updates: pointless perks, the throat-clearer, 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 five updates from past letter-writers.

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

1. My office want to to offer “fun” but pointless perks (#2 at the link)

Your advice was very helpful – it was good to get a POV outside of the situation.

I’ll share the great news first: I’ve just left the organization and will be starting a new job (100% remote) making $15K more!

Rewind to after I sent in my question: We never got the gaming system, but the other ‘perks’ remained. Moreover, I negotiated for a new title and salary. The title was nonsense and the salary increase was not nearly enough. But it got worse, and that’s when I realized me saying anything to leadership just then would go nowhere. They were trying to convince us that things were great to the point where they were the only ones believing their own hype. Thousands of dollars were wasted on projects with very little ROI, which made me wonder how they didn’t have the $4K I asked for earlier in the year. I also took over for a vendor we fired, bringing in better results with less money, receiving only a thumbs up for my success. That was the real beginning of the end. I’m the third person in 2 months to leave. And I won’t be the last.

Fast forward now to when I gave my two weeks: my boss took it horribly. The next few days were hell. But everyone else was so kind and understanding. Unfortunately, my absence will impact a lot of people. A sign of a poorly organized company is that one person leaving is causing such a ripple effect. It shouldn’t be that way. Your advice was so helpful when I shared some of my concerns to the CEO during my exit interview. I didn’t think I could say anything until I was out – my leaving proved the point that something must be wrong. So I hope this will bring some much needed change.

2. I work across from a throat-clearer (#2 at the link)

Thank you so much for publishing my letter, and to the commentariat for your thoughtful advice. Alas, things have taken an unfortunate turn since I wrote this letter. A white noise machine has helped somewhat with the noise, but it continues to be distracting. It’s also now the least of my work problems. I actually started to write another letter to you, but decided not to send it once I realized it was about eight pages long! I’ll give the abbreviated version here.

In your initial response, you were concerned about the idea of me always working behind closed doors. Turns out that’s very much the culture for everyone. It’s hard to get feedback or even get to know colleagues. The agency is also extremely rigid about hours and has been unwilling to accommodate even minor flexibility in my schedule (I have a disability that requires a lot of doctors’ appointments.) The workload is slightly more than double what was discussed in the interview and the promised hybrid schedule is not allowed. The workload stress is definitely affecting my health, and it’s been hard to get medical care or stick with my treatment regimen given the “butts in seats in the office for every single second of standard business hours” culture.

I truly love the patients I work with, and I would hate to be another person who burns out and leaves them in a matter of months. I’ve been trying to advocate for myself (not a strong suit of mine!) and seeing some small improvements, so I’m hopeful I may be able to work it out for at least a little while longer. In the meantime, my side business has been thriving, and I’m contemplating the leap to trying to do that full-time. I’d lose my benefits, but I’d bring in more money, be able to flex my schedule as much as I want, and get to work from home in the peace and quiet of my own apartment, with no one clearing their throat but me.

If anyone in the comments has suggestions about making the choice between traditional and self-employment, I would love to hear it! I’m especially interested in how other professionals with disabilities navigate this decision.

3. Can I train people not to bother me when I have headphones on?

I was pretty frustrated when I wrote to you about being interrupted all day at work. However, I did think a lot about how I could change my workflow. I am lucky because I have the ability to do more tasks that require concentration whenever I want, so that’s what I have started doing. I try to work on cataloging and statistics at times when I know fewer people are there, or, if worse comes to worst, I can stay late when no one is in the office.

Your advice was great, but I just reframed my thinking. Most of the comments were helpful and interesting, a couple were a bit mean and presumptuous. I have since learned I am neurodivergent, so I am trying to use all my tools available to make things work.

4. Can I ask for a raise if I wouldn’t leave over salary?

I asked for a raise and a promotion and was denied. I was given a company line about how we can’t give raises right now but to ask again in 6 months.

So, I went ahead and hired a resume writer and she re-did my resume and LinkedIn. I have applied for several roles but unfortunately haven’t had any interviews.

A few days ago I applied for a senior manager position in another department (this would be a promotion for me). If it ends up getting offered to me I’m not sure how to navigate the salary since even a 20% bump would still make me underpaid in the position I’m currently in. So, I’ll just have to see what happens.

5. How do I pass on institutional knowledge before I retire? (#5 at the link)

I’m the person who asked about downloading my brain to the people who work for me with my (then a year away) retirement.

A couple of months ago, I gave my managers notice that my planned retirement date was end of March 2023 (pushed out so spouse could get some expensive dental work done next insurance year). Since no one in management knows how to do my job, the Superintendent went to Council and got an approval to hire my replacement while I’m still here so they could shadow me and see how our program runs – the city never fills a position until it’s empty, but he pushed it through. After a difficult search, we have a person scheduled to start beginning of December who has over 20 years’ experience in this field. I’m working with Administration and IT now so their office is ready when they get here.

Several commenters suggested consulting after retirement. While I may do some work for a non-profit based near me that specializes in this and adjacent fields, I’m planning to cut the cord almost completely. Current plan is to join a sailing club, get enough time on the water to get my Coast Guard 50-Ton Master’s License back, then start teaching sailing again. I expect I won’t be reading your excellent advice as much.

Retirement is starting to feel real, and who knew there was so much stuff that had to be done in advance? Plus it’s time to sort through my office and decide what gets passed on, what gets shredded and what goes home with me; anyone want a coffee mug? I’ve already passed my unused Chocolate Teapots, Ltd. Travel mug on to another regular commenter here.

{ 41 comments… read them below }

    1. Hlao-roo*

      Just an FYI, there’s a link to report “an ad, tech, or type issue here” right above the comment box. I submitted the duplicate 4s via the link, so you don’t have to but in the future Alison will see typos a lot quicker when they’re submitted through the link rather than posted in the comments section.

  1. Hlao-roo*

    LW4: Congrats on the new role! I don’t know how long ago you wrote in, but if it’s still relevant, I’d advise you to do your best to figure out what the market rate for the Senior Manager role is and base any salary discussions around that number. The salary you were earning in your previous role shouldn’t have a bearing on what you earn in a new, different role!

    1. Zombeyonce*

      I hope it’s that simple in this case. In my experience, far too many companies limit their raises during promotions to a percentage based on current salary. It’s how people end up so underpaid in the first place and makes it better to leave if you want any kind of market rate salary.

        1. Lady_Lessa*

          The impression that I got was that LW2 expected some flexibility and a lower work load based on the information received during the job interview. That didn’t happen, and when you are working with/for people it can be harder, than a side job where you can take breaks and rest as needed.

        2. Zombeyonce*

          1. These people are showing up for work, they’re just doing it remotely. Why don’t you understand that people can work successfully remotely?

          2. No one is saying anyone is doing less work. That may be your assumption but it’s a ridiculous one.

          3. This is so incredibly ableist and you need to stop.

        3. kitryan*

          point 2- WFH existed prior to Covid, and there is no particular indication from the letter that LW is spending/would spend WFH time on the side business. This is an uncharitable assumption or inference
          point 3- whether or not it is true in this particular case, this statement is a false equivalence. There are disabilities that make in-office work difficult that have noting to do with a variety of possible side businesses. As the LW mentions the lack of schedule flexibility making doctor’s appointments difficult, I could see this being an issue with the ‘main’ gig, and its lack of schedule flexibility but not with a ‘set your own hrs’ side business. Again, this is a false equivalency, they’re not the same thing.
          The only valid point here is 1. Yes, accommodations do not inherently always mean you don’t have to come into the office. However, no one said that this was the case, so it’s not relevant to the conversation anyway. It seems like you have an issue with WFH and are putting some of that on this letter, whether or not it actually fits.

        4. GoLightly*

          Everyone has already pretty much covered this, but I wanted to add that it’s not unusual for a side hustle to be very different than an office job! The side hustle is probably a passion project with flexible hours, which is way easier for many people than working a 9-5 in a field that just pays the bills. The 9-5 is usually a more stable job than a side hustle where you need to find your own clients/customers, but OP can’t get the flexibility she needs to do the 9-5. It’s not at all strange that she would have an easier time switching to the side hustle.

    1. RuDe MuCh?*

      God forbid that the capitalist hellscape that we are forced to endure in order to put food on the table and shelter over our heads acknowledge that humans are actually people and not just “resources” to show up and be 100% productive at all times and instead have other needs and wants than to be corporate robots.

    2. Zombeyonce*

      You seem awfully bitter here and are making a lot of assumptions that have no basis in fact.

      Plenty of people in jobs can be done perfectly well remotely are required to return to offices because their managers/leadership are crappy managers that think if they can see you, that means you’re doing a good job. Thousands (millions?) of people moved to remote work during the beginning of the pandemic and have excelled because it can be so much more flexible. Good managers know how to manage even if someone isn’t right in front of them; it’s the bad ones that can’t handle remote employees when the job has no reason to be in-office.

      Your assumption about LW doing their side job during working hours is offensive and based on absolutely nothing but your own bias. Plenty of us went remote and got back hours each day we had been spending on commutes, which made side jobs much more successful. Wasting time going into an office when the work doesn’t need it makes work/life balance harder, and there’s no reason for you to shame someone that enjoys having that balance.

      I’ve been remote for many years (even before the pandemic) and I’m considered a highly productive and professional employee. People like me are not uncommon.

  2. Lizzo*

    LW2: Self-employment can be done, but it’s a much easier transition if you have 1) a strong professional network that can be a reliable source of referrals *and* 2) you have a client base before you jump ship.
    Also, I would do a LOT of research about costs of medical care if you’re not tethered to an employer’s plan. (Assuming you’re in the US.) Make sure whatever sort of prices you’re charging take into account those costs + saving for retirement + your real cost of living.

    1. L*


      I was self-employed for almost 6 years and while in some ways it was great, in others it was not. I am also disabled and healthcare was dreadful. I actually wound up having to file for bankruptcy after a medical emergency (which unfortunately cost me a lot of my clients as well). I think self-employment can go very well provided that you are a great planner and also a relatively lucky person, but in good conscience I can’t recommend it for most, and I would urge you to possibly look at other jobs that will accommodate you and your needs — they are out there! (I don’t mean this to sound flippant at all; it’s not as if they grow on trees, but they do exist.)

      Sending you lots of luck, and hopefully you will find a way out of your current toxic workplace sooner rather than later.

    2. Atomic Tangerine*

      I’ve been self employed for seven years. It can be wonderful and there’s no way I’d go back to working for anyone else. It’s also not for everyone.

      The biggest con is lack of income security. If you can’t work for a period of time because of illness or other circumstances (hello COVID), will you have any kind of safety net? Savings? A spouse or partner with predictable income? If you have employees, will you also be able to pay them if you can’t bring in revenue for a time?

      What is your tolerance for uncertainty? For periods of feast and famine? For being the one with the final responsibility to fix all the problems (hello terrible payroll software which I shall not name but has an acronym of three letters)?

      These are some of the things that have occasionally kept me up at night as a small business owner, but while three are days I sincerely wish I could collect my paycheck and go home, most of the time I love that I built something myself that makes the world a little better, earns me a living and even provides decent entry level jobs for a couple others. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. If you don’t have that “fire in your belly” about what you’re doing, or have low tolerance for uncertainty, I’d think hard about that.

      Good luck and if your decide it’s for you, wear your entrepreneur badge with pride and welcome to the club!

    3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      I’m self-employed too. I miss my colleagues and the commute (which was a bike ride through the most beautiful city in the world) but the freedom to just say, right I’m stopping there, I want to go swimming, and not have to be at the office twiddling my thumbs of a Monday morning is just heavenly. Also not having to negotiate time off and not getting flak for daring to be sick. I was so happy to not have to negotiate WFH and stuff during Covid.
      Of course clients sometimes expect you to be available all the time, but when I have to turn work down, I simply tell them I’m busy on another project. No matter whether the other project is actual work, or a family reunion, or me going on a dressmaking blitz to revamp my wardrobe.

  3. Zombeyonce*

    #4: I hope you’re reading all the great AAM resources on finding a new job. If you get offered the promotion, I wonder if it would be worth it to accept knowing that you’re just using it to get the title on your resume to find something somewhere else even though it would be underpaid.

    I tend to think that since it wouldn’t be something you’d (hopefully) do for long, it wouldn’t even make it on your resume in most cases, and starting a new position would likely tack on extra training time and stress that could hinder your job search. There are a lot of factors to consider!

  4. No more gravy*

    LW4 on the subject of leaving and coming back as a consultant.

    While this doesn’t apply to you (you have other wonderful plans), I’ve noticed an emerging tendency for corporates to have policies that specifically disallow this.

    1. Liv*

      The reason for this is likely to do with taxes and benefits. I believe there are some laws in certain states that basically say “if it walks like and employee, talks like an employee, and acts like an employee, then you have to treat them like an employee”, so you can’t just hire people as ‘consultants’ to get around giving them, dealing with taxes etc. So companies have policies that say if you leave the employer you can’t come back as a consultant so they don’t fall into this trap. Though technically you could come back as a consultant as long as the role you were performing was genuine consultancy and not just effectively your role under a different name.

  5. Frank*

    I really enjoyed reading the retiree’s update. It’s so rare to see somebody who has had an entire career in one institution. Good luck to you and enjoy the next chapter!

    1. Phillippe II*

      Thanks, it was close to all here. I started at a large city in AZ, left there after ~4 years to start up a program in the SF Bay Area, then came here after ~3 years there. So 32 of my almost 40 years have been for this employer.

      I’ve seen that people in this career field either spend about 3 years and move on, or they do it for life.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        My Dad starting working as an apprentice aged 14 in 1943, the war ended before he could be called up, then he stayed at the same company his entire working life. Got a gold watch when he retired, which he was pleased about.

  6. Filosofickle*

    For #2: I went from traditional employment to self-employment and in many ways thrived. For me it was by accident — I was laid off, couldn’t find a job, and my network brought me freelance gigs. From a couple decades in the future and with a late-life understanding that I am autistic and ADHD, I realize now that self-employment enabled me to intuitively create a life of accommodation. The most important things is I have been able to earn the same or more with fewer hours — most years, about half the hours and I mostly get to choose when. Having downtime and flexibility has meant everything to my personal well-being! Plus I control my work environment and don’t have to commute which is a relief to my sensory overwhelm. I will always struggle with the admin side, that part really sucks. But it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.

  7. Dawn*

    LW2: Speaking as a lifelong diabetic, it’s definitely important to sit down and do the math on how much you’re actually getting out of your benefits before choosing to be without them. Currently, I don’t earn a great wage, but my benefits are a significant bump when everything is taken into consideration.

    That said, you have to get out of there. I understand exactly how you feel regarding your patients – I sure need good and stable medical care in my life! – but they straight-up deceived you regarding the work (more than double what they said it would be! Oh my goodness!) and if you can’t make your own health appointments due to a lack of flexibility and having been lied to also about hybrid, your health is going to inevitably suffer and you might have to quit anyway under very different terms.

    You’re trying to do the conscientious thing, but it’s past time to bail. To misquote the song, you don’t have to work from home, but you can’t stay here.

    1. Tio*

      This. Private healthcare options often do not get the same amount of benefits/coverage for the same value. My mother owned her own business my whole life, and being an individual or small business means you don’t always get the same kind of discounts larger companies can. compare your deductible and coverage options very carefully and don’t forget to math out what a health crisis scenario on each plan would look like.

    2. Mad Harry Crewe*

      Yep. LW2, you cannot solve this organization’s problems with your fragile human body. Get out. Whether you go to self-employment or a new job, the place you’re working now is hurting you.

      You gotta put your own oxygen mask on first – if you wear yourself down trying to do this job, you will not provide good care for your patients.

  8. Phillippe II*

    LW for #5 here.

    The new guy has been here about 2 weeks and I feel much more comfortable about leaving than I did when I wrote the initial letter. He’s fitting into the office and management team well, he’s knowledgeable, and seems to have a similar management style. A bonus for some, he went to a university that’s a traditional rival for the local one that several of the managment team attended.

    I wrote about the difficult search. The day the announcement was published, 4 other agencies posted recruiting announcements for essentially the same position; within a week, there were 3 more.

    1. kitryan*

      Oh, this is your letter- I always read/enjoy your comments! Congrats on the upcoming retirement! If you do end up commenting less, I’m glad it will likely be because you’re having a blast in retirement :)

    2. Generic Name*

      Aw, congrats! I too have enjoyed your comments. It’s a rare thing anymore to stay at one employer that long. I wish you a happy retirement!

  9. Rosie*

    OP#2, I have a mild disability and am self employed, and it was a game changer for allowing me to work full time – a quick lie down in the middle of the day or ability to do physiotherapy exercises as needed can really change my quality of life. Not in the US so I can’t speak to the healthcare issues others have raised, but the flexibility of self employment really makes a difference to me.

  10. Michelle Smith*

    LW2: I’m a disabled person and I have been in therapy off and on since I was 18 (I’m 35). As a disabled person, traditional employment helps me have structure that I think would be a lot harder if I had to be my own boss (executive dysfunction). I just have an employer that’s reasonable about sick leave and flex hours. If I need to work remotely, no problem. If I need to work for 3 hours, take off for 2, come back and work more hours, that’s completely up to me. I just have to put up an away message if I’m going to be gone for a while during normal business hours and not able to look at my phone. I’m trusted to be an adult who does their job.

    As a person in therapy, I promise you, your patients will be okay. Sometimes therapists leave and I wish they hadn’t because it can be hard to build that connection again, but eventually I do build it. It’s okay to move on so that you can be better for yourself and your patients. In fact, it’s pretty important that you do so.

    1. Ali*

      I’m in a very similar boat! I also want to encourage LW that it’s ok to leave: therapist burnout is real both in private practice and elsewhere, and therapists are people too, who as you say, sometimes need to move on to take the best care of themselves.

      I also do best with structure but need flexibility for medical care, and I want to emphasize that those jobs exist—- my current job isn’t perfect but the money and insurance are good, and though the hours are long they can be rearranged when I need to. LW, you deserve this too.

  11. Kevin Sours*

    At some point the only way to navigate being underpaid is to accept that you are going to get it from your current organization and find somebody who will pay you.

  12. Me (I think)*

    #5, I am in a similar situation. We hired my replacement 18 months before my retirement date, which is highly unusual, and I could not be more thrilled. There’s a lot of institutional knowledge that I need to pass on, as this individual contributor role works with pretty much every other team in our department plus many others in the main org. The person we hired is doing an awesome job, and I’ll feel great leaving the institution in good hands after almost 30 years.

  13. AlwaysLurking*

    the last update’s offhand “I’ve already passed on my Chocolate Teapots Ltd travel mug” joke REALLY makes me want AAM merch! i would use the heck out of a Teapot Inspector or Llama Wrangler something or other. (i know i can make my own, and surely Alison has already thought of this and has reasons why not, but figured i’d mention!)

    1. Anonymosity*

      Alison used to have an online merch shop but it seems to have been phased out for whatever reason. I would also love to see it come back in some form. But it might be that it wasn’t a good return on the investment of time and money.

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