updates: my coworkers complained I’m not working fast enough, 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.

1. My coworkers complained I’m not working fast enough

A bunch of good changes have happened at my job that have impacted the problem I wrote in about a few months ago. The boss who told me folks were complaining about how I worked took a position in another department and we got a new boss who is higher on the org chart than old boss.

So far, it seems like my old boss, while nice, was a bit controlling over weird things. We now are allowed to work on anything to make up time from being sick/holidays/whatever by working on anything, whereas before if there weren’t any customer-facing tasks then you were out of luck making up your time. We also have more flexibility with our hours in general.

And the biggest update; we’re completely updating and overhauling the task that someone was complaining about and in the future won’t be working on it the same way at all. I feel like if someone did complain to her, they are no longer feeling like things are overly rigid. And if it was her way to say she had a problem with it, well it isn’t her problem anymore. I still like her as a person but I’m starting to see that her management style wasn’t as good as I thought it was. Maybe in the past the role needed more supervision but I think it outgrew that need and she didn’t outgrow wanting to hover. The team I’m on does great and our new boss is happy with our performance.

Also; the task that was being worked on lived in Google Sheets. It was a list of links to the company website to look at customer summitted data, and then we were to make a determination on if we wanted to use that data or not and mark in the spreadsheet as well as in the company website. It was impossible to work in offline, and the way it was set up, unless you weren’t doing your own work and staring at someone else, it’s really hard to know what someone is up to. It was also highly inefficient.

Thanks again for the advice and feedback from the commenters.

2. I manage a manager who’s uncomfortable discussing staff performance (#2 at the link)

Unfortunately, despite a few additional targeted conversations with Sally in which I 1) made it clear what a necessary part of the job it was, and 2) provided additional resources to her, Sally was just not able to engage in even the most basic conversations about Jane’s job performance. Taking Sally off the project or changing her role significantly wasn’t an option for multiple reasons (all bureaucratic and due to the nature of Sally’s position/educational background) so Sally continued to lead the project that Jane works on. A few months after I wrote to you, I took another job opportunity – a fully remote position that was a step up for me and also double (!!!!!) the pay. I’ve kept in touch with one of the other managers from my old workplace, who works directly with Jane. This person shared that Jane’s development has stalled and that Sally’s perspective has not changed, at least in any way that’s observable.

3. Coworkers and eating disorder recovery (#4 at the link)

Not really much to report here – the situation didn’t present itself again. I suppose I must have been standoff-ish enough in my responses to her that she just decided to stop asking! We’re also allowed to eat at our desks again. While I still have to walk past her desk to heat up food, I’m under less scrutiny than when folks go into the kitchen.

I wish I had more for you! I was ready to use your advice, but never had the chance.

4. “My rates aren’t unreasonable, you just can’t afford me” (#4 at the link)

Thank you so much for answering my letter! I was sadly traveling so I couldn’t be in the comment section on the day it went up, but I used your advice to rewrite my response to the following:

“Absolutely no problem, it sounds like it’s not the right fit for this project. I’m sure you will have no problem finding someone with rates that suit your budget, and I look forward to seeing [XYZ project] in the future!”

To which I got no reply until yesterday, when he replied asking if I could “just compare two documents” if I had a moment (= do unpaid work), so I replied with:

“I’m terribly sorry, I’ve taken on a project with another client and don’t have any availability right now. Best of luck!”

Hope I handled that ok! Your website is really useful for many reasons, but for me one of the main issues is nailing the right tone on emails. Thank you for all your work :)

{ 61 comments… read them below }

  1. aelstuart*

    Letter writer #4 – I love your response to the request for free labor. Maybe I’m naive, but it seems wildly out of touch for someone to essentially ask a business to provide a service for free. You were professional in your reply despite their audacity.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Personally I’d have put in an estimate for my proofreading rate x number of hours to be spent on the work, after evaluating the first paragraph (for example) and tearing it to pieces to show him just how necessary the proofreadin would be.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      It sounds like they went for the bargain basement service provider and now are hoping for someone to verify how bad a choice they made.

      Perfect response.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Agreed. Sounds like they wanted to go cheaper – and are now dealing with “the cheap comes out expensive*” as some of the folks I grew up around in FL would say.

        They paid a cheap person, and got cheap work that’s probably not correct and now need to pay a second person (though looks like this boss tried to sneak a freebie – good job turning that away OP).

    2. New Mom*

      I’ll need to save this post as I plan to start consulting in the future and suspect I’ll need to address low ball offers as well.

    3. Antilles*

      It’s out of touch but it’s not unheard of either. Hopefully it’s pretty rare (especially if you work with good clients), but it happens enough that it’s good that OP came up with a professional way to decline, because it’s likely this won’t be the last time someone asks for free work over OP’s time as a freelancer.

    4. Boof*

      I would have still replied with something like “Sure! My rates are still $/hour; if you like we can do a half hour [or whatever is still worth your while] consult to look these over” (and that’ll probably be it; if f they go forward get payment up front and don’t go past the half hr mark etc)

    5. Curious*

      I could see asking for a small favor (like a half hour) in the context of a strong ongoing relationship (dozens of hundreds of hours paid for at full rate). But here, where the (non) client made it clear that they weren’t willing to pay the contractor rates at all, asking for a favor shows … that the chutzpah is strong in that one.

    6. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      The client is at the point where he realises that fixing mistakes in the cheaper version is actually more expensive than hiring someone who gets it right first time.
      Sounds like OP might be a freelance translator like me.
      She worked for them back in her days as a novice, so they were expecting to be charged as if she were still a novice.
      Reminds me of ToxicBoss1 who called a former intern to see if she wanted a job with us. She told me she would consider it if it were well-paid. ToxicBoss1 freaked out at the sheer temerity of the woman! When in fact, she’d only been paid a third of minimum wage as an intern (the legal minimum for interns) and probably only meant that now she was fully qualified she wanted a proper wage.
      (The Man who told him his salary expectation was double was he was paying me, did not get freaked out at. Lucky for my boss he found a job elsewhere, because I was ready to haul him into the labour law courts for him to pay a hefty fine for illegal misogyny and a hefty amount of compensation for me.)

    1. WellRed*

      I just went back to reread the original letter. The OP starts out with describing Sally as a “wonderful new employee” and Jane as “room fir growth.” I wonder how she feels in hindsight? And if you work for an organization that doesn’t provide employees with growth opportunities, yeah, they are gonna have “room for growth.” Sometimes you just can’t win.

      1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

        Quite often project managers are chosen for their subject matter expertise, and then it becomes apparent that they are not as qualified to manage. It’s a different skill set.
        I was a supervisor earlier in my career; for the last (many) years I manage client relationships and projects (including the staff assigned to the project temporarily) but have no permanent direct reports.
        My role includes coaching and giving meaningful feedback, both to the person and their manager. It does not include handling discipline, salary, or leave requests. Works for me.

    1. Personal Best in Consecutive Days Lived*

      Yeah I sure thought saying “just compare the two documents,” took a lot of fucking nerve, but OP’s response was very professional.

    2. Random Acts of Pedantry*

      I only wish LW could have somehow worked the phrase “Bless your heart” into the reply.

  2. MassMatt*

    For letter #1, I’m concerned by this: “We now are allowed to work on anything to make up time from being sick/holidays/whatever by working on anything, whereas before if there weren’t any customer-facing tasks then you were out of luck making up your time.”

    “Making up time” from being sick or on holiday isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) a thing. Are you doing extra work/staying late because you were off on, say, Christmas? That’s not holidays or time off, at best that’s flexible time.

    1. CheesePlease*

      It can be a thing. For example, all our PTO is lumped together. As such, we don’t have specific sick days. Instead of taking PTO or going unpaid (if I already used up my PTO at that time) for a sick day / going home early with a headache etc my manager expects me to “make up my time”. Which generally means just making sure I didn’t get behind on anything since I salaried and hours aren’t tracked. But agree that making up time shouldn’t be a thing for company-paid holidays or other approved PTO

      1. LtBarclay*

        It could be in lieu of taking PTO for hourly employees. I used to be able to “make up time” if I left early or came in late – for a doctors appointment, because I was sick, or whatever reason. I preferred to do that (if I could) rather than use PTO.

    2. Cat Lover*

      If PTO is lumped together it’s not that weird. I flex time (make up hours) a lot if I don’t want to use as much PTO.

    3. LW 1*

      It sadly is in this role since our PTO is unpaid due it being part time. Sick time is paid though, and accrues well enough that I’m usually able to use it to cover things but in the case of Christmas for example we closed, but us part timers don’t get paid. So we have to pick a different day to work or work more hours if we don’t want a short check. It sucks, and I’m working to make changes to get to a more stable situation but at the moment, it is what it is.

      1. HQB*

        That helps clarify this situation, thank you.

        For future reference, PTO stands for “Paid Time Off”; if it’s unpaid, it’s just time off or leave time.

        1. allathian*

          Depends, in some places it stands for “Personal Time Off” as opposed to the whole company being closed for a holiday or the weekend, when people don’t use PTO.

    4. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I read this to mean that staff could choose to either use PTO or make up the time. Like if I took the afternoon off to go to a medical appointment or I got sick partway through the day, I could make up the hours by working at other times, instead of having to use PTO. Which is especially helpful if staff have limited PTO to draw from.

      One of the things I super appreciate about my employer is being able to make up time for appointments during business hours rather than use vacation time.

    5. Michelle Smith*

      Which is awesome. It allows you to take advantage of flexibility to avoid having to take PTO that you might need or want to save for later! I love that my boss allows me to choose taking time off for a doctor’s appointment or working in the evening to make up the time. Otherwise I’d be screwed right now because I need to take a bunch of sick time to recover from COVID instead of the PTO I’d planned for a holiday vacation. Now I have enough sick time in spite of my doctor’s appointments to take this time off and still go visit my family before the spring.

    6. I'm just here for the cats!*

      It can be a thing. I don’t think the op is saying she uses pto and then has to work extra. It’s more like if the business is closed for the holiday if you don’t use pto then you don’t get paid for that day so in order.tonget.yoir full 40 hours you work extra hours.
      So for example when Christmas is on a weekday my mom gets half of Christmas Eve off. You can take PTO or take the 4 hours unpaid, work the entire day or work extra hours within the same work week to make it up.
      Now this isn’t going to work in all jobs. But it’s common in customer service type roles like call centers.
      Also I think some cities/states may have rules against this.

  3. Semi-retired admin*

    LW 4, This is so common in the creative fields! No one wants to “break the bank”, pay “an arm and a leg”, and “reasonable” is usually a euphemism for outrageous, over-priced, or “a rip-off”. And don’t even get me started on the requests for unpaid work!

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      I always want to tell people “Just wait a couple centuries–there’ll be a movie about art thieves stealing this project.”

      You know Michelangelo/Leonardo de Vinci/Fill In Famous Artist Here got low-balled/told “thou shalt be paid in Experience, Donatello” alllll the damn time.

      1. MassMatt*

        You have to admit, the Sistine Chappell is a great piece of “exposure”, I bet Michelangelo got tons of work after that.

        1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

          He did, even though he did not really want to paint the chapel. His best work for “exposure” is probably the huge statue of David in Florence, as it was in a public space in front of the Signoria (city hall). He saw himself more as a sculptor than a painter and usually signed letters as such.

    2. Beth*

      Fine sewing was once my profession and is now my hobby, and I do not need to do any paid sewing work at this point in my life.

      My standard reply when I’m asked to do sewing projects is a breezy “Just to warn you, I’m very good and very expensive.” That usually ends the conversation right there.

  4. Sara without an H*

    Re Update #2: Taking Sally off the project or changing her role significantly wasn’t an option for multiple reasons (all bureaucratic and due to the nature of Sally’s position/educational background) so Sally continued to lead the project that Jane works on.

    Sometimes I feel as though a couple of paragraphs have been left out of letters; this is one of them. While I completely understand that OP#2 is trying to be tactful here, what we’re left with is a picture of a dysfunctional bureaucracy in which it’s apparently impossible to rotate Sally out of a job she’s wildly unsuited for or to give Jane the kind of supervision and training she needs. Is this a library, I wonder?

    1. Observer*

      Add me to the list of people who agree with you.

      I hope Jane finds a better place to work.

      Sally is NOT “great”. And she is not even *nice*. She’s “nice” as in “Nice Guy TM”

    2. kitryan*

      It might be something like the rules say that the project head/manager has to have a certain degree and/or tenure at the company, so she’s the only one that is available who can fill the position, per the rules?
      At the university where I went to grad school, you couldn’t be a department head unless you had a grad degree, so I knew a person who’d been on the job as assistant props master for years but she said she’d not be allowed to take over the props department when her boss retired since she didn’t have the degree required for the position (a masters in this case).

      1. Internship Admin*

        That’s what I was thinking. Basically needing certain qualifications in the lead person even if they end up not making the project go like a figurehead.

    3. Chilipepper Attitude*

      Lol @ is this a library. At my public library job the problem manager was actually named Sally!

  5. Zzzzzz*

    #4: I’d take out the apologies, and the I look forward to… (possibly why he sent it to you to review).

    You have nothing to apologize for… it’s business. His budget doesn’t match yours (seems like it never will). End of story.

    And delete the “right now”–this guy sounds like a nightmare to work with (and it reminds me of telling someone you don’t want to date–ever–that you’d go out but oopsy! you’re dating someone). Nope. You aren’t sorry. You’re not available. Period. Women do this apology thing all the time. Imagine a man writing that in a work sit. They don’t.

    A simple: “Thanks for reaching out. I am not available to [insert thing here]. Best of luck!” works for all scenarios. Then don’t answer future notes (especially to someone who never replied to your other note). There is no pain-in-the-ace $ line item that would ever make up for working with someone like this.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I like the apologies because, I’m picturing him reading and being perplexed, looking for where OP agrees and trudging through all that fluff multiple times realizing he did not get his way.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I got the impression while this time the job didn’t work out it’s possible it may later down the road. So polite enough to not burn bridges with the company while also making it clear to the former boss that they don’t work for free.

      1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

        This. For one, they may have learned that who buys cheap buys twice. Also, people talk – so be firm but professional.
        As a consultant (in a large firm), I frequently have to reject work for various reasons. I’ll try to suggest alternatives when I can; this has landed us lucrative contracts in the past.

  6. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    LW4, I can totally understand why you had a negative reaction to the initial exchange. That kind of comment about “reasonable” rates does feel like it has an underlying connotation of your work not being worth what you’re asking for. The response you ended up sending was great, and I’m proud of you for not accepting work for way less than your skillset deserves.

    This latest e-mail is just goofy! On what planet does he think that someone who doesn’t work for him is going to do work for free? I think other commenters are right in their guess that he cheaped out, is now regretting it, and hoped you’d solve this problem for him for free. The audacity!

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      Plenty of companies/people try to “free sample” work all the time, like when the interview for an internship involved designing logos that will automatically become company property. These are the kinds of individuals that stuff their cheeks like chipmunks in the grocery store with “just trying” grapes and bulk pecans.

    2. Keats*

      I’ve gotten this before. They’re banking on the translator wanting to make resources available to a community more than they want fair compensation. I have done things like this for groups with little budget and big community impact, and I count it as giving back. But when they have the budget and are just trying to manipulate me? That’s when my facial expression can be universally understood.

  7. FrogEngineer*

    “Taking Sally off the project or changing her role significantly wasn’t an option for multiple reasons…”

    What about firing her? If she’s not doing her job, then that’s what needs to be done.

  8. Michelle Smith*

    LW3: I’m glad the situation improved and I am glad you wrote in to update to let us know you’re okay! As someone who also struggles with (a different) disorder, I am grateful that you wrote in for advice and provided an update. I am rooting for you to have continued peace at work!!

  9. SeaCow*

    LW4. Your original letter came just a couple days before I needed to have this EXACT conversation with a client! It was super helpful to read the possible dialogue from Alison and the commentariat. The client responded with “Well XYZ’s rates are $$ not $$$” to which I stated “maybe XYZ would be a better fit for you…and I understand that you have a budget in mind that may not include my fees.”

    Two weeks later the client hired me at MY RATES. I am good at what I do, so my rates reflect the quality and outcomes I provide. Thanks for speaking up for the self-employed!

    1. Venerable Beader*

      I repair jewelry, both for stores and for the general public. My prices are entirely fair, possibly even on the low side, but some people do balk – they want their cheap or fake items repaired and think my time or skill is somehow less expensive if the pieces are too, when in fact costume jewelry can be more difficult to restore. “But I love it!” Yes, and it’s jewelry, not heart surgery; no one’s going to die even if I were price-gouging, which I’m not. So good for you, LW#4 – stand firm! You’re worth it. Selling yourself short is never okay.

  10. Keats*

    LW 4: That’s so frustrating! I’ve done some translation work, and I’ve gotten consistent currents of entitlement or even classism in response to it, far more than to my other skills. It’s incredibly frustrating. My language skills deserve compensation every bit as much as my technical certifications. I really, really hope they didn’t guilt you about making products accessible to X community…. Good on you for knowing what your labor is worth.

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