessive about something that happened 15 years ago that they remember every tiny details of something that barely affected them apart from having to work a big harder for a short while?

      1. Bilateralrope*

        It is a question about picking the best person to fill an open position. Just one with a different selection process than most jobs.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        To me it’s an interesting question. I think that it happens more often than we want to think about that a person makes decisions based on what happened years ago.

        Rightfully, Alison pointed out that there is a huge difference between one person’s private vote and starting a smear campaign. These are two very different actions and deserve different answers. Additionally, one adult cannot “tell” another how to vote. We can encourage each other to think along and find our own answers.

        I think that if OP is still thinking about what happened 15 years ago, there may be other things that are concerning OP about this candidate. OP, do that homework and see what you think of the other candidate(s). We don’t have to vote for someone just because we know them. I don’t think this candidate “expects” you specifically, OP, to vote for him.

        I have run for office and some people voted for the other person. That’s our system and that is normal. I am sure this candidate expects to see that people voted for the other person.

        1. Moonlight Elantra*

          I also thought this was an interesting question! I’ve never had a former coworker run for office. I wonder what I would do if a coworker who did good work but got on my nerves personally. Could I forgive Jane for never refilling the coffee pot if I saw her name on the ballot?

          1. doreen*

            I was actually in the position of having two co-workers running for a spot as an elected judge ( it was one of those elections where there were four positions and you were to choose any four of the twelve candidates). I didn’t decide how to vote based on personal characteristics such as who didn’t brew a new pot of coffee – but I did base my decision on factors I wouldn’t necessarily have known if I didn’t work with them. They were administrative law judges and I knew which ways their decisions leaned , if they tended to be biased, how they treated those who appeared in their courtrooms and if they had a habit of driving after they drank too much.

          2. Kippy*

            An ex-boyfriend of mine from 20 years ago (although if I’m being honest it should be “a guy I dated for about four months and I was way more into him than he was into me”) ran for assessor two years ago. I had such a hard time trying to determine if I could vote for him. He’d had a pretty good career over the past two decades and had the background to do the job well. I agreed with his platform about the “issues” (there should be satellite locations for turning in your paperwork for homestead exemptions/age freeze! The website for paying your property taxes is difficult to navigate!). But I kept remembering him not wanting to make plans with me, and getting into dumb fights with me, and not willing to commit to me. I felt incredibly stupid that I was seriously considering not voting for someone because he was a guy that was just not that into me when we were 23 but, well…
            Fortunately one of the other candidates had a similar career trajectory and stance on the issues and she’d never made me cry in the bathroom of a bar after spending “too long” talking to his ex-girlfriend so I voted for her instead.

      3. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        We’re not discussing who to vote for, but how to decide who to vote for.

        If the only information available about the candidates for a job is what you know from fifteen years ago, it’s reasonable to take that into account. Nobody blinks at “I’m voting for so-and-so, I’ve known him since we were in college together,” and that’s at least as meaningful in this context as “he played for my favorite football team” or “he walked on the Moon.” Having worked with someone is a snapshot from the past, but it’s a potentially relevant one: LW is trying to figure out whether someone would do a good job in an elected position.

    5. Nobby Nobbs*

      Yup, I had to hold my nose a few years ago to vote for an ex-principal I had a grudge against because his opponent liked defunding schools. And then he lost anyway! Such is local politics.

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        I tend to be cynical about local politics, since a more popular candidate was talking conservative, and that helped him will the local town council seat, but he immediately voted liberal, which gave that side a 1 vote margin.

        (I also consider ALL politics to be local)

      2. Era*

        It doesn’t always stay local, though — I have a friend whose family dutifully held a grudge against a local/state politician for YEARS because the politician slacked off on a group project while in school with a family member.

        Then the politician reached the national stage, and my friend’s family looked at the policies involved and promptly shut up about their grudge until after the election was well and truly won.

    6. ThatGirl*

      Like… the LW should vote for the candidate they feel would represent them best. Which is more or less what you’re saying. I get it, but holding a fairly minor thing that happened 15 years ago against them…

      I mean, 15 years ago last month I got fired for the first and hopefully only time. While there were mitigating circumstances, ultimately I was the one responsible for a big mistake, I’d previously been on a PIP and there was no coming back from it. It was a bad set of circumstances (bad manager, bad systems, highly stressful time in my personal life, I was young and not handling any of it well) that I learned a lot from and should something similar ever arise, I would handle it much differently. Because I’m older and wiser now.

  2. Keyboard Cowboy*

    LW1, I wonder if just hearing that that rant came back around to you is enough to wake your manager up. I expect they wouldn’t have said it in as many words to your face; I’d guess it’s pretty likely they didn’t intend for you to hear that feedback in that way at all. I’d definitely be more careful with my confidences if I found out the person I was venting it to was passing my words on to the target of said vent.

    1. KateM*

      “(If this is exactly what he said, I’m a little confused because I’ve not applied for a manager position.)”

      I was wondering whether it could have been MIL herself who asked her friend about whether OP could get hired soon as a manager.

      1. MK*

        In general, I wonder how that conversation went. Before OP decides to go to HR, which seems an overreaction to me, she might consider what she knows about her not mother-in-law and whether she is likely to have, eh, embellished the story. Is it possible that the manager said he wouldn’t promote someone with poor attendance and the mother-in-law passed it on as him discussing the OP’s career prospects.

        1. Artemesia*

          With poor attendance going to HR might set off a very ugly set of outcomes. But a heads up to the manager is appropriate. Clearly his wife has gossiped with the MIL even if it is not precisely s quoted. The boss needs to know that this comes back to the OP — it is grossly unprofessional all around.

          1. Miette*

            This is what I came here to say.

            This may be a more sensitive topic to bring up with the manager, OP, but asking him to ensure his wife doesn’t pass on info he may share about you is something you might also consider. Not only is there conversation going around that your MIL is hearing/party to, there may also be a game of telephone. Because aside from this instance, it could be his wife (indiscreetly IMO) repeating things he says to her.

            That’s not cool, at all, regardless of the issues he may have with you. You shouldn’t have to compound that stress with worrying what your nosy MIL is bringing into it/stirring the pot.

        2. GythaOgden*

          That’s my read on it. Boss is concerned OP isn’t turning up (and is burying the lede here!) and saying that if they were ever to be interested in promotion, then they need to sort stuff out.

          He may even have been concerned. I’ve been in a similar situation, and my mum was concerned about my health (or lack of it) and went to both my professors at uni and boss to get my schedule tweaked. At uni that was OK, because it got my classes spread out over the week rather than all packed into Monday. At work…yeah, it didn’t end well. I think it just confirmed what my boss actually thought, but it ended in me parting ways with them.

          I sympathise with OP’s transport issues, but they need to attend to the plank in their own eye before going after the mote in the boss’ eye. They need to have the standing here to make it clear that they know why people are talking and can improve the situation on their end so the reason for the gossip becomes moot.

        3. MsClaw*

          Agreed. Go to HR over what? He boss complaining about his attendance record to a friend? That’s probably not something HR can (or should!) do anything about. Bosses are allowed to be irritated by their workers. They are allowed to have friends and talk about things with them, including work things. Being late a lot is not a protected class. For that matter, Boss might even be trying to take a temperature to figure out whether it would cause problems in his personal life if he fires his wife’s BFF’s in-law. It’s certainly not that strange that someone might make an off-hand comment like ‘If Jim wants to get anywhere in this company, he needs to start showing up on time.’

          I think OP’s options here are to decide whether or not they want to continue working for someone with a close connection to their MIL and/or figure out a more reliable method of transportation.

          I completely understand that perpetual car trouble can happen, and maybe OP doesn’t have the means to get the car fixed right now, etc. In which case *that* is a discussion they can have with their boss and see what, if any, options there are around that.

          1. The OTHER other*

            It’s legal for the boss to gossip about his employee, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. I probably wouldn’t go to HR about it either but gossiping about an employee to their relative is unprofessional.

            Maybe the LW mentioning they heard work gossip about themself from their MIL would be enough to put a stop to it.

        4. JustaTech*

          Yes to this. I have relations who manage to (probably unintentionally) embellish every single story. So cousin Bob writing a song for an animated movie becomes cousin Bob wrote the soundtrack to a Disney movie. Usually the embellishments are in the positive direction, but I’m sure they go the other way too (and just don’t get passed on to me since I’ve been clear that I don’t want to hear it).
          And sometimes it’s just a plain misunderstanding based on either not listening, or hearing what they want to hear.

          So yes, consider the source before taking action.

      2. ferrina*

        Yeah, my immediate thought was that MIL started the conversation to try to pry into LW’s promotion potential.

    2. AcademiaNut*

      We don’t know enough to know who is responsible – there’s the manager, the manager’s wife, and the MIL in the chain, and any combination of them could have been indiscreet or misunderstanding or making stuff up. In any event, talking to your boss and saying that you heard such and such from your MIL, and you were disturbed to be getting that kind of information from a third party is a good start. If your boss was being indiscreet, he now knows that he shouldn’t mention you to his wife. If his wife was the problem, that’s his issue to address. If your MIL was prying or gossiping, her friend now knows she can’t keep a secret, and if your MIL was making stuff up, you will all know what’s up.

      It’s too bad it’s a new job, because if it were a longer tenured position, it would be easier to put out feelers for new opportunities.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Eh, I would just go in to the boss and say, “I heard you had some concerns about my attendance. I agree it’s a problem and I am working on fixing it. Just wanted to let you know.”

        Let him sit there and think about how I heard that. I have actually done a slight variation of this and found it to be very effective in stopping the gossip vine. Or at least effective in making sure it does not reach me anymore. I always assumed the gossip continued but they tightened up on how it spread.

        1. AnxietyRobot*

          This does seem like a good approach in many ways, but depending on how gossipy the manager is they might think they heard that from someone at work, not the aunt, and not think to adjust the stories they tell at home.

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I would do this, but I would explicitly name MIL as the source.

          “Janet let me know that you have concerns about my attendance record. I am, of course, very sorry that my car troubles have caused some inconvenience and I’m working to sort that out, but in the future, I would appreciate it if you talked to me about your concerns directly.”

          1. Goody*

            I like this. just enough of an edge to make it clear that OP was offended at hearing this through the grapevine, even if there was some “telephone game” mutation happening, rather than a direct conversation.

    3. Caroline+Bowman*

      I agree. Assuming that the OP gets on generally with their manager, a perplexed ”I know my attendance hasn’t been fantastic for X and Y reasons of late, and obviously I’m working to resolve that ASAP. I’m just quite uncomfortable because Jane told Doris that you’d said ABC in relation to me, is that true?”

      If there’s a grain of truth in it, manager will be mortified and backpedal like crazy and learn a lesson re gossipy relatives.

    4. GlitterIsEverything*

      There’s a possibility that the manager never actually said anything. OP mentioned they were concerned about their MIL being nosy; it’s fully possible that MIL made this comment entirely on her own, because she disapproves of something involving the OP and her job.
      We simply don’t know enough about the personalities involved to know.
      That said, it would probably be to OP’s benefit to mention to their manager what MIL said, and see how they react.

      1. my name here*

        This is what I was thinking. I could easily imagine my father in-law saying something like that because it bothers HIM that the LW has attendance issues, and it’s a way to try to influence the LW.

        I wouldn’t say anything to the manager directly because if the manager actually didn’t talk about LW’s performance to anyone else, it’s going to look weird.

    5. Not A Manager*

      I’d be careful about the advice to essentially repeat the gossip back to the manager. It might make him think twice about gossip, but it could also reinforce to him that LW1 is chronically late and he doesn’t think she’s management material. And that might happen even if, in fact, he hadn’t said those very words and the MIL embellished.

      I think LW should speak to him more broadly about the dynamic itself, without naming the gossip. “My MIL is good friends with your wife, she interprets their conversations based on her own incomplete knowledge, then she’ll repeat things to me as if they came from you. Sometimes that’s confusing to me because it’s different from where I think you and I are aligned. Can you please be sure to tell me directly if you have any concerns about my performance? If I know that I’m not going to hear anything important about my job from my MIL before I hear it from you, I’ll be better able to disregard her remarks.”

      That gives the manager the option to stop talking about LW to his wife (if in fact he is), or to tell the wife to stop talking to the MIL about LW (if she is), but it’s not directly accusing either of them of inappropriate gossip (which, given the facts both about LW and about MIL, isn’t completely obvious is even happening).

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        I love that response. It implies that of COURSE he wouldn’t be gossiping and still gets the “talk to me” message across.

      2. Lydia*

        The boss knows OP has been having attendance issues. I’m not sure acknowledging it is going to make it a bigger deal than it already is.

    6. LifeBeforeCorona*

      LW1 I would go to my boss and tell them that I’ve been hearing about my job performance from my MIL. Also point out that other people (MIL again) are discussing work related issues that he may have assumed would remain in confidence. He can connect the dots from there.

    7. Jenna Webster*

      No boss should be talking about their employees to their employee’s relatives!! That is a whole lot of inappropriate – do the wrong thing, and I’ll tell you Mom?! Or mother-in-law, or whoever. Talk to your friends all you want, as long as they’re not related to the employee you’re discussing.

  3. Heather*

    Fifteen years with no raise and no promotion?! The company was definitely taking advantage of you and your lack of confidence to ask for more. Now that you have the nerve (you did the right thing by asking for a promotion and a raise) you should look elsewhere. Follow Allison’s guide for resumes, cover letters, and negotiation of salary. If you’re doing all of the work of more senior people with higher pay and they’re unwilling to pay you for it or offer increases when they’ve done that to you in the past they’re never going to give you what you want now you’ll have to go somewhere else and hopefully you’ll write back for a Friday good news really really soon!

    1. Green Rabbit*

      I think it’s 15 years to have the courage to ask for both/either, rather than 15 years without either.

      But you are right about the OP looking for alternatives. Their employer has found a person they can load the work onto and not have to worry about paying them more. It’s time to look for somewhere willing to pay you for what you do and what you are worth.

      1. GythaOgden*

        Happens. I’ve been in my position for eight years, and I’ve got the standard yearly public sector raises, but until now there’s never been a good time to move for personal reasons. My colleagues are both quite happy with where they are and what they’re doing (one has been there 17 years, one more than 20), and are a little bit nonplussed at me growing out of my role and wanting to move on after only 8 years. All three of us work to live, but I am wanting a bit more crunch to my job because things are pretty much dead for purely admin reception these days.

      2. The Real Fran Fine*

        I think it’s 15 years to have the courage to ask for both/either, rather than 15 years without either.

        That’s how I read it as well. I know it took me nearly a decade to start asking for raises/promotions because I never had to – I worked for companies where I received regular pay increases every year and promotions without having to ask for them. Now, I work for a company where you have to advocate for yourself (we still get regular yearly COL increases at the bare minimum) – it’s a whole new world for me, and I’m still not entirely comfortable because I never had the practice.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          This. I worked for years at companies that did regular raises and promo reviews. Then I started working in tech and for academia or start-ups, and they generally don’t do that.

    1. Anonomite*

      This has the same energy as telling someone if they don’t like the smell, then just don’t breathe. It’s not helpful, really.

      1. The OTHER other*

        Well, it certainly takes a lot more time and energy to do it than to suggest it, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad suggestion. The LW *did* write in asking for advice, and many times people stay in terrible jobs because they don’t realize there are better alternatives out there or they just dread the whole process of looking.

        1. Anonomite*

          There is a way that people suggest “just get a new job” that is flippant and inconsiderate, and that is how the original comment came off. “If you don’t like it, get a new job” is not helpful.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        The reply said, “Look for”, not “just get”. And, whether we like it or not, sometimes that’s the only way you’re going to get out of being underpaid and underappreciated.

  4. Mm*

    #5 – we had a similar restructuring where I worked due to a consulting company coming in and re-aligning roles with the market. If getting your title back isn’t possible I’d consider

    1) could the entire name be changed enough for it to not look like a demotion? For example “systems analyst” instead of “technology aide.” This could be something your manager could advocate for the whole team to make the transition easier and may be more within their reach.
    2) ask how long you have until titles would be changed. I’d seriously consider leaving before that date to avoid the “demotion” looking name.

    1. breakfast burrito*

      My org also did a study and realigned organizational titles. It meant that some people that were “managers” were no longer allowed to be called that if they managed projects, not people. Many looked like they received a demotion because the new title reflected they were an individual contributor. However, we are allowed to continue using working titles that you could dress up to indicate a higher level of contribution/specialty. Is that an option?

        1. The Real Fran Fine*

          I don’t think it’s a trend. I’ve worked for, and currently work for, companies that still refer to people who manage projects or programs as “managers” in their job titles. Some even get a “director” title even when they have no people management responsibilities.

        2. Galadriel's Garden*

          Ha, our company just implemented the same thing as well. My manager is trying to thread the needle of timing in rearranging our team so that two current “managers,” myself and another woman, get to remain “managers” under the new structure instead of “leads” (the individual contributor title for the same band) and get a pay bump accordingly.

      1. SomebodyElse*

        I always liked how my company did the whole manager of a thing vs. manager of people.

        Widget Manager – manager of widgets
        Manager, Widgets – manager of the widget department and people

        It’s pretty easy to determine people managers vs. individual contributors who manage a thing.

    2. Smithy*

      I really like suggestion #1 – if there’s a large re-org happening, then getting a completely new name can help adjust that reception of the demotion. Particularly if overall you’re happy at work.

      I will also say it may be helpful to step outside of your workplace and talk to others in your network who work elsewhere around what titles resonate well and where this may be more about your ego getting caught up. I recently had a situation where a friend was given a raise and his title was changed from Sr. Director to Director. While I completely get this is part of larger frustrations and upset with his current workplace, this type of title flattening isn’t uncommon in our industry and people go from Sr. Director to Director to VP titles across our industry in different employers.

      With that in mind, asking around for what titles more senior individual contributors have could be helpful. In my line of work, someone who’s hired as an “Advisor” – particularly Sr. Advisor – but anything that implies being a technical advisor in a certain area is referenced that way. I can see perhaps the title Analyst functioning for other sectors where it still implies seniority in a way that Aide wouldn’t.

  5. Alex*

    #2 feels like it could be my boss writing in. Their main problem is their attitude when someone calls in sick. “Ugh really?” and then you talk it over and then it is approved. It is exhausting. I’m probably projecting onto you. Just ignore me.

    1. AA*

      I don’t think you’re projecting. I think it’s a legitimate thing. I had a boss that I loved as a person (and am still close to after we both left that job) but she did some stuff that just wore me down over time. One was that she would make a joke about me slacking off every time I asked for some PTO to be approved. I’m sure she didn’t really mean anything by it, but like you said, exhausting.

      1. Lynn*

        ooooh I had PM do this. Every time someone headed out for vacation she would say “what? Who approved this?” in a joking way except that it wasn’t funny. It would have just been an irritating quirk except that everyone on the team was more conscientious about putting PTO on the calendar early and setting up a coverage plan than she was. We started making passive aggressive comments in front of her about the PTO e.g. “oh wow that is amazing you have been working SO HARD you really deserve some time to decompress I hope you have a great time!”

    2. Bast*

      I had a boss who similarly would complain anytime someone called in sick. One particular event stands out where she had pre approved a vacation for a person, who got Covid roughly a month before their trip. Her job was unable to be completed remotely and my boss gave her an extremely hard time about using her PTO for both Covid and the vacation even though she had enough time in her bank- like anyone plans to get Covid. She made a lot of snide remarks about “going out again so soon” and guilt tripping her into canceling her vacation. It should be mentioned my coworker got VERY sick with Covid so she wasn’t having the time of her life at home either, but my boss treated it like she did.

      That was just one drop in the bucket. My boss was great at remembering personal details and talking to staff, but she also was an extreme micromanager who could not deal with any disagreement. Sure, she’d ASK if anyone had any concerns, and if you did and they were contrary to hers you were “difficult” and she’d openly mock you.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Wow, that’s awful that she guilted your colleague into canceling her vacation. How terrible. I hope that colleague quit soon thereafter.

    3. JayNay*

      It’s a bit concerning that LW2 mentions “saying hello and goodbye” to their staff as a reason they think they’re doing a good job. That’s pretty much the baseline of collegial office behavior (or really most human interaction, I say hello and goodbye to store clerks).
      For me, clear expectations are a really big one for a good manager. If you want something done a specific way, let’s discuss it before I start the task. Have clear guidelines on covering shifts, clear policies on approving vacation time, a known process for bringing up issues like regular 1:1s, not just crisis meetings when something went wrong.

      1. Blooming Callowlily*

        If they’re not all working in the same general area, it could mean LW2 is making a point to go around and see people when the come in and before they leave, which is worth something.

      2. JSPA*

        This could refer to specifics of the review not included here. If people said they were “standoffish” or “unapproachable” or whatever. But if you say hello and chat about the kids and pets, yet ignore input on projects (for example) or look stressed every time someone makes a suggestion–then even if you’re frazzled because you’re picking up loose ends (which…possibly not even your job, and not necessarily at all visible to your team?) you can still be labeled “closed-minded” or “unapproachable.”

        1. Smithy*

          Yeah – I will also say that it may be helpful for the manager to take a step back and reflect on what their employees might want beyond a nice manager. Now, the manager may not be able to necessarily give them what they want due to other structural realities at their employer – but there really does come a point where being a pleasant person as a manager has its limits.

          I had a boss for three years who’d I’d qualify as nice and did everything the OP mentioned and more. I’d also never work for her again. What I wanted from her in terms of professional feedback, guidance, support and recognition never came. Now in many ways, this was partially how her job was set up – and she wasn’t really able or incentivized to provide any of that. But by the time I left, I didn’t professionally respect or like her – despite her always being nice and our having a largely cordial relationship. If I ran into her in a social context or at a conference, I’d be more than happy to chat for as short as 5 minutes – or have a coffee or meal.

          But I’d never work for her again.

          1. EvilQueenRegina*

            I also had a very similar boss who was often described as “lovely, but not as a manager”. What I understand now in a way I didn’t when she actually managed me was that the structure in place at the time was part of the problem – she managed lots of staff, several different teams based in several different locations, and she was based in a different location altogether – but she also didn’t spend enough time with us to get a sense of what really went on on a day to day basis. Instead of investigating any issues properly, she would form her own conclusions about what had happened and act on that and then turn out to be wrong and only realise this when it stared her in the face (think Cornelius Fudge’s reaction when Voldemort returned and you have some idea. Fudge actually became her nickname and she eventually met Fudge’s fate).

            Yes, she qualified as nice. But regular feedback, support and guidance? Forget it. If I really couldn’t resolve something myself I probably went to anyone but her, and thinking about it years on I realised how bad that was. In a social context if I saw her again, I’d be fine to chat. With coaching she may even be better as a manager (this was about 10 years ago) but I couldn’t personally work for her again.

      3. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Right! My team is fully remote and has completely flexible hours, so I DON’T say hello and goodbye to most of them individually, barring in my daily team emails, and at the risk of tooting my own horn, I got 4.8/5.0 on our last couple rounds of surveys. (Which, yes, they are anonymous and run by a reputable third party and I only get the aggregate results.)

      4. Badger*

        Yeah as a team lead, I focus on completely different things. On the communication side “always available to talk” and “communicating transparently and clearly” is on my list, as well as regular 1:1 and clear feedback.
        But there’s a myriad of other stuff, mentioned both by Alison and in this thread, that I put much more focus on. (And do in fact get very good feedback for from my team. I’m not a social butterfly, but they are completely satisfied anyway, because *as a teamlead* I’m doing my job.)

      5. Librarian of SHIELD*

        Everything OP listed in their letter as examples of being a good boss were social things. There was nothing in that list about supporting their staff when assignments were difficult or arranging for necessary trainings or debriefing at the end of a project to sort out what went well, what could have gone better, and what changes they could make for next time.

        Sometimes people have a hard time with bosses who treat them only as staff and not as people, but I think OP has swung too far on the pendulum and is focusing on the employees as social beings, but not as employees. Ideally you need to be somewhere in the middle where you can acknowledge your team as people with human needs, but also as employees in need of managerial support.

        1. The OTHER other*

          Covering shifts for employees that are out sick or on PTO etc is not social, or “fluff” as others have mentioned.

          IMO it should be a given that managers cover for their teams, but sadly it’s been my experience that many think that’s beneath them, and the workload gets spread among the remaining team members.

      6. MigraineMonth*

        Personally, I’d probably find a boss stopping by to say hello and goodbye every single day slightly irritating. It would be somewhat alarming if they started commenting on when I arrived/left (since I’m salaried and sometime start and end work late).

      7. JustaTech*

        Yes on clear expectations. One of the least effective bosses I’ve had (not my direct manager) was a guy who had a terrible habit of talking to you without using nouns. Or at least, without using specific nouns.
        “I need you to analyze that data by the end of the day, I’ll be in meetings until then, bye.” Which data? I had 3 separate projects going on simultaneously so it could have been any of them. Not to mention, what kind of analysis?
        Or everything was a “thing”, and when you work in a development lab there are literally hundreds of “things” he could be talking about.

    4. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

      My last boss wanted everyone to get along; made sure to say hello to everyone at the beginning of the day; was friendly and pleasant when you talked to him; etc. That said, I found out that that was all a sham for him to put on appearances. Things that didn’t sit well with me: being forced into a position I didn’t want; passing me over for raises; not taking Covid safety seriously; etc. As good as it was to have a boss who put on appearances, I’d have preferred a boss who understood my job and my needs better and didn’t worry about things like if the office radio was turned on in the morning.

    5. Hello Dahlia*

      I thought this was my manager too. We all *like* him, he picks up the slack a lot since the team is small, but he’s terrible at giving feedback and following through on things he is supposed to do, like initiating projects. While he bails out other team members, he has no idea what I do or how to do it.

      1. hbc*

        Oh, I’ve had the boss where someone once told me, “I think the thing that bothers me most is how much I like him.” Because he was a god-awful leader and you wanted to hate his guts for some of the stuff he did, but he was just the most engaging, entertaining, and delightful person when it came to socializing.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Craig Kettleman from Better Call Saul. Every time we meet him he’s engaged in a blatant (and not notably competent) embezzlement scheme–but he’s friendly and cheerful and you just know if he was your manager he’d remember your birthday, ask about how your kid was doing with the JV soccer, and so on.

    6. Gaslight Girlboss Gatekeep*

      I thought this was the manager I quit earlier this year. After having a meeting with her about looking to transfer to an office with a shorter commute she called up her boss and put her on speaker and proceeded to scream about how I wanted to transfer because I hated her and was lying about finding the hour long commute difficult. And an hour later walked past me and sneered “and you know I always say ‘hi’ to you.”

      So the “I always say hi and bye” line really jumped out at me. Is there really more than one person out there that thinks the only thing you need to do to be a good manager is to say hi and bye?

      And yes, I wanted the transfer because of the hour long commute and because she was a terrible manager. Having a screaming fit over the phone to her boss about how I wanted to leave because I “hated her”—something I never said but she put in my mouth—was actually the least terrible thing she did in a long list of terrible things.

    7. Shhhh*

      I gave negative (but, in my opinion, constructive) feedback about my grandboss this year. They’re a perfectly nice person and do all of the things LW2 says they do, but they also do things like impose truly unnecessarily tight deadlines that force people to work on things outside of work hours while preaching about work-life balance.

    8. ferrina*

      Yeah, I thought it was weird that “Above and Beyond” meant allowing PTO that people are entitled to. Congrats, you allow people to use their benefits? And you say “hi”? Since when is that “above and beyond”?

      Makes me worry about what this person would consider “bare minimum”.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Yeah, I don’t care if my manager is social, I care if they:
        * Help me prioritize my work,
        * Have a clue what I do so they can hand me the right tasks
        * Run interference for the team with other managers and higher ups
        * Keep us informed on what is going on at the company
        * Give me accurate and useful feedback regularly
        * Don’t micromanage, but have an idea of what I’m doing
        * Go to bat for the team when it comes time for promotions and raises
        * Approve PTO requests promptly without snark

        Essentially, good communication is a must, but not on just a superficial level.

      2. Dust Bunny*


        I used to have a job where we technically had PTO but actually scheduling it was impossible, and managers definitely did not help us cover shifts. That’s some bare-minimum stuff. Heaven forbid they might have advocated for better staffing or training, though.

  6. MugShot*

    Did you consider that maybe your mother in law is making it up, and is stirring things up for you? It seems highly unlikely that your boss who make comments about speculative events with MiL, so my guess is she knows about your attendance issues and used it as a way to needle you.
    (If you don’t believe that someone could do this visit JustNo MiL on Reddit).
    I’d suggest you question MiL further before taking this to your boss!

    1. CCs*

      But how will you get the truth out of MIL if Sue made it up in the first place? I really like the other commenters idea of taking it to the manager, casually.

      “My MIL mentioned to me that you told her I wouldn’t be considered for a management position due to my attendance issues in [month]. I know I’m not looking at any progression opportunities at the moment, but is this an ongoing concern?”. Then you’ll either get a very flustered manager who knows he needs to not say anything about you in the future that he wouldn’t want passed on, or a very confused manager who has said nothing of the sort!

    2. Irish Teacher*

      While this is definitely possible, it sounds like the criticism was of something actually accurate – that the LW has been absent a lot. I guess it’s possible the Mother-in-Law knew of this from other sources, like that she called to the house and saw them at home or their spouse mentioned casually to her about the difficulties the LW was having with their car, but if the Mother-in-Law didn’t know about the absenteeism, then it sounds like the manager must at least have told her THAT much.

      I have no doubt that somebody would do that though. My grandmother apparently had a habit of telling my mother that “Mrs. X next door said your skirt was too short/you were leaving very late for work the other day, that new hairstyle looks awful on you,” when it was really just a way of telling her off (my mother was her own daughter, not her daughter-in-law) without owning the criticism. So I could definitely imagine somebody who was concerned about a family member’s work attendance saying, “your boss says you won’t get a promotion if you keep doing that” to give it more credence than the family member saying, “if you want to advance, you need to change that.”

      And this isn’t directly related to your comment, but it just connects to what I was saying so I’ll add it here instead of posting a separate comment. I don’t think there’s anything strange about the mention of being a manager. I think it is quite common when there are complaints about a person’s work to say, “they’ll never get promoted, doing that,” even if they have no interest in promotion. Plenty of people just assume everybody has their eye on the top job.

      1. Moo*

        To that end – you could have a conversation with the manager, along the lines of my MIL has a tendency to invoke others with things they may or may not have said. She recently mentioned some work-related feedback. Can we just agree that you’ll always give me the direct feedback if there anything of concern, and I’ll, of course do the same. And that I should ignore anything said by MIL because of course we all have professional boundaries.

        1. GythaOgden*

          Yeah, that may well end up with the attendance issues being raised openly, which might actually benefit OP and help them (a) know where they stand and (b) brainstorm a solution.

          It would probably be beneficial to OP to be a bit more humble than this script implies. The boss needs to use his words, but OP going in high-handedly and confronting them about the gossip raises the question of their own issues first.

          Or perhaps they should wait until the car issues have been resolved and their attendance is better than it is right now and take it from there.

      2. Kit*

        I agree with most of this but did want to point out that ‘attendance issues’ could very well be chronic lateness rather than full absenteeism – especially since the LW notes having to cadge rides. Calling around to arrange that and being at the mercy of others’ schedules is obviously not great in terms of arriving at work at the expected time consistently, but is usually more forgivable than simply not showing up at all.

        1. GythaOgden*

          At some point, especially in jobs like mine where coverage is important, being constantly late is as much of a problem as being completely absent would be. For that reason, I am much happier at my job — a significant public transport commute away on a network that was in the past known as British Fail — being twenty minutes early than cutting it fine or being late.

          At some point, responsibility to colleagues and the business has to take over if you want them to continue to pay you. I think OP is either 100% aware of the problem and getting it sorted and thus playing it down in their letter, or ignoring their issues because the opinion came to them in a form they didn’t much like, but either way, they need to sort it out before starting in on Boss’s, Mrs Boss’s and MIL’s coffee klatsch behaviour. Whatever the reason, it’s making them look bad, it’s probably having an impact on colleagues, and boss just needs it to stop.

    3. Caroline+Bowman*

      Good point.

      If that is likely, you’d really be able to lean into it by saying to your MiL that you’ve gone all the way to upper management with this, that there are going to be very big repercussions about who said what to whom and when, and can she clarify exactly what was said, to whom and on what date?

      I am evil, but I’d be hard-pressed to resist.

      1. hbc*

        I must be evil too, because my initial reaction was, “Interesting, you should hear what he has to say about you!”

    4. Laure001*

      Yes, that makes sense. It’s possible the comment has never really been made and the MIL is lying to “help” the OP.

      1. PsychNurse*

        To LW2:

        My last manager was awful awful at managing. And the thing is, she was a lovely person. She was friendly and an incredibly hard worker. Constantly picking up work to help out her staff. The problem was, she so desperately wanted to avoid conflict that she wouldn’t address problems. She thought that by being empathetic, she was helping.

        For example, we had a truly awful staff member. Constant complaints from everyone in the organization. And when I talked to my manager about the most recent event, she was like “Oh girl, I know! I can’t believe she did that.” But I didn’t want a listening ear. I wanted her to manage! I wanted her to manage the staff member (ie, set clear expectations and require that the staff member follow them), not manage my emotions about it.

    5. WellRed*

      Yes please this is my thinking. Ignore her and as much as possible put her on an information diet (can’t do much about your space sharing with her, though),

    6. PsychNurse*

      Even if she didn’t make it up entirely, I was thinking the same. What if their conversation went like this:

      MIL: “So how’s it going at work with my DIL?”
      Boss: “Good! We have our company picnic next week.”
      MIL: “She’s out a lot though, right? I feel like she never goes to work. I bet it’s hard to get a promotion when you behave like that.”
      Boss: “Uh-huh, sure. A lot of my employees have that problem, it seems like! Anyway, what are you doing for Halloween?”

      If you MIL is the type to stir up trouble, who knows what actually went down.

    7. Curious One*

      Isn’t the connection is Boss talks to Boss’s Wife; Boss’s Wife talks to MIL; MIL talks to OP? I don’t think Boss is talking directly to MIL. Would that make a difference?

  7. Sunset*

    I didn’t answer a decent work survey, one of the reasons was that it asked “Does your supervisor solve issues preventing you from doing your work” (or something to that effect) without a follow up question.
    I would have to answer with “mostly not” to that question and I suspect it would be counted as my supervisor being bad and needing improvement instead of the correct answer that my supervisor is not given the means to solve those issues.

    1. Allonge*

      Uh, that is a really bad question though! There are way too many assumptions included.

      Beyond your situation (supervisor does not have the means to), which has to be pretty common, there are options like ‘nothing is preventing me from doing my work’ or ‘it’s not her job to solve these issues’ or ‘nobody in the org can solve these’ or ‘the time-space continuum does not work that way’ and probably a few others.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        Yeah, this is specific to teaching, but I’m sure other jobs have similar situations: one of the things that has prevented me from doing my job with some classes has been high absenteeism. The principal and my head of department are…limited in what they can do about that. Sure, they can contact the parents and so on, but…their power over whether or not the kid actually comes to school is limited.

        There is also the question of whether or not one would even KNOW. I mean, if the supervisor has successfully removed the obstacles from doing one’s job, would you…know that the supervisor removed them or whether they were ever there in the first place. To return to my example, if a kid returns to school, I usually don’t know whether it is because the school has chased up successfully or the parent caught them sneaking home after saying they were going to school or whether there was problems at home that prevented their attendance and have now been resolved or what. If things are working as they should, a lot of the work is often invisible.

        I don’t think I have ever KNOWN that a supervisor has removed a block to my doing my work. They may well HAVE, but by doing it, they rendered the block fairly invisible.

        1. Sylvan*

          If things are working as they should, a lot of the work is often invisible.

          Oh, this is really true. I read this idea about admins back when I was one (and I was not a good one, didn’t last long), but hadn’t thought of it applying to managers. Some of their most helpful work happens without our knowledge.

          1. ferrina*

            Truth! At OldJob, a lot of my managerial role was playing politics to make sure my team got the information and resources they needed, wasn’t assigned to stupid projects (there were a lot of pet projects that were bad ideas run by awful people), and were able to get a chance to do what they loved. Sometimes my team saw that, often they didn’t. I would start laying the groundwork for an opportunity months before the opportunity would be available, but they just saw it as a casual thing. Nope, but part of my job was to take care of the politics so they could focus on the work. And there was a lot of politics.

    2. kiki*

      I always get frustrated with surveys with such limited response options. So often management issues aren’t really the manager’s fault– the fault is organization, systemic, or lies at least one level above the manager. So many times when I take a survey about my manager, I want to say, “they are working very hard and trying their best, but this organization does not allow them to actually be effectual.”

      1. The Real Fran Fine*

        This. There has to be an option in these surveys to add written responses if you want to expound on an idea.

        1. ferrina*

          There usually is a catch-all open-ended question where you can write in a response, but it won’t usually be considered in the context of the yes/no or rating question. Plenty of people don’t read those responses at all.

          Your best bet is to write to HR (or whoever designed the survey) and say “I couldn’t answer this question because…”

          1. The Real Fran Fine*

            Re: your first paragraph

            That depends on how the survey is designed. In the ones my company sends out, they have a field for open ended feedback under questions where they recognize there may be a nuance that needs explaining. And having put together many surveys for my own team over the last year or so, I’ve also put instructions in the space right before an open field stating that if the taker wants to provide additional feedback to a question, just put the number in the field and then write the response.

            It’s not perfect, but it does occasionally help. The big problem I see is that companies throw surveys together without any thought to how the end user will actually fill out/complete said survey and, therefore, they don’t structure the questions or responses in a logical way that makes sense or allows for context.

            1. Pam*

              Good point. What I described is the most common way, and that I’ve seen the most throughout my career.
              There is no one best design- it really depends on what you’re trying to measure and how much trust the staff have in leadership and survey administrators. Ideally I’d go for a lot of open-ended responses, but if staff doesn’t trust leadership, truly anonymized catch-all questions are better than no data at all. (assuming leadership wants feedback)

      2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        Agreed on the problem with surveys … depends on how the answers are given; is it rank on a scale of 1-10, so there is some nuance? Or is it a yes/no so there’s only all of one or all of the other?

        As an example: Would I say my boss is a good advocate…no, but he’s a good person. He’s terribly afraid of confrontation so he never pushes back on crazy stuff we’re asked/expected to do. When he gave me my performance eval earlier, he and I had a conversation about my goals for the next year…I signed the eval based on 3 goals we agreed on and fit all the criteria for SMART goals; his boss crossed it all off and gave me 7 wildly unobtainable goals that I have no control over accomplishing, some can’t even be “accomplished”, and they don’t fit ANY of the SMART goals criteria…and he just shrugged. Sorry.

        So is he a good advocate for his team? On a scale of 1-10…eh, a 5 maybe…he’ll get us the equipment/training we need to do our jobs, totally encourage and unequivocally grant our time off, and point us to any resources. But if I have a yes/no question on survey? Then no, he isn’t.

  8. Dark Macadamia*

    I’m so curious what the actual survey questions were about for LW2! Did they score low on something like friendliness/rapport? I can’t help picturing a Michael Scott situation where they’re trying so hard to be liked that they kind of alienate people who would be fine with them if they just did their job.

    I’d give positive feedback for a boss who is supportive, flexible, reasonable, etc even if they never had a non-work conversation with me… but if they’re frustrating, rude, or incompetent (I’m not saying you are, LW!) no amount of friendly greetings will make me enjoy working for them.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      I, too, would love to know what questions were asked and where OP scored lower. It’s really difficult to give any advice without knowing, because it really could be anything.

    2. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

      I had experience with a manger who was nice and flexible, but still was a horrible manager. He could never give constructive feedback, because he didn’t want to be mean or seem like a micromanager, so everything was always fine. He has no idea how to leverage peoples strengths and had people in roles they were not well suited for, but he was too afraid to have conversations or do any restructuring to make the team stronger. He also refused to resolve any team conflict. There were two people on the team that were straight up bullies, literally tracking when everyone left for the day, took lunch, bathroom breaks, etc. When I told him this he said “well they are really hard workers, they are always staying late” That was because they spent most of the day gossiping and monitoring everyone, they had to stay late to get their work done. They would also team up and he’d always give into their ideas.

      Managing and leading a team is a lot more that’s being nice and flexible.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      OP, I’d like to encourage you to think about good bosses you have had and what they did that made them a good boss.

      While I am not so sure that what you mention is fluff, I do know that a lot goes into managing people. A LOT.

      I think one thing to be clear about is to set expectations. Early on my people expected me to resolve squabbles. These were upsets over non-work issues, things that happened at home. I said let them know that only the work was under my watch and at home stuff should stay at home because part of what they are being compensated for was to get along with each other. On the giving side of this question, if someone had a serious problem such as a funeral or illness I would do what I could to help them as far as work was concerned.
      Don’t be afraid to say that something is a non-work issue and not under your watch.

      You do have the giving side covered, OP, Take a look at your expectations and your effectiveness. This is the other side where you are taking- which is your job to see to it that the work is done and done correctly. That is a whole huge subject right there. People have friends, they actually need a boss. A boss is a person who helps them to not only keep their jobs but excel at their jobs. A good boss can be friendly, but a good friend cannot be a boss without having some difficulties. Realize that you have a unique role in their lives and there is no peer for you, you are the only boss they have.

    4. JustaTech*

      This reminds me of the two “best” professors in my department. There was my thesis advisor, a fun, easy going guy (who was also an excellent teacher), and my academic advisor, a more intense (but not scary) very technical woman (who was also an excellent teacher).

      If asked who you liked as a person, it was usually the guy (he’s really nice!) but if you asked who you liked as a professor it was usually the woman because she pushed everyone harder (not to the breaking point, but you felt that you were really learning stuff in her classes where his classes sometimes felt “too easy”).

      My current boss is much more like the friendly guy than the harder prof, and honestly I think I’d do better with a boss who pushed for me to advance a little bit more.

  9. Irish Teacher.*

    LW2, I would say that things like being polite and friendly to your team shouldn’t prevent bad feedback. Not saying the bad feedback is deserved; I don’t know. It may well be that you have high expectations and your team don’t like that even if it’s a good thing or that they are blaming you for things that are more systemic problems.

    But the way the question is phrased makes it sound like you want them to like you so they will give better feedback and that really shouldn’t be the issue. If they are giving bad feedback just because they dislike your personality or because they don’t think you are friendly enough or enough fun to be around, then they are using the feedback to be mean.

    It’s more likely that it’s not about whether they like you or not, but that they think, rightly or wrong, that there is some part of your job you could be doing better. I’ve had really friendly, really likeable bosses who…weren’t particularly good at their jobs (not saying this is you, just that you seem to be focusing on why don’t they like me rather than is their criticism of my work accurate or not). One guy…his friendliness got in the way of him doing his job. A colleague phrased it this way: if you asked him could you borrow his pen, you’d have to listen to 10 minutes unrelated to the question before he’d say yes or no. They were accurate. I could imagine him replying like, “this pen. I got it in such a place. Were you ever there? Isn’t it lovely?” and so on and so forth. Another guy was very disorganised. I liked them both, but that didn’t mean I thought them good at their jobs.

    I hope this doesn’t sound like a sop at the end, but I do think is really good that you ARE considering whether or not you are doing something wrong and if you should change anything, rather than assuming they are just being ungrateful or impossible to please.

    1. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

      I’ve had nice managers that I’ve liked a lot on a personal level, but that doesn’t make them good at managing. Is your feedback clear and timely? Do you advocate for your people to get good assignments and recognition for their work? Do your people feel like their concerns are addressed? Do they feel micromanaged (by you or another manager) or completely ignored? Is the role fulfilling?

    2. ferrina*

      Yep. On the other side, I’ve had great managers who weren’t someone that I’d want to grab a beer with. But she was so, so good at managing resources and taking care of politics and supporting us so we could just focus on our jobs. I didn’t care if she said “Good morning”, but I sure cared if my team was assigned work properly. She held people to standards. And yes, she covered shifts as needed because that was her job. It was a coverage-based team, so obviously PTO made her job harder, but navigating PTO coverage was part of her job and why she was paid more than us. It wasn’t “going above and beyond”.
      Going above and beyond was providing coverage when she didn’t have to and we were having a crazy day so we could take a 5 minute breather before stepping back into the chaos. It was running like a hyperactive toddler to check in on what resources we needed and getting them to us ASAP. It was accepting that we are human and not giving us grief (joking or otherwise) when we had human needs like getting sick or having the rare personal thing we needed to take time for. And it was seeing and recognizing good work, even if it was a “thank you so much for your patience with this. I know this client is quite the personality, and I really appreciate how professionally you’re handling this.”

    3. MigraineMonth*

      I had a boss who was such a talker, my first team meeting ran 45 minutes over. It was supposed to be a half-hour.

    4. Lalchi11*

      Yep, my current boss is a terrible manager, but I like her a lot on a personal level. She is really nice, and she is flexible about PTO, etc, but she literally makes my job harder as my manager because she is slow to respond to things that require her approval or to push things up the chain that require even higher level authority- she literally puts us at risk of legal compliance requirements ALL THE TIME. it makes my job so much more stressful.

    5. fhqwhgads*

      Yeah, I can’t tell whether the examples in the letter were given because the nature of the feedback suggested they were a mean jerk, so they’re supplying counterexamples to that (but without clearly telling us that’s the sitch) – or if the feedback had nothing to do with that sort of thing and so the examples are sort of beside the point (and maybe that’s helpful for LW1 to reflect on why they chose those examples) or…some of other combination of stuff.

  10. katkat*

    #2 I’m sorry to say, but what you describe here is the bare minimum, in my opinion…

    Just like Alison said, I don’t think employees are likely to give negative feedback about minor things like these in a survey. Talk to them one-on-one, without gudgement, be open minded and sincere with your intentions to improve.

    1. Zee*

      We hear about horrible bosses so often that some people forget that treating your employees like human beings is the baseline, not something exceptional.

  11. Still*

    Alison, regarding the issue with the comment field not capitalising on mobile, I’m no front-end expert but when I inspect the comment input field, it shows autocomplete=”new-password”. This is usually used to prevent browsers from autofilling passwords, but I think it might also make the browser think the comment field is in fact a password field, which could be the reason why it doesn’t autocapitalise. Note that the name- and email-fields don’t have that property and they capitalise just fine. I’ve only taken a quick look and may be completely off-base here, but it might be something to look into?

    1. chewingle*

      I just assumed this was part of the style for the theme the site was using. (I’m guessing WordPress is being used to run AAM, in which case, there are probably some settings that can be changed for this.)

  12. Kate*

    Re #1:

    Separating it from the question of an election, this is something I am really try to work on myself: just because a coworker was one way 15 years ago doesn’t mean they are like that now.

    I admit that certain people are fixed in my mind as unprepared for management // doesn’t know their files // in way over their head (for example) and my gut reaction is to keep that impression going in my head when I see their name on an email.

    But I am making a deliberate effort to step back and either try to reassess that impression of light of new information // give them the benefit of the doubt if I don’t have any new information yet.


    Because 15 years ago, I was 23, just starting out, and frankly, had no idea what I was doing in the workplace (either content or norms). It’s been a steep learning curve, but now I’m kind of awesome — I’m known for knowing our very complicated field inside outside and backwards, and one of the reasons I am a good manager is because I viscerally remember what it was like when I was new and everyone just assumed you knew what you were supposed to do and how to do it.

    Most people change in 15 years. What does it hurt to give them the benefit of the doubt?

    1. Raw Flour*

      +1. I have a colleague who has done a complete 180 and gotten his act together over the course of just 5 years. 15 can do a lot more.

      Now, some things are much less likely to get fixed. This colleague was never hostile in the legal/discriminatory sense, just categorically rude and uncommunicative. Hating specific people probably can’t be fixed by a supportive and inclusive work environment, but I think an I-hate-everyone attitude sometimes can be.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I have been watching some Top Chef recently, and one of the thing’s really resonating with me is that people coming back 10 years after their first appearance are at a different point in their lives. They handle things differently, they care more or less, they have greater or smaller reserves to draw on.

      And this is one of my favorite science findings, too–that people who are age X figure that their permanent personality is now locked in place, and of course different from 10 years ago, but will be unchanged 10 years in the future. And then when the scientists follow up 10 years later, the subjects have in fact shifted and changed.

    3. kiki*

      Yes! I think in US culture (this may be more widespread, but I can only speak to the US) there’s this idea that work and academic performance are fixed traits of a person. So, in theory, you could look at the same person across time and positions and they’d always be a high performer, mediocre, or whatever level. But it’s not a constant at all! Some of the best coworkers I encountered are really candid about being absolutely abysmal at jobs earlier in their careers. Some of that is due to being in positions that were poor fits, but a lot of them learned and grew from those experiences in a way that’s not really possible to replicate if you’ve always been really good at your job. I like to think of it in terms of teachers I’ve had: I don’t actually want to be taught organic chemistry 101 by the best organic chemist in the world who has always just innately understood organic chemistry. I want to learn from the mere mortal who is deeply interested in organic chemistry but learned the hard way. I want someone who has had to take multiple different approaches to learn the material. I want someone who has struggled and came out the other side. Similarly, with a manager, I don’t necessarily want the whiz software engineer to be my manager. Because when I struggle, the whiz is likely not going to understand why I’m struggling or have ideas on how to fix what I’m going through.

      All this to say, you can’t necessarily hold the performance of somebody 15 years ago against them, especially if it was really just a matter of a couple months of substandard performance. You can use it as a data point to inform your view, but it’s important to consider that folks are growing and changing all the time.

    4. Esmeralda*

      It depends on what they did 15 years ago.

      In this case, benefit of the doubt.

      Other cases: someone showed you who they really are and you will never forget and it will always factor into your assessment of that person.

  13. Good luck*

    LW2, my worst boss ever would absolutely have described himself the way you do. He always approved time off, he tried very hard to get to know all of us and wanted us to “bring our whole selves to work,” he always thanked us for completing tasks, etc.

    He was also an extreme micromanager who gave confusing feedback and assigned us more work than anyone could possibly complete and then shrugged off overtime because he worked 12 hour days out of preference. He couldn’t manage his emotions and would have tantrums in the workplace when things got stressful. He didn’t understand what needed to be done strategically to advance the work of the department and overruled my more experienced colleagues when they would try to set him straight. We all quit. His whole team.

    It’s really great that you want to go above and beyond for your team! That’s an important start. But you need to realize that the most important thing employees need from. Manger isn’t hello and goodbye every day, it’s competent management.

  14. Yellow+Flotsam*

    LW3 schedule a meeting to talk about promotion opportunities with your boss. Get real feedback on what you would need to do to move up, on what time line.

    Also – make sure you understand what a promotion looks like in practice. Is it a more senior version of what you do now? Or a different job?

    No raised in 15 years is concerning, unless you mean no pay bumps (so your wage has gone up but you’ve stayed at the same pay level).

    In the end you need to decide what is more valuable to you – staying where you are underpaid and without promotion pathways, or trying somewhere new.

  15. Captain+dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP1 Is the MiL the type that could have made this up? I sort of got the sense she has feelings about OPs attendance (which MiL may know from OPs spouse) and has attributed it to the manager…

  16. Been there, done that*

    LW #2- I was in your shoes fairly recently. I had 1:1s with my reports, thanking them for the feedback, and asking for examples/actionable ways to improve in areas in which I scored low. These conversations gave essential context. Sometimes the fault was outside my control (“not supportive”=they were unhappy with having to come back to the office, but that was an organization directive way above my pay grade); sometimes it was a one-off weird experience (“fails to set expectations” = 5 years ago, we had a project with a fickle, powerful stakeholder. Things have been reportedly fine since then, but that project left a mark). But I found a few concrete areas for growth, and it was important to my reports that they felt heard. (PS it’s ok to find this a tough process; I had some therapy sessions to unpack my emotional navigation.)

    1. breakfast burrito*

      This is great advice! I’d add, LW, before going into these conversations, to practice how you approach these conversations to de-center yourself and your emotions. You’re not asking them to tell you how to be more likable or to score higher on surveys, you’re asking them to tell you how THEY need you to supervise in a way that supports THEM. If they feel like they are being asked to soothe your ego, it will be difficult for them to be honest with you.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      Yes, I went through this earlier in the year. Scores were low not just in my department, but others, as well. Many comments were about hybrid. People are very upset about being back in the office, even on a hybrid basis, and they destroyed upper management in the survey. I get that people want 100% remote, but as you said, it’s way above my paygrade and I have no control over it. Given how our CEO feels about remote work, we’re incredibily lucky to be allowed a hybrid arrangement. I finally had to tell my own team that hybrid is what we got, it will not change to remote-only, so they need to decide if they still want the job on this terms. We had one person out of 10 leave and that was it.

  17. Woodpecker*

    Without knowing what was said, or even what the questions were and where LW scored lower, it’s really difficult to give specific advice. But I can say I went through this very thing late last year, as did most departments, and it sucked.

    The survey first asked questions about executive management, and then questions about the employee’s manager(s). Answers about executive management are always a mixed bag, so there was nothing new there. But this time the answers about employees’ managers—myself and one other–scored low on the scale and several comments were pretty hurtful and personal by most people’s standards.

    After speaking with my manager, we sat down with the group to talk openly about the survey and what they felt needed to change, what the real issues were, etc. The biggest takeaways were that there are few compliments when it comes to the work they do, only negative feedback; and that they never get to be together as a team (we had a rotating schedule to reduce potential COVID exposure). There were also multiple comments about “certain people on the team” who are very negative all the time. And there was one long monologue from someone who was on a PIP, so I get why he was upset. But others just kind of sat there like, “WTF is he going on about?” We already give lots of flexibility (within reason—we do need to have core hours); greet them; make small talk; never deny or question time off; advocate for raises, promotions, and opportunities when appropriate; and try to support them as fellow humans, so there were no comments about that.

    We made some changes, which were to bring the whole team in on the same days each week (we’re hybrid), and to give better constructive feedback. That last part is difficult because the type of work we do requires, by nature, a ton of editing. We’re filing written reports, which are read by outsiders. It’s incredibly important to get that right and that has been explained to them many times. There’s really no way for us not to give any feedback unless what’s written is perfect every time, and we’re not there yet. When emails come in to the department and someone happens to catch a detail that needs more attention, we make sure to praise the person with a reply-all to the team. If someone creates a nice slide deck for cross training another employee, we praise them on it. Things like that.

    I recently held one-on-ones and people said things have improved and they’re happy. That one holdout? He’s the center of negativity on the team; gossips; does not like to be approached—like, ever—at his desk, even when someone has a question; hates hearing anyone near him talking; doesn’t say good morning or good night; and thinks no one should even walk by his desk because he will be distracted, even though that means walking the very long way around the cube farm. All of this is well-known and has tanked his chances of ever being hired into another position with the company. (Strangely, this is also the same person who complains management doesn’t try to forge a relationship with their employees. Not sure what to do with that one…)

    So, I guess my advice would be to get your manager involved and see if they’ll facilitate a group discussion of the survey where people can speak. I know not everyone will be willing to speak, but you might be surprised. Sometimes it only takes one person to speak up and then others join in. If that won’t work, they try one-on-ones to see where people are unhappy and figure out what you can address and what might require more resources. Find out what each person values. I would say to also think about the makeup of your team. Thankfully I have a couple people who tend to the “no BS” side of things, which is helpful in reigning in others who are not. One negative person can really tank a team’s morale and pull others in, like someone who tends to be very easily influenced or who also enjoys commiserating.

    Good luck! The fact that you are asking what you can do is a good sign.

    1. Shirley Keeldar*

      A really helpful and perceptive comment! I will just add one thing–I’m a writer who gets edited a lot. I understand and accept the editing; I know it makes my work stronger. But positive comments by an editor are an essential part of that process.

      “Change this” and “fix that” are good; so are “this is excellent,” “this really works,” “great start here,” “perfect transition” and the like. The positive comments help me see what my editors wants the work to look like so I can strive toward that. Just wanted to add that constructive feedback and positive feedback are not in opposition.

      1. Sylvan*

        +1 from another writer. When I do something that works pretty well, my editor lets me know with a little positive note so that I can do it again.

        I used to work with another editor who didn’t do this. She taught me bad things to avoid, but not good things to lean into. I appreciate the direction that positive feedback provides.

        1. CPegasus*

          I try so hard to do this as an editor. The more critique I give, the more I make sure to find things to note that are good so it’s not just a big wall of negativity! The last thing I want is for a constructive critique to get taken as “You’re bad and you should feel bad” when really it’s meant to be helpful.

      2. Woodpecker*

        Yes, I’ve always made a point over the years, both here and at other companies, to explain why we’re writing something a certain way, why we can’t (or we should) use certain words, and tell them it’s effective. The writing we do is regulatory in nature, so there are a lot of things we’re required to say or shouldn’t say in order to comply with the requirements, but we also need to write a compelling story so someone can understand it and hopefully take action. I’ve tried to more of, “That’s perfect because it explains the “why” and not just the “what.””

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      “I recently held one-on-ones and people said things have improved and they’re happy. That one holdout? He’s the center of negativity on the team; gossips; does not like to be approached—like, ever—at his desk, even when someone has a question; hates hearing anyone near him talking; doesn’t say good morning or good night; and thinks no one should even walk by his desk because he will be distracted, even though that means walking the very long way around the cube farm. All of this is well-known and has tanked his chances of ever being hired into another position with the company. (Strangely, this is also the same person who complains management doesn’t try to forge a relationship with their employees. Not sure what to do with that one…)”

      Some people are just wired such that they always see the glass as half empty. It seems from your description that this person is your glass half empty, but with the addition of I don’t want to suffer any negative fall out from being glass half empty.

      For the record, I had that person as a relative, and all I could really do was my best to be neutral to positive in all my interactions, explain as best I could why certain decisions were made (when they’d yet again skip a planning session for say vacation), and just live my life. If they didn’t thing something was fair – but every other relative thought I’d done my best, well that was the most I could aim for.

      1. Woodpecker*

        Yes, he is definitely a “glass half empty” type and has come out and said he naturally sees and expects the worst in people. I try to not let it effect me, but I fully admit I often feel defeated before I even try with him because there’s always a negative spin put on it, even when it’s praise.

  18. JSPA*

    #1, I’m guessing one of the following scenarios (all of them even more overreach).

    1. your mother in law is ambitious for you, and wanted your manager, via their wife, to consider you for promotion.

    2. your manager’s wife was sounding out your mother-in-law for why you had been running late, and whether there were “issues.”

    3. Your manager had praised you to the wife, but said, “too bad about the unreliability, otherwise OP would be manager material.”

    4. Your mother-in-law (or manager’s wife) took a throwaway remark, and turned it into a Thing.

    5. Your manager feels like you’re not receiving the message about being on time, doesn’t want to come down harder, also doesn’t want to soften the message by using a “sandwitch”…and instead asked wife to go via the M-I-L to try the carrot (manager material!) while manager continues with the stick.

    Look: It’s gross to have people up in your business.

    But in this case, figuring out who’s on your side, and what the overall attitudes are, might be in your best interest. Especially if you don’t have reliable wheels. And, especially if everyone is playing by small town rules, and/or by southern niceness (or midwest niceness) rules, which mean people are quietly up in each others’ business, but far less direct, to your face, than you need them to be.

    Let’s say they’re talking because this is, in fact, a make-or-break issue, and because one or both of them do really want to be in your corner, not just because they have too much time on their hands and a desire to gossip.

    What would you need to do, to get to work 100% reliably? Can you get them on board with helping to make that happen? Does M-I-L have reliable wheels, get up early, and drive in that general direction?

    Can you work the connection in the other direction–tell MIL about the car problems (and bad bus connection or whatever) but that you were hesitating to say something to boss about being scheduled, say, 20 minutes later to make the bus connection doable, because you feared it would look flakier?

    How early would you be willing to get up, to manage getting to work on time, for sure, if it might (on the one hand) mean being considered for promotion (especially a promotion that would get you more reliable wheels)…or if failing to be on time might mean firing?

    The “manager” bit may be out of left field, but if you’ve been late often enough that your manager’s wife knows, then it’s hit the level of, “yeah, legitimately problematic, and I need to pay attention.” Even if you only happened to find out due to chatty relatives.

    1. Lynn Whitehat*

      yes. This is it. All these questions about who said what to whom and should you take it to HR and this whole weird game of telephone is a distraction from the real issue. Showing up at work is the absolute minimum expectation. You have to find a way to do it. You have to let your manager know you are working on it. This is true regardless of whether your boss is a gossip or your mother-in-law is a pot-stirrer or whatever.

  19. MuseumChick*

    #2, at a previous job I managed a small team and always got really good feedback about my management both from my team, other managers, and my chain of command. Reading your letter I began to think of why exactly that was. Alison lists many things to think about and here is what I think made me a good manager, hopefully, this will help you think about your managing style and what you can work in.

    1. Very clear expectations. My team was never unsure what their jobs were or what I expected of them.

    2. Consistency. I held everyone to the same standards barring a few extreme circumstances where someone needed to flex their time or needed last-minute time off which brings me to…

    3. Reasonability. This goes hand-in-hand with the above two points. I was very fair and reasonable, if someone had a health crisis for example, I would tell them to not come in and to not worry about their work for now. In the same hand, if someone broke my (very basic) expectations for conduct (which again had been made very clear) I’d quietly talk to them about it in a neutral tone. I also never freaked out when they made mistakes. I told them all the time that if they made a mistake to just come an tell me because that is the only way I could help them fix it. This made them very comfortable coming to me when they did make a mistake because they knew I would help not yell at them.

    4. Investment. My team knew I was invested in them. If they had an interest in learning a new skill I’d do all I could to figure out if anyone in the office could teach them and how we might incorporated into their jobs. It wasn’t always possible but I made the effort. I also made a lot of effort to train them when they first started. So many managers think you can show someone something one time and then they should just know it. NOPE. I’d sit with each person when they were hired and go over parts of their jobs in chunks, show them how to do something, and sit with them while they did it a few times on their own if they seemed to get the hang of it I’d go do something else but check in with them multiple time through the day.

    5. Transparency. When something changed I told them and explained the reasoning. When there were things in other departments that affected the whole company I would tell my team as much as I could but also made it clear that there were just some things it would be inappropriate for me to share (“As you know Sansa is no longer working here and the position was been listed online. I cannot give you all the details as it would be inappropriate but I know there has been a lot of speculation about what happened. Here is what I can tell you: A firing will never come as a surprise here barring something very extreme. You would be given multiple warnings and chances to improve.”)

    All of them created an environment where my team knew they could trust me, knew what was expected of them, did their jobs well, and were never afraid to come to me with a work problem.

    1. Myrin*

      MuseumChick! I’ve been thinking about you from time to time because I haven’t been seeing you around lately – was it just that I kept missing your comments or did you indeed not comment for some time?

      In any case, thanks for this very thoughtful and clear comment – I’ve been thinking for years that you sound like a good coworker and great leader and I can now see more clearly why.

    2. Jean (just Jean)*

      Late but heartfelt comment: You sound like a great boss!
      In other words, agreement with every other responder here. :-)

  20. Workerbee*

    OP#4, it sounds like you just don’t like Sam – which is fine! – and want to use an instance of 15 years ago as the sole justifier for not voting for him.

    If instead you want to find out if Sam has indeed grown and changed since then, it shouldn’t be too hard to uncover details since he’s in the public eye.

  21. Lacey*

    LW2: I have a manager I like, but he never goes to bat for his team. When other departments make it harder for us to do our work, he tells us maybe we should have a phone call with them. When they’re rude, that’s part of the job.

    Even though he’s a great manager in other ways – those are some big issues that would definitely get him a lower review, if we did that sort of thing.

    1. Somehow_I_Manage*

      You’re right. At this level (shift work), the worst managers are gatekeepers. They are focused on their relationship with their senior boss and have the notion that if they keep problems off their bosses desk and the trains run on time, they’ve done their job.

      The problem with this is while it may work in the short term, it does little to cultivate loyalty and grow your best and brightest.

      Doing the job well requires more work. I’d argue that in some positions (e.g., high school retail workers), it’s probably not worth the extra effort. But in others, (e.g., career manufacturing workers), it is critical.

  22. Science KK*

    LW2, I feel like you’re falling victim to a problem that’s rampant at my job at the moment: you think everyone needs to like you and be your friend. I promise you that’s not the case, and it doesn’t reflect on you at all. I do all the things you mentioned with my colleagues, but they’re still almost all just coworkers.

    Listen to Alison and work on the concrete, management related feedback. If it’s just a personality mismatch or you’re like me and people are upset you won’t straight up lie to cover for them, just let it go. It’s not worth getting stressed over.

    1. AnonyMouse*

      I agree with this! OP2, I think an important lesson for me was that being a good manager means prioritizing fairness, transparency, clear direction, flexibility, etc. more than being friendly or generally nice. Also, sometimes you have to make hard decisions (or implement policies that come from the top) that won’t be popular, but if you support your team and are transparent about your decisions, it makes all the difference.

  23. RagingADHD*

    LW4, you are overthinking this by orders of magnitude.

    Obviously you retain a bad impression of Sam. You don’t want to vote for them because of it. That’s the way life works–we leave impressions behind us, for good or ill.

    So you have one candidate who was flakey and lacked diligence. That’s not great, but it’s not the worst thing ever. What are the other candidates like? If they are shady and potentially corrupt, or totally incompetent, or petty tyrants who would use the role to settle personal grudges, or a nepotism hire, etc, then Sam letting some things slide isn’t so bad by comparison.

    On the other hand, if the other candidates are really on the ball and excellent, the choice is easy.

    It’s not a moral judgment on Sam as a human being. You’re agonizing far more than is warranted.

  24. Essess*

    I would make a point of telling my manager that my MIL was sharing work performance comments and claiming that she heard them from my manager. I would let my manager know that this was very upsetting if it is true, and very damaging if it wasn’t true. Either the boss can’t trust the MIL to keep quiet (though the boss shouldn’t be sharing performance details about OP with OP’s family) or boss can’t trust MIL to tell the truth and makes false statements about the boss. Either way, boss should be told of MIL’s inability to be trusted and that it has a negative impact on OP’s work environment and relationship with boss.

    OP should specifically tell boss that OP needs to be able to trust that boss will treat OP as a professional adult and respect OP enough to keep work performance issues confidential instead of blabbing them to a parent (in-law) as if OP was a child needing to be reprimanded at home.

  25. Keymaster*

    OP2: from a reformed complete nightmare of a staff member and now manager:

    If you want to be seen as a good manager the key is ‘clear and fair’ not ‘friends with the staff’. It’s nice if they see you as friendly, but more important that they see you as approachable and reasonable.

    And sometimes this means taking a step back and making unpopular decisions. There are some staff who to this day think I was wrong to start the paperwork to get a horrendously disruptive member of staff fired because he was always nice to them, some who hate the fact that I won’t micromanage. When you ask for feedback from your staff it’s really rare to get 100% ‘you’re great!’ responses (and if I got that I’d be very paranoid – are they afraid of retaliation? Am I scaring them? Oh gods)

    Conversely there’s a manager here, a peer to me, who I could never work for because she’s just *too* ‘nice’. Her team all socialise with her outside of work, they laugh and joke like friends, she’s got a complete memory of all their families and histories. Her staff love that, most of mine would absolutely hate it (whoever said IT management was like herding cats was right on the money).

    Step back, ask what your staff need and want. It might be very different to what you’ve been doing.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      (whoever said IT management was like herding cats was right on the money).


      As an IT IC, I concur. There are enough different personalities and neuro-atypicalness in tech/IT that it gets a bit scrambled.

  26. Former Retail Manager*

    OP#2….we need more work-related information and I agree with Alison that should you should focus on management related feedback. Another commenter mentioned scheduling one-on-ones to obtain some concrete management related feedback and that I think that will help greatly. Also, just because several members of the team gave you low scores, their issues with you/your management may vary wildly from person to person.

    But to play devil’s advocate to the rest of the commentariat for a moment…you mention covering shifts yourself, which makes me think that you may be in some sort of a retail scenario, or similar industry. I was a retail manager for over a decade….it’s a fickle industry and with even more fickle employees. If they’d done a survey about me, God only knows what they might have said. These sorts of surveys weren’t “a thing” when I was in that industry. Frankly, I think it would have been split about 50/50. Half of the staff at any given time were decent, did their job, had regular attendance, good attitude and customer service, etc. The other half were troublesome….wanting every other weekend off (the whole weekend), calling in at the last minute, constantly on their phones when they’d been told repeatedly not to be on their phone while assisting customers, not doing tasks they were asked to do, smoking weed on their breaks and coming in reeking, etc. Pretty sure those employees didn’t have a great opinion of me because I was hard on them in the interest of them either shaping up or shipping out. Retail, and other low paid industries, make it notoriously difficult to attract and retain quality employees in my experience and the troublesome employees often have very unrealistic views of work and management’s role. It’s not unusual for poor performing employees to give negative reviews of management.

    I say all of this to say, if you do these one-on-ones and find that they are upset with you about things that are perfectly normal for your industry and there’s nothing you can do to change what they are unhappy about, I think you need to tell them that. For example, perhaps they are unhappy that customers may yell at them occasionally. While you should step in when that occurs, you really can’t stop it unless you know it’s coming. Or perhaps they wish there were more employees working during peak times, but your labor budget doesn’t allow for that, well, again, there isn’t much you can do, but they should know that so they can make a decision about whether they want to remain employed or move on.

    1. ferrina*

      I once worked with someone who thought she should be thanked every day just for showing up. Um….it’s called your paycheck.

      But if you have these employees, you know. You’ve already flagged it for your boss. You are actively working on managing them out (if possible) and doing what you can to keep the good ones (if possible). Often your team already knows what you’re working against. You’re not blindsided by crappy reviews, and you certainly don’t think that saying Hi and Bye will get you a good score.

  27. K-roll*

    Assuming LW1 is seriously addressing their attendance issues – this disrespect for personal/professional boundaries would drive me crazy. Speaking with HR seems an overstep. Both the boss, the boss’s wife, and the MIL should know better, but ESPECIALLY the MIL since she should be on the team of the LW. Know what I’d do if I was the LW? Tell my spouse to have a sit-down with their mom and explain that she should in no way ever discuss their spouse with the boss or his wife. Ever. Then follow up several times.

  28. LW#4*

    Thank you for your comments.

    The County Clerk oversees accounting, payroll and records. Their office processes payroll and accounts payable, takes minutes at meetings, issues licenses, maintains county records, and assists citizens with accessing pubic records. Given these duties, I think the County Clerk’s work and management skills are important.

    If I were hiring Sam for a job in my office, I’d check references. But I can’t do that here. There isn’t much publicly available information about the two candidates. From what little there is, I do think that Sam is the better candidate. I believe that Sam can do the job and I know they did good work for several years when I worked with them. I just wanted to know if others thought that the way Sam ended their work years ago would be a dealbreaker or if they would give Sam the benefit of the doubt.

    1. Mailer Daemon Targaryen*

      Since you said that Sam’s work was otherwise good, then no, the way they left a job 15 years ago would not factor into my decision for something completely unrelated. It also sounds like you don’t have all the context for how and why they left the way they did, so if I were you, that would further cement my decision to not factor in Sam’s exit.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      I would hope no one would hold my short-timers syndrome from 15 years ago against me. There are certainly things that nearly-50-year-old me would LOVE to share with my younger self.

    3. Danish*

      FIFTEEN YEARS. Depending on how old you both are, that’s a significant portion of life. Also, you’ve done some growing and changing in the past 15 years, im sure?

      Thay said – if you don’t like Sam and have a negative impression of him, that’s fine. But it seems like a bit of reach to cite 15 yo behavior as a justification.

    4. Here for the Insurance*

      Another thing I’d throw out, and maybe this is just me being cynical, but everybody slacks off sometimes. We’re not robots.

      So the question for me wouldn’t be “Did this person ever slack off on the job?”, because of course they did. It’d be “Is this person a slacker overall?” The 1st is a snapshot of what the person did at one moment in time, which matters if the action is egregious but is of limited use otherwise. The 2nd is a question of character and tells you what kind of person they are.

  29. Mailer Daemon Targaryen*

    OP2, your lack of specificity on the negative feedback you received along with all your examples of good managing being real softballs that are also the bare minimum leads me to believe that you may not have a good finger on the pulse of your management skills…and may not want to. Did you actively pursue a management position or were you promoted when you reached the highest possible salary band/title as an individual contributor?

    Managing is hard! Part of being a good one is being ruthlessly objective and honest with yourself on how you’re doing. Saying hello and goodbye to your direct reports every day is fine, but are you setting goals with them and checking in on their progress? Do you provide good and candid feedback yourself and make yourself available to receive the same? Do you make decisions for the team based on how well they’ll serve the team/company or how much you want your reports to like you? Do you address issues proactively or when it’s no longer avoidable?

    There shouldn’t be any surprises on surveys or reviews on your performance. If there are, there is a disconnect between how you see your work and how others do, and that’s something that needs to be fixed.

  30. Spoo*

    #3 I’d probably say something like “I’m not asking for an off cycle raise. I’m asking for a salary adjustment to bring me in line with my current duties. The raises I’ve gotten over the years have not kept up with cost of living plus changes in my duties. I’m feeling extremely undervalued and underpaid for my current position. Here is the erase arch I’ve done on the current salary I’ve been receiving.”

  31. Deirdre Barlow*

    LW2- you sound very much like my manager. He’s a perfectly nice, pleasant person but a really ineffectual manager- so much so that I’ve been managing the team/ workflow and am now seen as the de facto manager by our directors AND by the rest of the team. He’s friendly, always asks about our wellbeing, says nice things about our work, says hello and goodbye every day- what he doesn’t do is:

    -manage the workflow so that everything is distributed equitably
    – act as effective barrier between the team and the directors who have high demands with short lead times and even tighter deadlines
    – offer clear guidance around tasks, aims and objectives
    – give useful feedback about what went well and what could be improved (it tends to be of the ‘great job!’ variety)

    In all honesty, I’d be happier if he was a bit less eager to be liked and took more ownership of our work. It’s galling to see someone paid almost double what I am floating around ignoring difficult jobs in favour of chatting with people about their pets.

    I’m at the point where I’m job-hunting for things at a much higher level; because of my manager’s absence I know I can do those jobs- I’ve had to! He is the biggest reason I want to leave- his ‘niceness’ pushes most of the difficult parts of management onto me which is exhausting, and it’s infuriating to be doing all of this extra work on top of my own stuff with no compensation.

    LW2, have a real think about your approach because you’re going to lose staff- the good ones will become disillusioned, the bad ones will have a field day because they’re getting away with murder!

  32. Chi*

    This. There is a major change to my job that I know came from upper management. But the manager has not acknowledged the hardship this change placed on his workers, and has not communicated well about certain aspects of this change. So the survey results for our department tanked.

    1. Chi*

      Oof. Nesting fail. My reply was to Anonymouse saying this:

      Also, sometimes you have to make hard decisions (or implement policies that come from the top) that won’t be popular, but if you support your team and are transparent about your decisions, it makes all the difference.

  33. PreggoAmoeba*

    LW2, your question make it sounds like you’re trying to be the cool boss, but as Allison pointed out, you so don’t say much about your actual management skills. Are you holding people accountable for excessive call offs or just covering for them? What about underperforming employees; are you just taking any excuse at face value and doing their work for them?
    You might think you’re being helpful but if Sally is calling off every Monday and Friday and has a relative die every week so she is in constant grief and can’t do her work and you keep covering, you’re not doing a good job of managing.
    Management is not being an authoritarian bully OR being a pushover. There is a LOT of middle ground where you hold people accountable but you provide assistance and grace when needed.

  34. AnonNurse*

    I’m really late in commenting but for #5, this one really bothers me. I can’t stand when companies do these types of things without any care for how they can read outside of their organizations. A couple of years ago my health org decided to change the “Primary Charge Nurse” title to “Shift Coordinator”. We already have “Unit Coordinators”, which is the newer title of what was previously called a “Unit Secretary”. Anyone outside of our organization would be much more used to the title of primary charge nurse than a shift coordinator and we get feedback all the time that when people hear shift coordinator, they think it’s the secretary position. It makes no sense at all and is really infuriating when you’ve work hard to earn your position!

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