update: coworker is throwing a tantrum over having to interview for a promotion

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

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

Remember the letter-writer whose coworker was throwing a tantrum over having to interview for a promotion? Here’s the update.

Since I wrote that email, things changed quickly. We had an unexpected resignation which meant that there were actually two positions to fill instead of just the one position that Nate and Sophie were vying for. There were a few more candidates interested, all internal, including some that had missed the last round due to maternity leave. Nate was quietly told (by me and by his line manager) that this was not making him look good, and that he’d done some amazing things in the previous 12 months which wouldn’t be considered if he insisted on not interviewing for the position. In the end, he saw how it was coming across and backed down. Both he and Sophie were successful and ended up joining the management team.

However, the root of the problem, as many people rightly pointed out, was Sterling.

Sterling talks a big game but then fails to carry through on a lot, or pushes it down to his underlings to get things actually done. He has no issue with taking the credit though. The comments made me sit back and take stock and I really noticed that this was a major trend. He was more concerned with unsuccessful candidates leaving the company than actually carrying through on his word. I took this to my director along with a few other people and the feedback was carried up the chain. In the end, he did actually start mentoring people. Neither Sophie or Nate actually benefitted from it, but a few others did.

Both Nate and Sophie were appointed peer mentors who ended up teaching them everything they needed to know, and they ended up being very good managers. Nate was a little more letter-of-the-law, and by the book, but he relaxed into the role and is now a very good manager. Sophie settled in right away and took over the team that she used to be part of.

I actually ended up resigning about a year ago, and am now with a new company. Listening to the comments, and watching for the red flags around Sterling, let me come to the conclusion that 50% of my time was to sit in meetings with Sterling and tell him when his “wonderful” ideas were completely unachievable. The other 50% of my time was to deliver on the promises that he made. I had no time to actually manage my team or do my day-to-day job, meaning I had to work longer and longer hours to try to fit everything in. I ended up suffering from fairly serious burnout. When I raised it with my manager and we tried to look at what could be taken off my place, there was nothing that we were allowed to move.

I ended up resigning about a year ago. Sterling then tried to block my resignation and made me speak to the CEO and the COO before he’d actually consider it — which is absolutely ridiculous for someone who is a mid-level manager in an organization of 1000+ people. I used all the lessons from Ask A Manager and was wonderfully polite when I told him that a resignation was basically a one-party document and didn’t require him to accept it. I had submitted it to my line manager and to HR and HR had acknowledged it. It was already in motion. I had a job offer from another company in hand, one that I wanted to work with. He asked me to turn it down and stay another 6 months and give him a chance to work on the culture of the company and my workload. He counter offered and begged, but in the end I put my mental health ahead of staying in what had become a very toxic environment. It took me a full month for them to actually give me my final date (UK based, with 3 months notice). They ended up making me work to my very last day and then had me complete a three month non-compete. I took all three of those months to recover and detox from that job.

From speaking to some friends still there, apparently Sterling’s reputation took a bit of a hit once I left because there was no one else to step into my role, and he went back to non-delivering on his tasks. I have to admit, that makes me laugh just a little. I am so much happier in my new role — which was technically a step back career wise, but it still pays 50% more than my old role. I get to focus on the fun parts of the job that I love doing, and can avoid all of the drama and politics.

{ 90 comments… read them below }

  1. Momma Bear*

    Sounds like an overall good thing for you. Sterling didn’t want anyone to see the Emperor had no clothes, but that wasn’t your job anymore.

  2. Annony*

    It always baffles me when managers seem to think that they can turn down a resignation. Good job not letting him make you think you needed to actually get him to accept!

    1. Najek Yuma*

      I love that too! Reminds me of the classic Seinfeld episode:
      George: “And so, for all these reasons, we are officially broken up. Thank you, and good night.”
      Maura: “No, George, we’re not.”
      George: “But I proved it!”
      Maura: “I refuse to give up on this relationship. It’s like launching
      missiles from a submarine. Both of use have to turn our keys.”
      George: “Well, then, I am gonna have to ask you to turn your key.”
      Maura: “I’m sorry, George, I can’t do that.”
      George: “Turn your key, Maura. Turn your key!”

      1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

        Really, the dating scene in New York must have been DREADFUL if anyone thought George was a decent prospect.

      2. NerdyKris*

        The show Coupling also did that bit in the first episode, I’m not sure if it predates Seinfeld. (I think Friends was based on Coupling, so it predates that.)

        1. Melanie Cavill*

          Coupling began in 2000 and Friends started approx. 1994, so that would be very unlikely! I know HIMYM owed a lot to Coupling in terms of staging, if that’s what you meant.

          1. HappySnoopy*

            And the actress in Coupling played Sophie in the show OP pulled their names from…it all comes full circle

        2. MsSolo UK*

          There was a short lived US Coupling, which you might be thinking of; one of those “what do we replace Friends with” sitcom attempts.

      1. Hey Nonnie*

        It always makes me laugh when I see examples of it. Slavery is illegal, so what do they think their leverage is?

        “You can’t resign!”
        “I just did.”
        “I won’t let you leave!”
        “It’s not like you can stop me. I won’t be here on Monday the 19th. How you deal with that is up to you.”

        1. Michelle Smith*

          I had to tell my last employer that! HR was giving me a hard time on my last day. They didn’t have my exit paperwork together and claimed they never received my resignation letter. I had emailed it to them but they just…didn’t do anything with it. I told them that wasn’t my problem and I was leaving in 30 minutes one way or the other !

  3. Meow*

    I just read the original letter for the first time and I was surprised to see how few of the initial comments pointed out Sterlings role in all of this. Yes, Nate didn’t behave ideally, but it’s also extremely frustrating and demoralizing working for an organization that promises things they can’t deliver to their employees. If Nate had written in from his perspective and said he had been promised mentoring and a promotion and it wasn’t delivered, many commenters would’ve told him to think about job searching. Yes, it’s best to remain as professional as possible in all scenarios at work but everyone gets frustrated and shows it sometimes, especially in these types of work environments.

    1. Observer*

      People would have told him to job search. But they also would have told him to act like an adult.

      If you notice, Alison DID explicitly call out the problem with Sterling.

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

        Did Nate not act like an adult, though? The only evidence the OP gave was that Nate was pushing strongly and had “threatened” (in the LW’s perspective – but maybe he just said he would withdraw rather than interview. Is it entirely unreasonable of Nate to decide he isn’t going to try so hard for a promotion at an organization that doesn’t keep its promises?

        1. ecnaseener*

          OP called it a tantrum. They seem to have forgotten to include a five-paragraph essay with specific evidence, though, so I see how you’re unsure whether to believe them.

            1. ecnaseener*

              I stand by using a little sarcasm to make the point that it’s ridiculous to question everything LWs say just because they didn’t provide hard evidence ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        2. Tea Rose*

          The update really spells out that Sterling was a chaos agent, and things that might be unreasonable when working for decent manager, like pushing back on interviewing for a promotion, become eminently reasonable when working for a chaos agent. If OP needs to call pushing back and withdrawing from the process a “tantrum,” then, whatever. I don’t see where he was laying on the floor screaming, so, yeah, he was acting like an adult. An adult who works for a chaos agent.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            I got the impression there was also lashing out at others about the process and lots complaining in general going on. So not the toy throwing and screaming of toddlers – but more of a spread my complaints far, wide, and loud adult tantrum.

            1. umami*

              I would agree. There was still a choice between two candidates, and one of them unilaterally decided they should be the chosen one because of a promise made to two different, qualified people. Refusing to interview, in my mind, would take him completely out of the running, because how can I choose between two if I don’t get to hear from both of them why they should be chosen? Saying ‘because you promised!’ is no longer reasonable under this set of circumstances.

            2. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

              I didn’t get that impression, but apparently only because I missed it, because you seem to be right. According to the response from OP below, Nat did complain excessively.

        3. OP*

          For context, I didn’t actually put in everything, but he’d gone to his manager and told them flat out that he had been promised it and went on a 30 minute rant about how he shouldn’t have to interview. He told everyone who would listen that he was promised the role and it was an insult to be asked to reinterview, that he’d been promised mentorship and hadn’t gotten it, that the role should have been his.

          He did get told that Sophie was promised the same, and he did relent a little bit, but the rant changed to how it should have been one of them and no one else should have been invited, and it shouldn’t be an interview, one of them should have been appointed to the role.

          He was very unpleasant to be around for the three weeks leading up to the interview. He did finally listen to us and tone it all the way down and he went for the interview. He wasn’t happy but he realised eventually he was actually talking himself out of contention for the role.

          It was very like telling a toddler that they can’t have chocolate… It was getting to be that sort of meltdown. He’s genuinely a great guy as a friend, but professionally… he did his reputation some damage, but he’s been able to repair it since then.

          1. Wallaby Will*

            “It was very like telling a toddler that they can’t have chocolate…”

            Interesting that you still describe it this way, even after seeing what a piece of work Sterling was. I don’t think he’s acting like a toddler. I think he’s acting like an adult who has been working for a boss who messes with peoples’ heads by making and rescinding promises. And he cleaned up his act, which is also adult behavior.
            I can see how at first you were taken aback by the strength of his reaction. Once you understood what it was like working for Sterling, I would have expected you to reassess your first impression and choose different language to describe Nate.

              1. OP*

                I get he was upset, and I’ve certainly had times when I’ve had promises broken and bad managers change their mind – heck, I worked with Sterling a lot longer than Nate did and had my share of broken promises, but at the end of the day, I wasn’t grabbing people in lifts to complain at when they had no impact on the situation. I didn’t spend every spare minute complaining about the situation. I still feel that Nate could have acted more professionally in reacting to the whole situation. So yeah, I still call it a tantrum. Justifiable tantrum maybe, but still a tantrum.

                Sorry. I just… don’t think it was appropriate in how he reacted and to the extent that he reacted.

                But you’re entitled to your opinion and I respect that.

      2. umami*

        Yeah, I can certainly see being upset and feeling demoralized, but this also was for a management position. I would expect someone wanting a management position to be more behave more professionally. Express your disappointment and either go with the new rules or withdraw your candidacy. But making sure everyone knows just how unhappy you are about the situation isn’t likely to serve you in achieving your goals.

    2. Czhorat*

      Yeah, Nate may have behaved poorly, but he had every reason to be angry.

      Once the expectation changes once, why should he expect it to not change again? If I were him I’d be working on my resume as well.

      Sterling is a blight on his organization, and will drive people away who can find another place to work.

  4. I should really pick a name*

    Sterling then tried to block my resignation

    *very large eyeroll*

    Glad to hear you didn’t put up with that

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Of course Sterling didn’t want you to resign – he didn’t want to have to do his work again (or as turned out to happen have to take the blame for not getting his work done).

  5. Sara*

    Good for you for getting out! Sterling sounds like a ridiculous human.

    I’m pretty sure I mentioned it in the original letter, but I love the Leverage names. Hope you’re enjoying the new episodes as much as I am!

    1. Myrin*

      Waitwaitwaitwhat new Leverage episodes?!?!?
      (I don’t actually want to start a derailing discussion on this but let it be said that I had NOT heard of that before and will google it posthaste!)

            1. HappySnoopy*

              It’s on Freevee, which is Amazon’s free streaming service with ads. I just realized S2 started myself and am loving catching up.

              1. OP*

                It’s the old IMDBtv free channel. It’s limited in some countries unfortunately. Friends in Ireland don’t have it yet :( This makes me very sad.

        1. Shadowette*

          Season 2 has been amazing! It’s like they hit their stride and really meld as a new team. The stories have been awesome as well, especially Elliot’s history.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        I have been confused because it seemed like they were introducing his sister to replace him and write him out… but then it’s been like the slowest writing someone out ever. Which I’m not bummed about because I would like him to stay around as long as possible, but I just find it confusing.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          I’m wondering if he thought he would not be available so they started writing him out and then was like “actually, you can have me a little bit”

        2. Dragon*

          I believe Hardison and his sister are sharing the hacker role because Aldis Hodge isn’t available FT.

      2. Shadowette*

        Aldis Hodge co-starred in Black Adam so he was out for the first season due to filming and press junkets. There is a small joke in season 2 episode 1 where Sophie says something about his “millionaire acting friend” (aka The Rock) and how she wants to meet him.
        I think with the film’s release (unless he has something else in the pipeline) we should see quite a bit more of him.

        1. Aerin*

          He’s also got another TV show that might still be filming (that was the initial reason given for him having a limited role in Redemption, although that might have been a feint since I don’t think his part in Black Adam had been announced yet). He tends to do bigger/longer projects than the rest of them so I know the writers built in a lot of flexibility.

  6. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    Congratulations on your escape, and best of luck in a role where you can actually get work done and not just hold your boss’s hand!

  7. ABCYaBYE*

    I hadn’t seen the original letter until now and caught myself wondering how Nate ever thought the job was just going to be handed to him when there were two candidates who got the same message and there was only one job. Regardless of the (empty) promise made by Sterling, I find it hard to imagine how one of the two would just be handed the promotion over the other.

    That, plus the Sterling thing makes this an absolute nightmare of a situation and I’m so glad OP is both out and being recognized for being the glue that held Sterling’s crumbling house together.

    1. umami*

      Right? If I were one of two strong candidates up for a promotion, I would be thrilled to have an opportunity to showcase why I am the stronger candidate! I’m not sure how refusing to interview serves his goals at all.

  8. Murfle*

    I’m not sure I understand the timeline on this one: you already had an offer in hand, gave 3 months’ notice at your old job, and took 3 months off in between to decompress? I can’t imagine having a job offer 6 months in advance of the start date – that’s so much lead time!

    1. Oxford Common Sense*

      I think the OP is in the UK. Hard to believe for US people, but 3 months’ notice is fairly standard. A 3 month non compete on top of that is pretty shitty, in my opinion, though.

        1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          That’s my question too, what’s the point?! Seems like it’s just a punishment because it doesn’t serve any business purpose.

            1. Robbie*

              yeah I could see it being his turn of the screw, especially if OP’s new place had a firm start date and was in the same industry/within the noncompete clause. “If we can’t have you, they can’t either”. Whatever the reason I am glad OP is gone

          1. OP*


            The thinking is apparently I have strategic knowledge that could affect their future business prospects, so putting me on the sidelines for 3 months means that they can change plans or take action to make the information redundant.

            Sterling hasn’t actually changed anything and the info would have been relevant if I was a less scrupulous person, but I also had an NDA which covered sharing info to competitors so I couldn’t have shared it anyway…

            It did feel retaliatory. :(

        2. OP*

          In Europe, yes. A non-compete cannot introduce hardship to a person’s life. So you’re usually paid as usual for those months.

          Although, I did have to chase payroll every month to get my money.

        3. SE*

          For some European countries where people have contracts and long notices, the way that non-compete is done is that you have to give a long notice according to your contract, and IF they really think they dont want you to walk out of the office one day and into their competitor the next, they tell you to go home when you first give notice, and make you wait out your notice as ‘gardening leave’. So they are still paying you but you’re not working—its their choice whether to have you work the notice period or go home and do nothing, but either way they have to pay you, so its about whether or not its really worth it for them. Unlike the US where they can just threaten to sue you for violating a non-compete

          But having you work your notice period and THEN deciding you should do a 3 months gardening leave after is unlikely to be enforcable in any way. If they’re paying you for the time and you decide you want the break, then why not… but unless its in your contract i imagine they can’t actually make you. They can ask for whatever they want but have no power

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Are noncompetes common in employment contracts there? It sounds like it wasn’t optional, so I’m guessing it was something in the employment contract that employers can waive if they’re not being….a John Thomas.

      2. Heffalump*

        Their use of the expression “throw his toys out of his pram” (in reference to Nate’s behavior at the time) made me suspect the OP was in the UK.

      3. Camellia*

        My question is did the non-compete already exist? If not, why would you sign a non-compete after you had already turned in your resignation? They couldn’t MAKE you do that, could they?

    2. Myrin*

      A coworker told me yesterday that last week they offered a job as her counterpart to someone who will be starting in April. We’re in Germany and while six months is on the longer side, it’s also not super unusual, and I know from past discussions here that the UK is similar. It did sound like OP only found out about the non-compete months after she’d already accepted the other job but I can easily imagine them being willing to wait for her either way.

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah, here one month is standard, three months is fairly common for more senior positions, and six months or longer definitely isn’t unheard of (my dad had a clause in his contract stating that he had to give two years’ notice of his retirement, because he’d basically set up the entire global sales team and it was going to take a long time to get all the ducks in a row once they knew he was leaving).

        It also isn’t uncommon for people to take some time off in between jobs, assuming they can afford it. What also sometimes happens is that the former employer will put you on ‘gardening leave’ rather than allowing you to work your notice – so you’re paid for your notice period, but you’re basically sent home to potter in your garden instead of being at work. That’s most common in cases where you’d have access to sensitive information, and I suppose serves the same function as the three-month non-compete thing – it’s taking you out of the loop for a period of time so that by the time you get to your new company, any info you might have is out of date so you can’t pass on company secrets.

        1. OP*

          Almost everyone before me got gardening leave and no non-compete. It was a little retaliatory because I wouldn’t not resign. I was so enmeshed there that I actually panicked over what I’d do during the non-compete time. There was one who was given gardening leave and non-compete, so a 6 month holiday! I’m now a little jealous of him.

    3. Not Gonna Sign That*

      Oops. Missed this and just asked similar below. I also found this a little strange. Having 3 months off between jobs sounds pretty nice if you can afford it.

    4. OP*

      I’m in the UK. My contract said 3 months notice because I was middle management and was structurally significant in my role. (Others have from 1 month to 6 months notice based on rank in the business). Then because I had strategic and client strategy information which could be used by a competitor to give an advantage, there was an optional 3 month non-compete clause (and because it’s Europe, it was paid which I am so grateful for). So they had to pay for a 3 month holiday for me to recover my mental health – which in fairness was the least they could do!!

      New job was okay with the wait, which I was worried about. Apparently, they’d had enough good recommendations that they thought it was worth their while.

    1. Aerin*

      The names turned out to be very appropriate, too. So that makes OP… Parker? I’m gonna go with Parker.

  9. Danish*

    Love a man who thinks he can refuse to accept your resignation. Like how did he think that was gonna go?

    1. Kevin Sours*

      Some people are not accustomed to hearing the word “no” and find it rather bracing experience when it happens.

  10. You can be any mouse*

    In Leverage terms, it sounds like Sterling is aptly named, taking the credit for Nate, Sophie, and OP’s hard work! Sounds like you’re well shot of him, OP, though I am seriously hoping he shows up in the new episodes.

  11. Lacey*

    Ugh, OP, I’m so glad you got out! And with a 50% raise? That’s amazing.

    Sterling sounds like an amalgamation of all the chronic over-promisers I’ve ever worked with. And while I’ve never pulled a Nate, I have quietly fumed while promise after promise was broken. So I get it!

    Really, just so glad for you.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I wonder if Nate had more broken promises from Sterling than the others, and this one was briefly the straw that broke the camel’s back. Note that Nate did calm down and go back to being professional after he was called out privately.

    2. OP*

      I am so so happy to have gotten out. I’m now energised again, and loving my work the way I did about 5 years ago. It was very much the right move for me, and I probably should have done it sooner.

      I did have quiet chats with friends going for my role, and gave them as unbiased a view of the role and the stresses it came with – so they could go into it with open eyes. But unsurprisingly, they’re finding the stress unmanageable. I’ve got about 6 more months until I’m allowed to poach people! I’m counting the days.

  12. Not Gonna Sign That*

    “…then had me complete a three month non-compete”

    I’m curious about the wording here. This makes it sound like a last minute decision to have a non-compete period, but wouldn’t it have had to be clearly spelled out in a contract when OP was hired? It doesn’t seem like something you’d agree to do on your way out the door if you already had to give 3 months notice and you had a job offer in hand. Does the UK have weird laws about this?

    1. Kate, short for Bob*

      There may well have been a longer non-compete in the original contract, but they’re very difficult to enforce being a ‘restraint of trade’ – so I hope OP negotiated some extra money as a trade off for the 3 months she agreed to

    2. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

      Perhaps it meant “actually enforced the three month non compete I had previously agreed to.”

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

        LW also complained that they had to work until “the very last day” of their notice period.

    3. OP*

      It was in the contract, but they never enforced it before. It was a very odd situation. I work in a small incestuous industry – people hop between four companies if they’re staying in the industry, so it was super common for people of all levels to join competitors. They’ve enforced it with me and another person. Usually they put people on gardening leave (you’re paid your notice but not allowed to work), and that’s sufficient, but they made me work my notice and do a non-compete at the end. It took about a month before I could confirm my new start date. I was honestly worried they’d pull the offer, but they were happy to wait.

      It’s not always enforceable – depends on the wording – but because I was going to do the same role with a direct competitor, it would have stood up in court so DIY at home was the only thing to do.

  13. NHS Employee*

    This (and the original letter) sounds a lot like the non-clinical side of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).

    3 months’ notice – standard notice period for Band 7 roles and upwards.

    ‘Secondments’ (mentioned in the original letter) – a common thing in the NHS, where people temporarily transfer roles for a fixed period of time before returning to their substantive roles.

    And not to mention, the dysfunctional absurdity of someone so senior acting in such a ridiculous way. A very common occurence in the NHS, because due to how heavily unionized* it is, it’s very difficult to fire people and hold people to account for their poor work performance/behaviour.

    *This is the only downside of the unionization in my opinion. The benefits far outweigh the costs.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      To be fair, I’ve worked for a few very large uk employers where this would ring true as well.

      One downside of having good employee protection is that while you can fire people for not doing their job or being useless at it, it takes a lot of documentation and some management just don’t want to do it. There’s a common misconception in our industry (if you’ve ever been on a train it’s part of it) that you cannot be fired even if you act in a really offensive manner because the unions will protect you.

      Happy to say that isn’t true.

  14. Despachito*

    What would have happened if you refused to sign the non-compete notice?

    As I understand it, it was strongly against your interests, very likely retaliatory, and you already had another job lined up.

    1. OP*

      It was part of the contract I signed – an optional clause that the company could choose to activate (but never had before). I could have gone to court to fight it but ain’t no one got time for that… :D

  15. LeverageFanAllDayEveryDay*

    I must have missed the original post, but just read it and this update and came here to say that I LOVE the Leverage character names being used! It was a very distinctive use of names (IYKYK). The only other thing we needed was a reference to pretzels and/or no-stab Wednesdays. :)

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