it’s your Friday good news

It’s your Friday good news!

1.  “This week I took advantage of their line manager’s holiday to pop in on 1:1s for my skip-level junior team and catch up with them (something I don’t get to do often enough with 8 direct reports of my own and C-level strategy responsibilities) including one relatively new hire who has been floundering. This was meant to be a fairly serious conversation — based on her manager’s last feedback, I had prepped my HR rep earlier this week for a failure to pass probation pathway, which is never fun, but looked like our best case scenario.

When I looked more closely at her training portfolio, though, something was nagging at me that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. So I went into today’s meeting and channelled Alison. I said I’d heard from her line manager and her mentor and her teammates and now I wanted to hear from her how she thought her probation was going. She hesitated a minute and visibly fought back tears, so I gently reminded her that I genuinely wanted to know how she felt about it.

She opened up and within minutes it was clear that what I had before me was not an individual performance problem, but a management style mismatch. We talked for another half hour and put together a concrete plan for getting her into a better place emotionally and professionally, leaving her with a to do list (and me with a ‘things to coach’ list with her line manager and mentor). She left our call looking like a weight had lifted and jumped straight into her next task (which I’ve just had back from her for review, and it’s excellent!) and I am reminded that managing people is a skill and it can be just as rewarding as the subject matter expertise I gave up to do this (which is fresh in my mind, because I’ve also been dabbling in that this week).

For this I have to thank you, Alison, for teaching me that 95% of workplace issues are in fact communication problems, and the Ask A Manager commentariat who have so patiently explained, time and time again how to measure what’s important to the job vs what it is easy to measure.”

2.  “I started my current job two years ago at a time when the company had gone from 25 employees to 3 over the course of about two months. They had just taken several new large contracts and hired a team of us to help create infrastructure and systems going forward. We had all new leadership and energy and I specialize in creating systems, so it felt like a great fit.

When I arrived, my new boss had no idea I was hired and was very surprised to meet me. Within the first few weeks it was clear that everyone on the leadership team hated each other and the Executive Director really had no idea how to run an organization. He had previously been a manager of a summer camp and treated all of his staff like teen-age camp counselors. Every system we tried to implement was shot down, as the Executive Director didn’t want anything in writing so no one could prove anything if we made a mistake! There are three of us without Master’s degrees, and we are all treated like second class citizens, which is disheartening. I’ve been building up my savings so I can cut back to a part time job and go to school to get my Bachelor’s degree. I’ve given my notice. They are bending over backwards to make sure I get my end of year bonuses because they are already asking me if I will contract with them as needed, because no one really knows how to do what I do. I don’t know if I’ll jump in later to help, but right now I am excited at this new chapter in my life, and I really value what I’ve learned by working with this level of dysfunction. It’s not a lesson you can learn any way but by surviving it.”

3.  “For the last three years, I had been working for one of the most prestigious companies in my industry. During that time, I had been a temp whose contract kept getting extended over and over until they suddenly let me go because ‘we can’t keep temps forever’ legal reasons. Up until this point I kept getting comments like ‘we value you so much, you’re basically part of our staff’ from management. Even after this news, I was told, ‘You are one of our most productive employees so please come back in 3 months when we can hire you again.’ Meanwhile, multiple other colleagues were getting offers for full time positions within the department. I wrote so many drafts to you Alison, asking, ‘Am I right to be upset at what happened to me?’

I’m not proud of what I did, but I decided to come back after those 3 months to try and prove to someone (hint – it was myself) that I was good enough to get a full time offer within the next chunk of employment there. I lasted about 6 more months, and I was miserable at least half the time I was there. I would wake up in the middle of the night often, fighting for my right to belong in that office.

I got a therapist to deal with the stress, and she ended up being worth her weight in gold. I knew my relationship with this company was messed up, but she really gave me the strength to do something about it.

Near the middle of my contract, my manager told me that they weren’t even sure they could extend me this time because of budget constraints. I took them at their word and started to look for a new job. I found a fantastic (full-time!!) role at a smaller company, and they were so excited to have me on their team. I hadn’t felt that needed in years. I also ended up getting an extension offer after all — you should have seen the looks on management’s faces when I politely declined.

I have now been at my new company for about a month, and I am so happy here! It has been a big adjustment for my confidence, and I am so much more at ease. It doesn’t just feel like a privilege that I get to work here; they need me just like I need them. I will never know if I was ‘good enough’ for the prestigious company, and I am so relieved that it’s finally Not My Problem.

For anyone out there, remember that a perfect job is not worth sacrificing your mental health and self esteem. You deserve a happy life, and you deserve to feel valued. And you deserve to have a restful night’s sleep!”

{ 52 comments… read them below }

  1. mopsy*

    OP1 — Love your approach to this, and I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve seen a happy news friday about someone else that you work with!

  2. Higgs Bison*

    On #2 did they downsize and then grow again or am I misunderstanding something about the beginning of the letter?

    1. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

      Oh, that’s how I took it – that a lot of people had left and therefore a lot of new people had been recruited. But maybe not!

    2. OP #2*

      It was pretty epic. They fired 22 people, keeping only three. Then they were awarded some very large contracts that the former employees had applied for. Once they had the huge contracts, they needed to start hiring people to handle them. So they started re-hiring. That’s when I started, during the rebuilding. Shortly after hiring a new Executive Director, he fired the Interim Executive Director so literally everyone on the leadership team was brand new.

      1. gmg22*

        Yowza. No wonder you wrote in!! Wishing you well on the next chapter, and glad you made your escape …

  3. Alessandra*

    I don’t usually comment on these “good news” posts, but OP #1, you are a star. Alison gives amazing advice, but it’s another thing entirely to reflect on that advice and use it with wisdom in the moment. I’m not sure from your post if you’re currently a manager, but if not and you decide to become a manager, it sounds like you would be an excellent leader.

    1. riverflows*

      Sounds like OP #1 is the grandboss of the “floundering new hire” and will be coaching the line-supervisor and mentor as direct reports to improve their own management/mentoring styles.

      Definitely agree OP has awesome leadership skills and a great model that even if you get to a C-level position, you can always a dig deeper on supporting your team and bringing out the best in others.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        I hope she’s checked whether there are any other cases of “failing probation” etc with this manager. It’s not great that this was only really discovered by chance.

        1. OP#1*

          Yes, I am watching this manager’s new hires very closely. This was the first one they’d done independently so I am being hands on about following the subsequent ones. Fortunately our corporate process means that they have to get me involved in order to fail someone probation.

          1. Milk*

            I’ve been this new hire before and my grandboss didn’t recognize the management issue even though the manager I worked for had a “reputation” in the organization for being difficult to work with. It was basically my word against the managers and the manager had more political capital. It’s hard to describe how difficult that situation was but it made be very jaded for a few years until I changed careers completely. Good for you for seeing the situation clearly and intervening!

  4. Mrs. Pommeroy*

    Congratulations on all three LWs! Quite different situations where you all realised the right way forward for you (and in LW1’s case your colleague). I’m really happy for you all :)

  5. 2 Cents*

    OP #3, sounds like that other company forgot that you, as a contractor, got to audition them as well for their role as an employer and they failed, acting as if you should be thankful for the chance to work there *cue eye roll*. So glad you’re in a better place now!

    1. Random Dice*

      Isn’t this kind of extended contractor thing a sketchy skirting of labor law (if in US)? It sounds like they set her work and hours and location.

      1. No Longer Looking*

        Microsoft went through a huge lawsuit over this around the turn of the century, look up Microsoft Permatemp.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          I think that whole thing gave birth to the “gig economy”: same economic instability, new jargon to dress it up in.

      2. 2 Cents*

        IDK, I was a contract-to-hire who had a contract extension twice before being hired full time. It took 18 months. I could’ve left. The temp agency offered benefits (health insurance, 401k). That was how long it took for my job to make it into the budget cycle, switching columns from “everything X department needs excluding salaries” to “new FT roles for X department.”

      3. Marley's Ghost*

        It does sound like they’re doing a sketchy skirting of labor law, but your second sentence is not really relevant; OP is a temp, not a 1099 contractor.

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      I am always blown away by orgs whose philosophy seems to be “This person is excellent; let’s make sure she’s never secure and always dangling by a thread!” I get not being able to hire occasionally when budgets or whatever make it impossible, but the whole Make Them Sweat thing is so gross. It’s like the worst person you ever dated but you have to work with an entire office full of them.

      These places are also the ones who are genuinely shocked, SHOCKED when you go y’know, I actually found another job, see ya. Couldn’t you see how much they needed you???

    3. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      I hate to say it but a company I worked for a had a contractor/fulltime “temp” who was in a similar situation. I used to feel so bad for her, because it seemed they kept stringing her along.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        I’ve seen that too. Unfortunately it sometimes degrades as the temp, who is completely capable, skilled, dedicated starts to feel undervalued and dials back their effort and enthusiasm to match what the company is giving to them, therefore weakening their position for a FT role. It’s entirely on the employer, management team that they basically string along and demoralize someone who could be a valuable team member.

        Why companies, managers do that? Who knows, could be any number of reasons. Very few of them are good or make sense. As a manager, or HR advisor, I try to encourage anyone bringing on a temp to have a plan in mind for outcomes for if the person is really good, just okay or not great, and for them to be transparent with the temp about what the assignment is: truly temp for duration of a project, temp to perm if it’s a fit for that role or a feeder role that could source new people into a different role FT if it’s a fit.

        Though in other companies I’ve the “string ‘‘em along, who cares, they’re a temp” mindset. In my current workplace, it tends to run aground when the person managing the temp either doesn’t have a clear idea what their long term plan is or thinks they can just drop the temp in with a couple of days of training and then just let them be with no check ins. Aside from clear issues with the temp – not having the needed basic skill set, not willing to show up consistently (the most common issue these days) – leading to them being let go quickly, the most recent issues have come down to management not communicating or managing the person well (or at all). It’s frustrating to see what could have been a good long term situation go sour after I’ve provided the managers all the tools, guidance and prompts to do better and they just … don’t (and I’m not in a role where I could force the issue)

        It also reminds me that if I’m ever in a situation as a contractor or employee where there’s a hint I’m being strung along, I should raise the issue once, and then make plans to move along if there’s no real movement. I can’t pay my bills or build my resume with vague promises for what might happen next quarter or next budget cycle etc. a bit of Yoda wisdom “do or do not, there is no try” applies and can save a lot of wasted time.

      2. gmg22*

        Years ago one of the newspaper copy desks I worked on had a temp-t0-hire pipeline like this and it was just terrible for morale, but no one other than the temps ourselves ever seemed to notice this. The standard procedure at most large newspapers at the time was to do tryouts of one or several weeks for open positions, but this system built on that to essentially create a never-ending tryout for your job. (One of the likely underlying reasons for this, I found out only later, was that everyone senior enough to have been there at the time of the newspaper’s previous sale possessed a LIFETIME JOB GUARANTEE, so management never dared to make more permanent hires than absolutely necessary.) Temps would cycle on renewable six-month stints (paying for our own healthcare) sometimes for YEARS, and the permanent employees were so unhealthily accustomed to it all that even the vocabulary around it was toxic … “Are you staff yet?” or “Did you get hired yet?” they would ask, seemingly oblivious to the fact that we second-class temps WERE DOING THE SAME WORK AS THEM.

        Man, I’m still ticked off at that place and it’s been almost 20 years. (Any denizens of the Hub of the Universe reading, yeah, you know where I’m talking about.)

        1. Vanilla Nice*

          Oof. I was a journalism major my first two years of college. I sometimes regret that I never worked in the industry, but when I hear stories like this and see what’s happened to the industry, it makes me feel like I dodged a bullet.

  6. Purely Allegorical*

    OP 3 — I had almost the exact same experience: temping for Prestigious Industry Company, contract kept getting extended and they kept saying I was amazing and they wanted to hire me, only they kept not hiring me. I eventually left and went to a different job, but I’ve sadly been looking back over my shoulder at PIC ever since…. I’m glad you found a new role you’re happy in, I’m hoping that once I get to a happier role (and NOT at my current company, they suck for other reasons) I won’t be looking back anymore.

    1. OP3*

      Hope you find a new company that you like! I definitely felt the same way the first time I left, because the new place was just a terrible fit. Just gotta keep believing that there’s something better for you out there, good luck!

    2. Hen in a Windstorm*

      It’s very similar to relationships. I thought I was in love with a guy that just wouldn’t commit to me. And it took me a long time to break that off and realize that if he actually was into me, none of it would be hard. When someone says they “want to” do something, but don’t when they have the opportunity, believe their actions, not their words. They want you as a backup option.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        I’ve found that “want” can be a very lazy word. I want a lot of things that I don’t actually invest myself in.

        When it’s something I actually desire, it’s amazing how what seemed to be obstacles just vanish into thin air.

    3. I am Emily's failing memory*

      One of the things that can make it hard is the “they” telling you they want to hire you might not be the same “they” who needs to ultimately approve the position, and the managers who love you might just not have enough political capital to get the position through, or not be assertive enough to really fight for it. And a lot of them are overly optimistic when they’re making comments, or uncomfortable leveling with the temp to say, “Look, I’ve been trying, but I’m not making much progress, and I need to be candid that I don’t know if it’s going to work out and it might be out of my hands.”

      You really have to pay attention to what the organization as an overall entity is telling you with their actions as much if not more than what your managers are telling you, because sadly it’s not all that uncommon for them to be sending different messages.

  7. PX*

    Love OP1’s story – so important to remember that sometimes only getting one side of the story isnt the whole story!

  8. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    OP#3: Congratulations on getting out of that rut! You wrote: “For anyone out there, remember that a perfect job is not worth sacrificing your mental health and self esteem.” But I think the whole point is that the perfect job would not require you to sacrifice those things!

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      “ But I think the whole point is that the perfect job would not require you to sacrifice those things!”

      I think this is the key. There’s no such thing as perfect out there in the working world. What we get are good fits – and it can be awesome on paper – but if you are suffering then it’s not a good fit FOR YOU. There is nothing wrong with in that circumstance finding YOUR better fit.

  9. Aphrodite*

    OP #1, I am so taken with your sensitivity and your compasssion (and the wellspring of knowledge learned here on AAM) that I love your story. That employee is so fortunate, and you are indeed a special person. Thank you!

  10. Bookworm*

    Thanks to all the LWs for sharing their good news! Nice to end the first week of 2023 this way. :)

  11. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #3) there sometimes are obstacles to a “temp to hire” situation. In the private sector, many of these obstacles can be (practically) overcome with a couple of telephone calls.

    BUT — BUT — if OP3 was placed in that company by a labor contract firm, they might try to hijack the potential hiring firm for an exorbitant payment, if OP3 signed a non-compete agreement.

    I once was the victim of that – I was working out a seven-week contract doing something outside of my specialty. Then a laser-precision specialty opened up at that firm; I was allowed to interview but I heard (through the grapevine) that the contract firm I was with stood in the way and demanded an outrageous fee to release me from it.

    Ever hear of “we all lose”???? Exhibit A.

  12. Ste*

    Reading no 3 at 4am… Oof. But I love my job! But… Yeah. Time to start looking (for the change I need, be it in this organisation or another one) I guess.

  13. Bad Boss Haver*

    Op1 makes me feel like managers who actually manage are out there! I just left a job where my boss blocked me from doing my job then complained I wasn’t doing my job. I quit without something lined up when he yelled at me for not doing something he had specifically forbade me from doing.

    I think my most recent boss was a lost cause in that he fundamentally did not like me but was useful to the company as a SME, and I feel like grand boss stepping in would have kept me out of therapy with of my self esteem intact on my way out and or even helped me stay with the company in another department. It also would have ideally got my boss out of managing people. I’m the second he ran off in a year for the same things. HR was sympathetic to me (that’s how bad it was) but their hands were tied due to grand boss’ inaction/not caring.

    Thank you for taking people management seriously, Op1, and thank you for getting all sides of the story- my grand boss had just completely stopped talking to me and didn’t people manage *his* report. Thank you for modeling good management to your team.

    1. RhondaDawnAnonAnon*

      This is happening right now to someone else at my work and it’s infuriating to watch. TL;DR: my team and another team share an administrative assistant. Another team is furious that the assistant “won’t do her job,” when what’s really happening is that admin assistant is required by the organization to follow very specific procedures. I’ve suggested to the team leader (my peer) that he needs to have the AA write up those procedures for his team, and his response is “Well, [AA] isn’t allowed to write procedures because it’s not in her job description,” to which I suggested that he write up those procedures himself. His answer was, “it’s not my job, either” and that she “needs to communicate better.”

      I’ve flagged the issue for our boss (AA’s grandboss) and pointed out that I think we’re putting AA in an impossible position, but I don’t really know what will happen.

  14. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    The tale of OP1 = yes, remarkably human and a great job.

    I had a manager for a few years, and he felt he had to fire a staff member. After he did it, I suggested that the employee was suffering from burnout – there WAS a way that he could have “rehabbed” her – 1) stop taking in new work 2) take care of easy issues in your backlog 3) spend two days passing off your work to others. HER DECKS WOULD BE CLEARED.

    Then take a three-week vacation/leave of absence. Then start again.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      But doing that would require him to look at how he’s managing, so…
      I hope that person got some much-needed rest and is now doing awesome.

  15. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    I’d say that if a job damages your health and well-being, it cannot be a dream job. It’s more of a dream that turned into a nightmare.

  16. Curmudgeon in California*

    #3: Ugh. I’ve been there. One company kept stringing me along with one month extensions of my contract, given a week before my previous end date. Talk about anxious. Then my manager had a surprised and stricken look when I got another job starting after the end of the month of one of those “one month extensions”. I guess they though that stinging me along with one month extensions would motivate me? The job was supposed to be six months contract to hire. After six months they gave me a three month extension. Then they started with the one month BS, and after the second one where I had only a week’s notice that they’d extended me I started looking.

    If they wanted to keep me they should have made me an offer. I have no interest in being a permatemp and having to take three months off after every year and a half to skirt the law.

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