updates: boss wants me to be upbeat all the time, the bathroom monitor, and more

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. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

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

1. My boss wants me to be positive and upbeat all the time … we work in disaster relief

I really appreciated your response and those of the site readers, and especially those who have also worked in emergency response and mental health fields and understood what I was going through.

After I wrote in, Sam backed off asking about my mental health. It appears that the conversation he had with Gillian had the desired effect, so I didn’t need to address it with him further. For those readers who thought it might be related to me being female, it appears that wasn’t the case. Sam did make one more comment about mental health in a team conference call just after I wrote in, but this time about a male colleague. After the usual round of greetings, Sam said something like “And Jim sounds particularly down today,” to which Jim replied, “I’ve got Covid!” Since then there have been no more mentions of mental health.

With regard to my own health, I continued to struggle with fatigue for several weeks and then sought medical advice. It turns out that I had a couple of physical health issues that were contributing to my feelings of exhaustion and my shorter fuse. Those have been taken care of now and I’m feeling much better, but I think it is a good further illustration of why managers shouldn’t diagnose their employees as having mental health issues, as they aren’t qualified and don’t know what else may be going on in peoples’ lives.

An additional possible contributor to my feeling burnt out was that in spite of being seconded to emergency response, I still handled three times the number of files last year as my nearest colleagues (who were not working on emergency response). Sam is aware of this as he is the one who ran the stats. Several weeks ago, he and Gillian asked me to take the lead on an interesting side project. I agreed, but asked that they assist with shifting some of my regular workload so that I could have time to focus on it. They promised that they would do this, but so far it hasn’t happened. Although I’ve enjoyed my job to date, the regular workload and expectations around emergency response have become untenable for me. I’ve been looking for another position, and just this week I interviewed for a job with another organization. I have a former colleague who left to join this organization who told me that it is a good place to work with really good managers, and I’m hopeful that I’ll receive a job offer in the next couple of weeks.

Thank you for your response. It was very helpful and a big relief to have the validation that what I was experiencing from my manager was not right.

2. My remote boss wants to know every time I go to the bathroom

I ended up just kind of forming my own boundaries without a conversation. I think my foot was halfway out the door anyways. It seemed that my boss wanted the utmost communication from me without having to reciprocate that in the slightest. It felt so uneven, especially given his bathroom comments!

I am also dealing with a dying family member. Not having the trust and flexibility in my job was brutal. I sought out new positions and turned some down based on how similar they sounded to what I was doing. I finally found one that a) pays double b) offers flexibility whenever I need it and c) I don’t need to tell anyone when I’m peeing.

I know my previous boss was probably just freaked out about control and stuff. But being on the receiving end was demeaning. Don’t treat your employees like they’re criminals!

3. Should I tell my coworker she’ll never get the promotion she deserves?

I told her. I sent her a message on Facebook so it wasn’t on any work related accounts or devices. It actually worked out well as she kind of already knew and was already looking for something else. She not only landed a better position with better pay, but her leaving actually forced a somewhat painful restructuring that pushed a few under performers out the door. Including the one that was promoted over her. I don’t mind the restructuring and I found it ultimately improved everything once the first few months were completed.

4. Manager came to work with Covid and infected high-risk people

I don’t have a fantastic update, unfortunately. Partner was resistant to bringing up any issues with HR because they’d recently been bought over by new management and he didn’t want to rock the boat, so no real consequences. The good news is that there were fake consequences! The manager who exposed everyone without disclosing did get fired not long after, just for completely different reasons. No structural changes, so while employees are required to report covid exposure it’s possible the same issue could happen again without consequences. So far her replacement hasn’t done anything as blatant as knowingly exposing high risk employees to covid or failing to disclose exposing employees to Covid so I’m taking the win.

Bonus update in case anyone was concerned about health consequences for the at-risk people who got exposed: coworker and partner are both okay, I have some mild consequences but luckily immediate danger is all ruled out.

{ 31 comments… read them below }

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Me too!!!! Once again I say to management, as I said after yesterday’s update about the coworker who yelled at OP and fell asleep on the job multiple times: keep your top-performing employees happy if you don’t want to lose them because if you don’t, you will.

      1. ferrina*

        You can either promote them and they will help cover their old position while you transition, or you can hold them back and they’ll leave (covering no positions). A top performing employee will help you out in a pinch and carry you in hard times; treat them well.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          And most top performers will be quite good at training whoever takes over their previous job, so if you leave them to fester in that job so much that they leave, you are totally losing out on their help in training the person who you will have to hire to take over that job. The nearsightedness, it burns.

        2. Kes*

          Exactly. If they’re so important to your business, you’re better off promoting them. Yes, you’ll lose them from that position, but that’s likely to happen either way, and you can at least retain them as an employee (and, chances are, put them to even better use in the new role).
          Same goes for pay: yes, you can get away with underpaying your employees for a time, but if you want to retain them you’re better off paying them what they deserve/market rate, because if you don’t chances are you’ll lose them to someone else who will.
          Promotions and raises are not just for the benefit of the employee; they also a smart business measure to retain good employees

    2. SereneScientist*

      Agreed. There will always be a possibility of uncomfortable change when a stellar worker leaves a role, but it seems like it worked out for the best for all parties with this update.

  1. GammaGirl1908*


    A) ha, once an annoying colleague ordered me to smile while we were both waiting for an elevator, and I glared him down and said, “Um, I’m on my way to a root canal.” It was true, but I’ve used it a few times since when it wasn’t.

    B) I’ve met a couple of people whose usual response to “how are you?” is “I’m fantastically wonderful and super blessed!” or “I’m blessed and highly favored!” I’m fortunate to live a decent life, and I support people who love to share that level of enthusiastic response that honors their privilege, but that’s not all of us and doesn’t need to be. It should also be okay to be “just fine” or “doing well.”

    1. Sanity Lost*

      My favorite response to give? “I’m behaving myself”.

      It is wonderfully versatile in that it covers those bad days where I don’t want to lie and say I’m fine. If in a silly mood it could mean “I never said I was being good” or “my coffee hasn’t decided yet”. It usually garners a laugh.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I once honestly told someone that “I will smile when my coffee kicked in.”

        They slunk away.

    2. Selina Luna*

      Last summer, someone made the terrible mistake of not taking “okay” as an answer when they asked how I am.
      They got a barrel full of awful from me:
      Them: “How are you?”
      Me, just trying to move on: “okay.”
      Them: “Just okay?” (they were asking in that snarky way that drips with YOU SHOULD BE POSITIVE TO PLEASE ME.
      Me: “Actually, no. I’m lousy. I found out this morning that my sister died, and now I need to go and try to teach summer school without breaking down into tears.” And then I stomped away.

    3. Firebird*

      I didn’t mean to say it, but I burst out with “Single!” and a big grin. It was the first time somebody asked how I was after my divorce was finalized. The other person said they didn’t know how to respond to that. They were fine after I said it was good news.

    4. TrixM*

      Wow, I would not be able to hold myself back in scenario A: “I’m sorry, being ordered how to arrange my face has an unfortunate effect on my mood.” Then silence.

      I’d probably react with, “Dude, seriously?” if it were a colleague I liked, but then again, the colleagues I like (nearly all of them!) don’t pull that kind of routine.

  2. Clefairy*

    What’s so infuriating about number 3 is that the restructuring was going to happen whether they promoted her or not- had they promoted her, they could have had all of the benefits listed in the update PLUS the benefit of having an amazing, driven top performer in a higher level position to help drive great performance moving forward. Really happy she got out!

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I agree, that’s totally infuriating. Management really messed this one up big time. I daresay they are not the smartest bananas in their bunch, are they?

  3. Hlao-roo*

    The good news is that there were fake consequences!

    Thank you for this line, OP4! I’m glad your partner no longer has to deal with that awful (former) manager. Sorry to hear that you still have some health consequences from the COVID infection :(

  4. Daisy*

    Good for Peggy on getting out! I hope she LOVES her new job and continues to shine (and get promoted).
    Preferably the higher-ups in the company learned that holding back good employees doesn’t pay in the long run, but those types usually don’t get the hint.

  5. Somehow_I_Manage*

    #1: “With regard to my own health, I continued to struggle with fatigue for several weeks and then sought medical advice. It turns out that I had a couple of physical health issues that were contributing to my feelings of exhaustion and my shorter fuse.”

    Although I disagree with nearly everything Sam did externally…there’s a part of me that is a little bit encouraged that he was observant enough to notice something wasn’t right with OP and brought those concerns to his supervisor. The failing was not having the right training or skills to know what to do (or not do) next. I’m lithe to give him credit, but I am thankful that OP got what they needed.

    I’ve been in Sam’s position myself, I’ve had a few employees that exhibited clear signs of challenges at home that were affecting their work. It’s a really difficult task to figure out how to support them: when to press, when to relay to HR, and when to butt out.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I disagree, Sam deserves none of this credit. I suspect OP would have been able to figure out something wasn’t right without Sam prodding her all the time (seems like she knew it already anyway), and the way Sam was going about it was all kinds of wrong; seems like you do know this, Somehow_I_Manage, so I give you permission to take back any of the credit you gave to Sam. He was making guesses about OP’s health that were absolutely none of his business and didn’t back off when OP said that his guess was wrong. Sure, I absolutely agree that it’s hard to know the right thing to do when an employee is dealing with something difficult, but Sam’s response was 100% the wrong thing. (Since he seems to have knocked it off I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and hope he will learn from this and develop better tools for dealing with situations like this, but I will not give him credit for helping OP in this one instance.)

      1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        Yeah, this is a coincidence or an accident. It does not merit giving Sam any credit, especially since Sam crossed the line into being rude and intrusive multiple times.

      2. Somehow_I_Manage*

        I’m re-reading what I wrote…and I’m certain I could have chosen my words and tone better- because we don’t disagree. I don’t give Sam ANY credit, and I explicitly disagree with all of their behavior and response towards OP. I just want to make that VERY clear if OP ever sees this. I am not on Sam’s side.

        I am only attempting to note, that a good workplace should have guidance and resources available to a manager to avail themselves of to reduce potential for this to happen. In this story, Sam should have been offered guidance when he approached Gillian for feedback. That doesn’t absolve Sam, but knowing from experience that similar situations come up in every workplace, and sometimes the challenges are very serious, it’s the type of thing we should learn from this story and be ready for.

    2. Observer*

      there’s a part of me that is a little bit encouraged that he was observant enough to notice something wasn’t right with OP and brought those concerns to his supervisor.

      And what exactly did he accomplish? Now, if that were the only thing he did, that would be one thing. And it would indicate that he’s actually observant, and that he apparently has some sense and empathy. By badgering the OP, he showed that he has neither. And it also raises the question of whether he’s actually observant or just trying to make everything look good. Because an observant person should have ALSO observed that the OP did not react well or in any way improve due to his badgering.

      On the other hand, do you really think the OP needed Sam to make them aware that they were having a problem? No. They clearly knew that something was going on. If anything, dealing with Sam’s intrusions could have made it HARDER for the OP to move on to seeing their physician about the matter, although I hope that didn’t happen.

    3. Observer*

      It’s a really difficult task to figure out how to support them: when to press, when to relay to HR, and when to butt out.

      On a separate note the answer to “when to press” is NEVER.

      1. Echo*

        Yeah. I’d keep it to one conversation—”I’ve noticed these changes in your work performance or work-related behaviors, and just wanted to check in and see if there’s anything I can do as your manager to support you. You don’t need to share the details with me if this is something private/outside of work.” My goal was always to figure out if there was something I could to to be helpful to them, never to try and fix or manage their mental health.

    4. Tiger Snake*

      Yeah. I read OP1’s update and saw them admit to being burned out, overloaded, dealing with a lot in their personal life, and had a little ping sound go off in my brain. Its insight into what Sam would probably have been seeing that we didn’t have before. There are certain fields of work in particular that can *really* weigh down on you over time, and a part of being the manager in them is dealing with that as well.

      I think Sam’s efforts were sincere and genuine, especially since he’s paying attention to how everyone on his team is acting. As in, he really was trying to understand how the OP was dealing with all that so he could be a good manager and give her the support she needed. He just apparently doesn’t know how to dig into stuff like ‘you seem burned out’ beyond ‘tell me what’s up’.

      So; an inept manager, but not a malicious one.

    5. Echo*

      I see your point, but in my opinion he wiped out any goodwill he might have built up with the first conversation. Appointing yourself the monitor of an employee’s mental health goes far beyond just not having the right training or skills. The constant scrutiny of OP’s responses to “How are you?” is something that I would break up a romantic relationship over, much less find acceptable from a boss.

  6. Gigi*

    For #2, I recall seeing a post (possibly on here!) of a team dealing with a similar request from the boss, and dealt with it by doubling down on following it to the letter. IE, restroom breaks, water breaks, nose blowing breaks, taking a long sip of water breaks, etc.

    Eventually, the boss relented and only asked to know if they’d be away for more than 15 minutes. Sometimes being petty pays off!

  7. cncx*

    Re OP4, I had a coworker who sat next to me in open space come in two days out of a positive Covid diagnosis. I’m high risk and he knew the last time I got Covid I was out for a month. I had a job that required office time because it was front facing. He has a home office amenable job but “came in anyway” because “it was just the sniffles.” People need to realize airborne is airborne and just because one person “just has the sniffles” doesn’t mean the person or persons they give it to will be so lucky.

    We’re not in america and are paid salary with generous PTO and a sick leave bank separate from PTO. He had literally no reason to come in, no meeting no deadline.

    I didn’t catch Covid, probably because the previous infection was recent enough to boost me, but I had a scary few days where I was freaking out about being laid out for a month again. My heart rate had finally gotten back to normal that week, a couple months out.

    Almost three years in the pandemic I cant believe it still has t be said that if you have Covid and feel good enough to work and can work at home, then work at home. This isn’t hard. I have a lot more empathy for people who can’t work at home, paid hourly, etc but this was not his case at all.

    It’s not the reason I quit that job but it was a small part. Luckily my new job I will be able to do home office if I or a coworker “has the sniffles.”

  8. Teapot Wrangler*

    OP4 – I’m pleased that you’re more or less okay and that idiot manager is gone, at least!

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