updates: the birthday drama, the company swag that doesn’t fit, 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 new hire asked if I was mad because I didn’t wish him a happy birthday

Thank you for your advice earlier this year. This update is a bit of a bumpy one. Bottom line up front: three months later, none of the people in the original letter still work at that firm.

I did wind up smoothing over the birthday-specific interaction, using the breezy approach you recommended. You mentioned in your response to my letter that you assumed there would be other areas where my direct report would need guidance. This turned out to be the case. There were a number of really odd incidents with this employee that showed he needed training on how to act in a professional environment. But none of them rose to the level of the concerns I had with respect to his work and the level of time and effort he was putting in.

Ultimately over the course of three months, my direct report didn’t work a full 40-hour work week once — despite direct feedback in which I shared with him verbally, and later in writing, that full-time effort and presence were a requirement for this job. He had a series of reasons for being unable to be present that, each taken individually, were reasonable (like the birthday!) but amounted to a pattern of working about 30 hours a week total. In some companies, roles, or seasons that level of effort would be OK, but not at that job. During the same time period, everyone else on the same client services team was pulling regular 50+ hour weeks due to the combination of an unrealistically high workload, covering for him, as well as covering for the team lead we had lost.

Some of the commenters also pointed out that the team lead’s sudden passing was actually the biggest issue in the letter, and I agree. (It isn’t what I wrote to you about because it was less within my sphere of influence.) The firm’s leadership really botched the handling of the team lead’s passing away, including but not limited to making the team take personal days — not bereavement — to attend the memorial service. It was thanks to the unrealistically high workload I mentioned, combined with the severe mismanagement of the team lead’s passing, that I connected with my network and found a job with another firm. I am now working with people I know and trust, at a pace where 40 (not 55) hour weeks are the norm, and my commute is less than half of what it was. My former direct report was let go a week after my last day after he failed to meet the PIP I had written for him.

The situation was complicated and definitely a learning experience. I’m very happy with where I’ve landed.

2. We were offered company-branded clothing … in sizes that don’t fit me (#2 at the link; first update here)

I’ve been at my new job for almost 5 months and it is glorious. GLORIOUS.

While I’m still the only person with Teapot Engineer in their title, I have many coworkers perfectly capable of doing the work, and more than willing to lend a hand. So I’m no longer in a position where I feel like if I don’t do it, no one can. Someone can, someone will.

More than that, my manager is extremely protective of my time and energy. I’m a consultant now, which means booked hours, billable hours, the whole shebang. When resourcing sends an email asking if I have availability for November when I’m booked at 102% capacity, he will immediately respond before I get a chance to, letting them know that I don’t have the availability and often suggesting others who can take the work on. We have regular check-ins, and he has made it very clear he wants to make sure I’m doing the work I WANT to do, not just the work that needs done (within reason, of course). He also encourages me to take PTO (which is a mindset shift I’m still working on, but getting there). We have unlimited, and from what I’ve seen most people are taking 2 weeks or more over the course of the year. Plus just . . . so many paid holidays. Like banker levels of paid holidays.

There are multiple mechanisms for giving praise and recognition here, and people are generous with that (without drifting towards “damning with faint praise”). Knowing that my work is recognized and appreciated is going a LONG way towards helping with the burnout I was experiencing.

My new company is headquartered in another state, with hybrid models for people living near the offices, and remote for everyone else. They have clearly put thought and effort into how to build an actual work culture around remote work, and it is so helpful. There’s a book club! There are multiple slack channels around various interests, including pet pictures! Everyone has always been extremely welcoming and responsive to any questions I have. If I don’t know who knows the answer, I know someone who will know the right person to ask.

I’ve only been to HQ a couple of times, but everyone was very kind and just excited to be working there. And no one expounded on the calorie count of the pizza they chose to order for the office for lunch.

3. Using personal laptops at work (#3 at the link)

I wrote in during the speed round about possibly being asked to bring my personal laptop to work when we transitioned from WFH to in office work. Not an interesting update but I did not end up asking my boss about nor did I have to assume it was or was not happening. My boss ended up asking me before the transition if I had a laptop I’d like to bring into work or if I would like a desktop set for me. I took the desktop option. What’s interesting to me is that I’m in the minority. Of the other people working in my area, only one other person works from a desktop. Everyone else brings their laptop and takes it home every day they work. I haven’t completely disconnected my personal laptop from work though as I still WFH one day a week.

4. I’m hypersensitive to criticism — how do I fix this?

I have had this email in my drafts folder for a while now, and I’ve kept updating it over the past year or so, but I am finally here with an update I am proud of.

It’s been a while, I know, I know. I’ve actually had a few jobs since the last letter, all within my field, which has been great. But, yeesh, just loving your field shockingly doesn’t fully fix your mental health (what a surprise — not). My first in-field job I left for professional reasons, and to try my hand in a more niche field. However, in that second job, I was harshly critiqued over just about everything I did by an inexperienced micromanager (which honestly could be its own post). Being there pushed me over the edge. My anxiety was generalized to everything from waking up in the morning, to going to sleep just knowing I had to go back to work in the morning. My previously in-remission-ish eating disorder showed up again in full force, and I was crying almost every night after work. That was the breaking point, and I finally started therapy and anti-anxiety medication almost a year ago, which I have probably needed for about 9 years if I’m being honest with myself.

And guess what? I quit that job, and I got one where I felt valued and supported (they even paid me for my time when interviewing, which is unheard of in my field). A few weeks into the new job, I unexpectedly received some constructive feedback, and I began to cry. I briefly explained that I was in therapy, asked them to ignore it, and carried on the conversation. They were really understanding about it, which was a night-and-day difference from my last job.

Anyhow, it turns out that my current job likes me back – they shortened my probation period, and at my 6 month review yesterday, I didn’t cry AT ALL! I handled the mix of positive and constructive feedback with only a very minimal hot/teary sensation for a moment, and was able to listen and engage with the information that was presented to me.

I’m sorry if this is coming out all disorganized. I always wanted to write back to you, and let you know I was okay, but I wanted to have a real “victory” first to share with everyone.

Thank you for the original reply, too. I returned to it many times to draw strength from the advice and from the outpouring of empathy from the commenters.

To anyone who is struggling quietly, who does not think that their hardships are “bad enough”, or who thinks that their maladaptive coping mechanisms “work for them” – you are worthy of help and guidance. Talk to your doctor, a trusted friend or even to an online hotline if you can’t bring yourself to talk in real life just yet. You deserve good mental and physical health.

Love from,
A mind that is more at ease

{ 44 comments… read them below }

  1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    “Love from,
    A mind that is more at ease”

    This gave me such a warm feeling, like
    my whole body was smiling. I want this for everyone.

    1. ferrina*

      Er…that’s a very strange sentiment from a Filthy Vulgar Mercenary :D

      But yes! So happy for LW 4. That kind of ingrained childhood anxiety is so hard to come back from, and when a bad workplace cuts into wounds that are still healing….LW, I’m so happy for you! Great job finding a rational, reasonable workplace that treats you with respect. You deserve it! You’re doing great!

  2. JelloStapler*

    HUGE hug to #4 from someone who also battles being hypersensitive. Great work getting help and seeing the improvement in your approach. That’s fantastic!

    Also, I really love the last paragraph.

    and, Elijah… you ok?

  3. CharChar*

    All of these make me happy and biggest hug to #4, it sounds like your brain is healing from the bad environment =)

  4. ferrina*

    Yay LW 2! Your former CEO sounded like The Worst in so many ways. Glad you moved to somewhere much more sane and healthy. Hope you enjoy that PTO!

  5. Richard Hershberger*

    LW3: I am genuinely mystified why anyone would prefer to use a laptop, much less to bring in their own every day. With a desktop you can easily get a much better keyboard, and almost automatically a larger monitor. The only advantage of a laptop is portability. This seems to be a weird generational thing, where The Kidz regard desktops like dinosaurs, like landlines and cranks to fire up the Model T. But desktops are objectively superior in situations where portability is not a factor. Also, the company is paying for it. Beating up your own laptop to avoid the horror? This seems poorly thought out.

    1. Just Another Fed*

      I wouldn’t be willing to use my personal computer for work purposes for data security and wear and tear reasons, but most people I know who work on laptops connect them to full-sized monitors and keyboards. Sometimes two or three monitors, even.

    2. Erie*

      Portability was a factor at my last job – I was always carrying my laptop around to meetings and to colleagues’ desks to sort out issues. We hotdesked, so I didn’t even really have my own work station. In a more classic work environment I prefer the setup I will have at my next job: laptop and monitor/keyboard. Portability + no destroying your neck or squinting at a small screen.

      1. Phryne*

        Agreed. I have a work laptop, but both at work and at home I have an external monitor (we flexdesk, but almost all desks have a monitor on it), and keyboard. I also have a laptop stand at both places so I can use the laptop screen as a second monitor. The keyboard and laptop stand go into a locker at the end of the dat at work, the only things that travel are the laptop and the mouse. And it is very easy to take just the laptop into a meeting or a cabin for a call and then go back to my desk and plug in the rest of the equipment.
        This is perfect as far as I’m concerned, both at home and work I use the same machine, so all installed programs I need and settings always the same, and I don’t use my own desktop (which I only use for gaming) for work.
        The work laptop is way more expensive and fast than I would even bother buying for myself too.

    3. Llama Llama*

      Granted, I would never be willing to use my own personal laptop but I do utilize a laptop for work and just plug it in to get a monitor, mouse, etc.

      I can’t help but think it’s a horrible idea for a company to allow people to use personal laptops but alas not my company, not my risk.

      1. Al*

        My (remote) company uses laptops, but—for security reasons—actively forbids using personal devices instead of company-issued ones.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          My government job specifically tells people to keep work & personal devices separate for security & other reasons. But my work laptop plugs into a docking station tied to multiple monitors.

          1. bookworm*

            weirdly, my government job made a halfhearted attempt to encourage people to use their own cell phones rather than be issued a separate one for work purposes– basically just arguing that by doing so we could feel good about saving taxpayers money. They don’t offer any reimbursement for using your own phone, though, and would require you to install a bunch of extra security/monitoring software on it, all for the privilege of being at risk of your personal device getting caught up in some kind of record request, audit, or legal proceeding. I can’t imagine anyone actually making that deal.

            But similarly, I have a work laptop that I hook up to monitors at work and home. The work monitors are government issue, and I bought my own monitor/dock/keyboard etc for home. I do enough work travel that I really like having a laptop. Some of my coworkers have gone a step further and have work-issued tablets that similarly hook up to docking stations, but I do enough analytical work that I’d be worried about a tablet not having enough computational firepower.

    4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      The Kidz regard desktops like dinosaurs, like landlines and cranks to fire up the Model T.

      I’ve had a few dead batteries and wished my car had the backup crank–even if I can’t turn it, *someone* can. Despite driving manual, I never have tried the push-start manoeuvre.

      Agreed on desktops/towers over notebooks. I don’t mind using my own hardware, but no matter who owns it, a notebook is usually the worst of all worlds.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        A laptop with a docking station can work… if it’s a higher end laptop. But a chromebook or other underpowered laptop is just horrible to work on. When you load a spreadsheet and it slows to a crawl? Time to get a desktop with lots of cores and RAM.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I used to think that until I tried it… worked well until the motherboard failed. A tower/desktop? Sure, a few hundred dollars and a day’s elbow grease and I can recover from that, but that notebook became a paperweight overnight. Failing RAM/storage is about all that a notebook can recover from gracefully.

          Now, if I need something to come with me, it’s a tablet or Chromebook and I’ll vnc into a real computer for heavy lifting.

      2. bookworm*

        My wife and I got a rechargable portable jump starter as a wedding gift off our registry. We knew we made a good decision to include it because it was purchased for us by a family friend who’s an auto mechanic. It has saved our butts several times, and allowed us to help other people out of jams without all the rigamarole of a car battery to car battery jump start. Highly recommend! You can find ones starting in the ~$50-$75 range.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Once they started becoming mainstream and affordable, I did the same; one in each vehicle along with a vehicle-powered tire inflator. I agree; each are worth their weight in silver.

          But the broke college student I once was would still have liked that crank in the age of NiCd batteries.

      3. Princesss+Sparklepony*

        I had a flashback to teen years over the push-start maneuver. My dad always had beater cars for the kids to share. One of them was having a problem with starting, you had to push it and then start it when it was rolling. Not so fun times. Since I was younger and didn’t have my license, I and my slightly older sister would have to get the car moving while the oldest was at the wheel – pro tip: rock it to get it moving.

        Another one didn’t have reverse. My dad’s advice was don’t go too far forward. When it finally died on the freeway and they towed it to the nearest garage, the owner/mechanic gave my dad an earful for entrusting his precious cargo to a car that was not in proper working shape. The lecture took a little. The next car was in slightly better shape.

    5. OP3*

      I don’t understand it either and I haven’t asked any of my co-workers as it isn’t any of my business. The only thing I can think of is that it’s a Windows vs Mac thing. I’ve only ever used Windows and knew from a coworker who never worked from home that the company uses Windows on the computers they buy. If you’re a MAC user and you know this about the company, that might be reason enough to risk it?

    6. learnedthehardway*

      I have both, and much prefer to do serious work on my desktop. The laptop is fine for (at most) travel or sitting in front of a TV while doing some light work at night. But for stuff that needs real attention, I want to have multiple screens and to be able to read what is on them.

      I ended up getting an external monitor for my laptop so I could use it while working during a trip to help my parents last summer, and even that isn’t as good as having 2 full-size screens and a full size keyboard.

      My kids, on the other hand – well, one managed his job search on his smart phone. I can’t figure out how that was even possible.

    7. turquoisecow*

      My company got taken down by a malware attack so they’re very cautious about security and have stressed that we should not use our work laptops for personal things due to the risk to the company. It baffles me that a) people would use their own machines, paid for with their own money b) people are willing to mix business and personal like that, but also c) that their HR and IT teams are okay with this.

    8. IT worker*

      Docking stations are a godsend, and using laptops makes flexwork a lot easier (I’m certainly not about to lug around a desktop on the train when I work from home!)

      But desktops are still plenty popular with The Kidz because their larger size makes them more suited for resource intensive work (and gaming) pretty much by definition – yes, good hardware is becoming smaller and there are some pretty powerful laptops out there, but the really high-end stuff will always be bigger.

      Chromebooks, however, can go up in flames for all I care. Horrendous buggers are more trouble than they’re worth (literally). Never thought we’d consider “the sixties but over the internet” a revolution in computing.

    9. Allonge*

      If they are working hybrid, and work does not provide laptops, I can see an argument for it being a pain to have two different setups (e.g. if you save docs on the computer hard drive and not a networked drive, last documents opened, bookmarks etc). Our VPN v. office network has a few quirks and it’s already annoying.

      That said, I have no idea why a company would let people work on their private devices, it’s an insane security risk. For our people who do e.g. video editing or anything that is too hard on our normal laptops, we bought two desktops, one for the office, one for home.

    10. allathian*

      A laptop with external monitors and keyboard are perfect. I touch type, and vastly prefer a proper keyboard that can be slanted easily, and moreover has a numpad, over the pathetic keyboards most laptops have. I’ve never come to terms with a touchpad, either.

      I use translation memory software that isn’t too resource-intense, and office applications. All of our internal HR etc. applications are browser-based, so a standard laptop works fine for me.

      At the office I have two 23-in monitors, at home I use one 32 in 4K monitor, big enough to show my translation memory software, Outlook, web browser, and Teams at once, with a big enough font size not to cause any eyestrain for me. When I’m not working, I use the same monitor and another keyboard/mouse with my own desktop computer. The monitor has more than one cable, so I don’t have to keep connecting and reconnecting them. Obviously it’d be easier with two laptops and a proper docking station, but I’m good with this arrangement.

      I have a work-issued laptop and phone, and using personal devices for work stuff is basically a fireable offense. Government, so it won’t happen immediately, but definitely a warning for a first offense. It could be a cause for immediate firing if using your personal devices causes a sufficiently serious security risk.

    11. JustaTech*

      The major reason I switched form my work-supplied desktop to a work-supplied laptop was to be able to take it home when we first started having limited WFH privileges (very useful when we then had a terrible snowstorm that kept everyone home for days).

      At work and at home I dock my laptop and use a nice big monitor (two at work) and a proper keyboard with number pad.
      Really the advantage I get from the laptop over a desktop day-to-day is that the laptop has a built in webcam for video calls (even if the microphone is so terrible that I have to use my personal headphones if anyone is going to hear me).

      There is one piece of software that is horrendously slow, but when I checked it on a desktop it didn’t seem appreciably faster (though the VPN makes it worse, like 15 minutes to generate the file worse).
      I also like having the option of taking my computer into the lab with me if I’m doing something that just involves babysitting an instrument, so I can keep getting work done while I wait for it go to “ping!”.
      Unlike most of my coworkers I don’t use my computer to take notes in meetings (I know my ADHD brain well enough to know this would result in me not paying any attention at all), but I do use it if I need to give a presentation or something.

      Now, if I had to work with really big files regularly, then I might have a reason to request a powerful desktop. But I might just ask to have some space on a server and remote in.

    12. TrixM*

      I’ve been an IT professional for over 25 years – I have an average-spec laptop from work, which I hook up to my own mechanical keyboard, mouse and monitors.

      So, nothing to do with being “young” – everything to do with the fact that I do very little work directly on the laptop, other than write docs and read email. Otherwise, I’m using nicely-specced servers as jumpboxes, and enjoying the benefits of not having to stress about getting tools installed locally, much more grunt, and better network speeds, since I’m working “in” the datacentres.

  6. Squirrel!*

    I completely understand why the Letter Writers don’t post where they work (so no need to explain it to me), but don’t you wish you could know which companies they were talking about when they have such great updates, like LW #2? That workplace sounds magical, especially all those paid holidays! What a great place to end up after all of that.

  7. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

    Yayy everyone, but especially #4 – I can’t tell you how happy I am to hear this.

  8. TG*

    love the cry update – I was in the same boat and would cry at criticism and feel hot and uncomfortable. I realized I’ve been so browbeaten at a previous job and not valued that it really carried on with me. I’ve been in therapy for quite some time and I’m now able to handle criticism without batting an eyelash and having a constructive discussion. The removal of the stress and upset has been a huge weight off of me and I hioe and it sounds like it’s the same for you now

  9. Jules the 3rd*

    OP4: I have a little teary sensation myself, reading your update, but it’s happy tears. The journey is long and hard (I have been in treatment for OCD for about a decade now), but it’s worth making. May yours continue to be better on average, with the tough days few and far between.

  10. Michelle Smith*

    LW4: I teared up in a happy way reading your update. You’re a rockstar and I wish you nothing but the best of all things from here on out!

  11. hillsandgills*

    LW4: I’m so happy for you! This update made me tear up a little (but in a happy way lol) and I’m cheering for you from the sidelines!

  12. Slow Gin Lizz*

    Great update from everyone and especially LW4! I agree, you don’t need to go it alone when things are tough and it’s important to know that there are ways of getting the help you need. Sure, it’s hard to get help when you are struggling but if you know help can be had maybe that makes it a little easier to start trying. Hooray for all the updates here!

  13. EttaPlaceInBolivia*

    LW4, thank you for updating! I could have written a letter much like your initial letter. I am a teacher, and I was sent home this week for having blood pressure in stroke range. I’ve never had high BP ever before, but it was entirely from uncontrolled anxiety–my doctor confirmed it when I saw him the day after I was sent home. I’ve started medication and therapy, but reading updates like yours remind me that no matter how much you LOVE your job (and I LOVE working with my students!), you don’t owe your literal life to it. Thank you for being an example of healthier boundaries for your fellow anxious overachievers.

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