updates: the disrespectful trainee, I’m not productive every single minute of every day, 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. I have a disrespectful trainee (#3 at the link)

I ended up getting cross-trained in another department and was heavily considered for a promotion, I ended up getting passed over because I’m not old enough and not available to work full-time during school. While I was getting trained and considered for the promo, management stopped having me train the 16-year-old so I could focus on my own training but never assigned her another trainer. She ended up being understandably hurt and jealous, and while I was shadowing for the promotion I got a bit full of myself and was not as nice to her as I should have been. Her issues kept getting worse (she actually started coming into work hungover, the bad jokes and performance issues increased) and finally me and another coworker talked to her manager. The manager had a performance conversation with her and it definitely made a difference. The kid found out that I had something to do with her getting talked to and was obviously upset.

I ended up not getting promoted (the official reason was my age/availability but my rudeness towards the 16-year-old certainly didn’t help me) but I continue to train other new hires and still occasionally shadow my boss as well as the store manager to gain more experience. I recently applied for an internship with my company at the corporate level, I was encouraged to do so by both my boss and the store manager. Meanwhile the 16-year-old is hopefully going to get more cross-training over the summer. She and I certainly aren’t friends but the drama died down, we get along fine and work well together when we need to. The situation definitely didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped but all in all it was a decent outcome.

I learned a lot from the situation and I think it’s positively affected not only the way I train new people but also my attitude at work. I’ve come to realize that confronting problems early at work is healthy and that avoiding necessary conversations doesn’t help anyone.

2. I’m not productive every single minute of every day

So, basically: the whole thing was part of a pattern of mismanagement and problems with the company. I think a big part of the issue was that my manager did not actually understand what I did. Our roles didn’t actually overlap at all, and I was assigned to her simply because they wanted to give her someone to manage. (Always a great management strategy!) She wasn’t actually a very good manager in general, and an even worse one when she didn’t actually understand my job. A large part of my actual work ended up being supervised by one of our external consultants. (Yes, the use of past tense here is telling.) And because she didn’t actually understand what my job was or what my role entailed, the only way she had to try to understand whether I was doing my job was to check to see if I was busy every second of every day.

The whole thing came to head a few weeks after I sent my letter, where they kept asking me to do more work and I was trying to explain that there was simply not enough time in a week to accomplish what they wanted me to do. Even if I was productive every single minute of every day, what they wanted wasn’t possible. So they asked me to work overtime – unpaid, of course – which in my role was not legal. I pushed back, and a week or so later I was fired.

I think it was a lot of things combined that led to my being terminated. For one, yes, that they didn’t understand my role. But there were also culture issues. I’m non-binary and queer, and so I was constantly having to correct people on my pronouns. On one hand I was expected to educate people on every issue related to diversity, equity and inclusion, because I was the only person on our team who was “diverse,” but on the other they never liked what I had to say. In one meeting, I agreed with a co-worker who pointed out that a speaker we had at an event was perceived as racist by some of our staff and visitors, and our VP thought that was reverse racism.

I’ve been unemployed since June, and it’s been rough. I’ve had a couple interviews, but to be blunt: I’m depressed and demoralized, I’m dealing with a lot of stuff in my personal life, and I’m kind of a wreck in general. In a way being unemployed has been a blessing: between the severance and unemployment benefits I got for being fired without actual cause (because they couldn’t legally fire me for refusing to work unpaid overtime and for telling our management that racism might be bad), I’ve been able to take some badly needed time to just exist without feeling like I have to monetize every minute of my time. But it’s also just been awful, because, well, it is.

Unfortunately, that money is going to run out in the next few months, so I really need to find something soon. Hopefully I’ll eventually land new in the next little while (and not my mother’s couch!) and when that happens, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Update to the update:

When I wrote my last email, I was deeply depressed and struggling to find the motivation to even apply for jobs. The lack of routine from not working was disastrous for my mental health, and I was barely functional. I ended up volunteering to drive my mother to and from work every day, since she lives and works nearby, and it changed everything for me. The simple routine of getting up and getting in the car and driving her the 10 minutes to the office helped get me back on track.

I’m feeling enormously better, and it’s allowed me to really buckle down on the job search. I’ve put out several applications, and I’ve gotten interviews with nearly every one! I credit your cover letter advice. I was particularly proud of one one of them, which I’ve attached in case you’re interested.

I had a job interview today for a position I’m very excited about. It seems like a really good match for my skills, and a really good, inclusive environment. The interview seemed to go very well, and I followed up with a not-a-thank-you-note email expanding on some of my answers. The hiring manager responded right away saying how much she appreciated my note and that it really showed how the position aligns with my career path (with multiple exclamation points), so I’m as optimistic as I can be. And if that one doesn’t work out, I have two more interviews on Monday!

3. Should I correct my chair about the low amount I’m paid?

We do indeed have a new chair of our department now. When, a few months ago, my partner got sick with Covid and I emailed my chair to give him a heads up (as far as my availability and possibility of me getting sick, etc.) he wrote back so nice and concerned and said “let me know if there’s anything I can do to help while you deal with this.” It rather blew my mind, having my chair show warm, human concern for me.

I just feel … less stressed, in general, around my office. (I’m no longer afraid to take sick leave! I’m not feeling resentful of being asked to do extra work (because I’m NOT being asked to do more work).)

So not a huge update, but it really does have an effect to have someone in charge who isn’t a jerk.

4. Management says a coworker is working from home when she actually quit (#2 at the link)

Three months after you posted my question the company was purchased by another company and all 160 employees were terminated. The new owners still operate the business, but maintain no actual office in my state. Most current workers are basically working from home offices out in Nevada.

{ 48 comments… read them below }

  1. Gresham*

    Letter #1:

    Your 16 year old coworker was showing up to work hung over. Are you in the US? Even if you are in a country where the drinking age is 16, I think that your former trainee might have problems interfering with her performance that are way above your job grade to solve. Continue to be interact constructively with her going forward, but also recognize that there may be limits to how much positive impact you can have.

    1. Zorak*

      That stood out to me too; a 16 year old having a hangover is… not unprecedented, but not a great sign. In their early 20s, I’m thinking, they’re young, they’re dumb, they’ll learn. But 16 gives off more of a “troubled home life” vibe.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Yeah – coming hungover to work at 16 makes me worry there are bigger concerns than the professionalism.

      2. amoeba*

        In my country (where beer and wine are legal from age 16), it would not be super unusual, at least. I mean, if it happens regularly, for sure. But 16-18 would be a very common age to have your first experiences with drinking at parties with friends and not knowing your limits, so if it happened once or twice, that’s what I’d assume.

  2. Avery*

    OP 2, I’m glad to hear from you. I’ve always related to your letter, and when I first read it, I too had a manager who nitpicked my work largely because she didn’t know how else to manage. And as it happens, I too am nonbinary! (Though in my case, that didn’t relate to the management issue in any obvious way; both that workplace and my current one have been surprisingly matter-of-fact about the whole thing.)
    Weirdly, it’s helped me to move into the legal field, even though billable hours is very similar to the concept of “tracking how much you’re working”… but there are clear standards regarding what counts as work, and most importantly, how many billable hours you’re expected to work, which is NOT 100% of your scheduled workday. (In my case, it’s 2/3rds of my actual workday, which seems like a reasonable balance to me.)
    Wishing you best of luck on those interviews. The right job for you is out there, I’m sure of it!

    1. tw1968*

      Is there any way you can report them for firing you for not working unpaid overtime? The discrimination is a whole other thing but depending on what crappy conservative state you reside in (like mine) they may not care. But they should care about firing you for not working for free!

      1. Not Always Productive OP*

        Theoretically, I could have, but I instead used that to negotiate a larger severance package. Part of the fine print is that I’m not allowed to file a complaint, but I was able to get some additional funds to hold me out until I find something new.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          OP, I’m so sorry your old job turned out to be so awful but I’m rooting for you to get the new job! Also the fact that you volunteered to drive your mother to and from work just warms my heart. Best of luck! (Or “beat of lick,” as someone wrote in a review of one of my favorite podcasts.)

          1. Not Always Productive OP*

            It’s unfortunate because I really liked the *work*, but everything else turned out to be terrible. I have a second interview with my first-choice employer on Thursday, so keep your fingers crossed (and beats licked, apparently!) for me.

    2. Not Always Productive OP*

      That’s good to know, thank you! In fact, one of my interviews today was with a law firm!

    3. Anonanon9*

      I work in the legal field, and our minimum daily billable requirement is 3/4 of the actual workday.

  3. Czhorat*

    From OP1, I’m impressed with your willingness to look in the mirror and see that you were starting to believe your own press releases a bit too much; the damage with your earlier trainee might not be reparable, but it seems you’ll do better next time.

    That’s all any of us could really hope for. Good luck in your next steps

    1. Researchalator Lady*

      I agree, OP1 does seem self-aware. The sentence “The kid found out…” struck me as a bit offside, though. This young woman is 16, and OP is a high school senior, so is 18 or 19? I know at that age you want to claim every bit of your maturity but calling someone two years younger a “kid” seems not very respectful, imo.

      1. jonquil*

        This could also be region-specific, in my experience. For example, I went to college in a part of the US where for whatever reason everyone “young” was referred to as a kid, even college students referring to each other. When I went back to my home in a different region and referred to folks in that age as kids, my friends were scandalized!

        It also sounds like the 16 year old is… acting like a kid (if a troubled one), tbh.

      2. Zorak*

        Kid is more of an affectionate/ half-jokey thing often though. I mean, a 16 year-old literally is a kid, but also it’s often common to frame anyone your age or younger as a kid (or as e.g. “A boy/girl in my class” even in college) until late 20’s at least. It’s not disrespectful, it’s just a colloquial convention.

      3. Enby's mom*

        Another perspective: “Kid” is a gender neutral word for a person who is not old enough to vote. I happen to prefer teenager, but “kid” is how my teenager usually refers to their friends.

        1. Ellis Bell*

          Yeah all my teenage students call each other kid and this is taken as a standard description of “one of us” or “non adult”.

      4. Czhorat*

        I saw that as part of OP’s issue; seeing themselves as bigger than they are. To be fair it also FEELS like a much bigger gap at that point then it does to us. To a 19 year old a 16 year old is quite young; there are big changes over those years.

        From where we stand as adults, they’re both very young.

        1. Here for the Insurance*

          I agree with Czhorat and Researchalator Lady. It’s a bit condescending. Actually, it’d be condescending if OP was significantly older; being that close in age makes it slightly absurd. “Seeing themselves as bigger than they are” captures it perfectly. And it’s not a slam against OP; everyone does stuff like this at that age. Lord knows I was awful and not nearly as put together as OP. They’re off to a great start, this is just a blip.

  4. WoodswomanWrites*

    #1, you are off to an incredible start in your career. It’s clear that you are committed to learning from mistakes and growing into new responsibilities, and that reflection is already standing you in good stead with your employer. They are impressed with you as evidenced by having you shadow the store manager, encouraging you to apply for an internship, and having you train new employees.

    Everyone messes up at work sometimes. The key is that you recognized it, responded appropriately, and have continued to do excellent work. That’s what impresses employers and makes them trust you, and opens up more professional opportunities. You’re doing great and this all benefit you in the work world long-term. Good luck with everything!

  5. You down with OP3? Yeah you know me!*

    Hi all! It’s OP3, the person with the former chair who was a jerk! I had another not-big sort of update since I wrote in.

    I live about 40 minutes from my office. When the roads are really bad in the winter, like if there’s a huge winter storm, I won’t go in, even if the campus is not closed, because it’s dangerous and I’m not risking my car (or my life). I find ways to do things remotely with students, and/or I take a sick day.

    Several years ago Former Chair told me that there was no formal university policy on how days like that should be handled, but if I’m not literally sick, I can’t take a sick day–so he decided I need to take leave without pay if the weather stops me from coming in. Again, to be clear: there is no official policy, he made that clear, so he just chose the most drastic choice. (I am friends with a chair in another college at our university, who assured me this is NOT standard.)

    Fast forward to now, with New Chair. There was a big snowstorm two weeks ago, and I couldn’t make it in. When I talked to New Chair about it the next day, I explained the alternate stuff I’d done with my students, and said I’d take a sick day. He paused–and I was like, oh, jeez, he’s going to say I should take leave without pay–then he said, “You worked from home, if you were doing stuff with your students. You shouldn’t have to take a sick day on a day you did work!”

    It blew my mind. I am really not used to having a compassionate person as chair.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      I worry that having such a terrible boss for so long warped your sense of office norms. Being paid because you actually did work from home is expected (and really, the legal thing to do since you should always be paid for your work). Your new boss saying to let them know if you need anything while you’re out sick is also pretty normal.

      Right now you’ve got an incredibly low bar for good management and that could hurt you down the road. Treating you like a respected employee is the minimum! Don’t settle for less than the minimum again and recognize that many bosses are doing way more than this. Not to say your new boss isn’t great, just that you can raise the bar here for a good boss by huge amounts and know that you deserve it.

      1. You down with OP3? Yeah you know me!*

        Yeah, it helps that I have a partner and several friends also in academia, all going “he’s a jerk, this isn’t normal!” But I do think you have a point. However, I’m not looking to shift jobs any time soon. I’ll get plenty of years with New Nice Normal Chair to hopefully help me get used to normalcy. (Honestly my only plans to ever leave this job would be if my side business takes off enough that it could replace my salary–that’s my goal, but I’m definitely years away from that being feasible. Otherwise I’m happy to keep teaching at the same place. There are perks: I work at the same university as my partner, I know how things work, I mostly get along with my coworkers, and I’m able to arrange my schedule how I want, I’ve taught these particular science classes so many times that I’ve got it down to a science, so to speak.)

    2. GrantSpector*

      I’d like to imagine that the pause was his brain trying to calculate what would possess you to think you needed to take a sick day when you did your job. Just imagining him sitting there with his brain in Blue Screen mode at the idea of how…backwards thinking the previous boss’s policy was.

    1. Someone Online*

      Yeah – and volunteering to drive? Really smart way to get out of the house, get some routine, and make sure there are some social connections.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Yeah, I love that. Whenever Alison recommends someone volunteer at an organization in a field you’re interested in moving to I always think that’s a great idea, but here it is proven that just volunteering for anything at all can often be helpful too, because sometimes just getting out of the house and having even a small amount of social interaction is what we need. (And the fact that it’s OP’s mom just totally warms my little grinchy heart!)

        1. Not Always Productive OP*

          It’s kind of nice, honestly. We used to work very nearby one another, so we’d walk to work together. These days it’s -30C so driving her to and from work gets me up and out of bed and productive without much time away from the rest of my day.

    2. Not Always Productive OP*

      Thank you so much. I have a second/final interview with my first choice employer on Thursday, so here’s hoping it goes well!

  6. foobar*

    While I laud LW #1 for reflecting inward, calling the 16-year-old a “kid” when they’re probably just a year or two older feels strange and oddly patronizing…

  7. Jessica*

    LW1, you’ve learned a valuable lesson very early in your working life that many people never grasp. Good for you. :-)

  8. TimeTracking*

    Most places I’ve worked that required tracking had you track in 15 minute increments (a small percentage used 30 minutes). It was usually up to you to decide exactly how to split it if things didn’t fit exactly (one place provided some guidance on this). A quick trip to grab a drink or use the bathroom or briefly say hello to someone typically got absorbed into the task surrounding it; long breaks like a real lunch break or a communal watch your favorite TV show in an employee lounge or kitchen area or a midmorning trip to the coffee shop two blocks away obviously were outside the tracking. If your boss is singling you out for this time I suspect it might be because everyone else is doing something like what I describe where the 3-4-5 minute tasks are absorbed into the middle of 45 minute work tasks.

  9. Not Australian*

    “it really does have an effect to have someone in charge who isn’t a jerk”

    That actually encapsulates a good 50% of the situations that come up on this site!

  10. Mark*

    #2 brought back memories of two former co-workers here. Both said they were over-worked and said there was no possible way any one person can get everything done that they had to do. Both were terminated. In both cases, their replacements were regularly asking for more duties because there wasn’t enough to keep them busy! Sometimes it’s not a case of someone being overworked but rather either a case of working too slowly or not being organized.

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