updates: my new boss scolded us about our private chat messages, and more

Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. My new boss scolded us about our private chat messages

First off, thank you so much for answering my letter. I sincerely appreciated your nuanced take on the situation, and it was so interesting to read through the debate in the comments over expectations of monitoring chat messages on company platforms.

So, as you can probably imagine, things got so much worse after the incident I described in my letter. Meetings with my boss now regularly go over the scheduled time by at least 1.5 hours, and she is consistently late by 15-30 min with no heads up she is running late. She refused to learn our calendar platform, and instead chose to roll out a second scheduling system, meaning we now need to manually keep two calendars updated with the same information. During many meetings, she stated that the “powers that be” were not impressed with our performance (a statement that went against all the positive feedback we were consistently hearing from the higher-ups), but could not back this up with details about what specifically they had issues with other then that she herself was frustrated with how we asked clarifying questions about her confusing policy changes instead of just accepting what she said without question. After one long meeting, where there was a lot of pushback against a policy change, she sent out a passive-aggressive email where she included a screenshot of the org chart and stated we all needed to listen to her without question because we report to her. She consistently takes 1-2 weeks to respond to time sensitive emails or chat messages, which makes getting work done hard since we are all remote. She has also yelled at people on the team for things such as pointing out frustrations they are experiencing with their work, reaching out to those higher up in the organization to get answers to work questions instead of going through her first, or doing anything she perceives as questioning her authority. I could go on and on, but to keep this short let’s just say it’s been a mess of bad communication, power tripping, and short sighted, confusing policy changes which change constantly and have us all running around like ants with our heads cut off.

All of this, on top of my company stating we shouldn’t expect any title changes or salary increases for the next 5 years, had me rocketing into my job search, and I’m happy to report I found a fantastic new job at a great company with a big increase in salary. I am currently finishing out my last week of my notice, and then have two week off before starting this new job. There have been a lot of others on the team who have also resigned, and I’ve heard from many other coworkers (through text messaging on personal phones or in virtual meetings and never written down in any company platform because we have learned our lesson) that they are actively job searching. It seems that most of the team will probably be leaving within the next few months. Needless to say, it’s been a wild few months, and I am so excited to be getting out and moving on to bigger and better things!

2. My boss is discriminating against my pregnant employee

I wrote in a couple years ago about my boss “Ron” discriminating against my pregnant employee “Jane” for being pregnant.

Ron still has knee-jerk reactions (he’s gotten better about this – we’ve talked about it and he agrees it’s a problem) and a tendency to worry that people are taking advantage of him, but I’ve learned that he’s pretty easily persuaded to see reason. In the last couple years I think I’ve become much better about calling him on it, and I’ve tried very hard not to let his attitude impact how I manage my employees. These days, I make decisions about how to manage my team and then just make my case with Ron afterwards if he doesn’t agree with them – he usually ends up agreeing with me.

Jane is still working for us after her maternity leave, still in the same role but with slightly reduced hours to fit around her childcare that she can flex when needed. In general, we’ve been really happy with her work. We’ve enrolled her in some certification courses she’d need to eventually move to the B2B team, which she says it’s something that she might be interested in eventually but doesn’t feel ready for yet. This isn’t a move we had discussed with her when I wrote the original letter, just a move I had suggested to Ron for later down the line.

Overall, the workplace has become a lot more family-friendly/work-life-balance-friendly. We’ve moved to a 4 day/30 hour workweek (with no decrease in salary), and we’ve instituted 5 extra paid emergency childcare/compassionate leave days for everyone. We’re all working on a hybrid schedule, half our days in the office and half WFH.

In the comments, I was warned about staying at the company if I was planning to have a child. I’m happy to say that I’m currently pregnant, and Ron has taken it surprisingly well. He’s offered me an extremely generous maternity leave package, and seems genuinely happy for me. I think he was relieved that I’m only planning to take 6 months leave rather than the full year I could take (we’re not in the US).

I was really grateful for your advice and that in the comments; I wasn’t even aware how much Ron’s attitude was affecting my own management. Now, if I feel uncomfortable with something, I feel much more secure in pushing back.

3. What am I allowed to do on sick leave? (#2 at the link)

I really appreciated your firm and positive response to my letter. It’s been ages but I happened to read another answer recently and it reminded me: I should send an update!

So I followed the advice and did everything I thought would help fix the anxiety – shops, walks, museums, cafes, the lot. I started small and then decided at the end of the month to book an additional week’s vacation time to go on a short holiday abroad (for context, I’m in Europe, so that’s only a two-hour train away). It was hard, but successful.

18 months on, I’m one of the more outgoing members of my team again. I travel frequently for work, did well on all my appraisals, and while anxiety is there in the background, it’s super well-managed. I think in part that is because, rather than getting into a hole of staying home and doing nothing while off sick, I made the most of all the treatment, including sunlight, friends and activities. Grateful to you for the response and the encouragement.

{ 47 comments… read them below }

  1. ThisIsNotADuplicateComment*

    Ron learned reason! Ron learned reason!

    While it’s always cathartic to read about someone’s bad view coming back to bit them it’s much more uplifting to read about someone actually becoming a better person, even if they still need some help with it.

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      One thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of people, particularly in my grandparents’ circle of acquaintances, tend to have poor assumptions of groups they’ve never met and once they have an acquaintance/coworker/family member who has X (accomodation, financial background, etc etc) they become much less harshly critical. Which is NOT condoning the behavior, because often as in the case of Ron it ends up manifesting as very biased and harmful, but is an object lesson on the importance of meeting as many different people from as many different backgrounds as possible. And in giving people an initial chance to not be jerks and calling them out when they do be jerks.

      I’m glad to hear that Ron learned from his past errors and is willing and able to improve upon his behaviors.

      1. Lizzianna*

        I’ve noticed this as well. Plus many people tend to have some really unexamined beliefs because they’ve simply never had to examine them.

        When you sit down and explain “This is illegal and wrong because X, Y, and Z,” and they really think about it, they can be reasonable.

        The world has changed a lot in the last few decades. I was recently watching a sitcom from the early 1990s, and was shocked by some of what was “normal”. This was a show I watched with my parents while I was in high school.

        I want to be clear I’m not excusing behavior like Ron’s because “he doesn’t know any better.” But just want to reiterate that not all Rons in the world are hopelessly stuck in their ways.

        Certainly, I’m not suggesting that people tolerate being discriminated against or put themselves in unsafe situations, but for those of us with the privilege to have these conversations safely, they are often worth having. And if they’re not worth having, and that person refuses to listen, that also gives you information you need to have about that person.

  2. EPLawyer*

    #1 – SO GLAD you got out of there. And that others are too. The company is going to notice the turnover and wonder what happened there. Bet boss says something like – no one wants to work anymore.

    TWO calendaring systems? How was that even allowed? Surely the company has ONE calendaring system for consistency sake and to avoid this very problem.

    1. MassMatt*

      The fact that she spent her time scrutinizing the chat and having meetings routinely run over by an hour and a half tells me why it takes her 1-2 weeks to respond to time-sensitive emails. Her priorities are screwy, she is unable to learn (refuses to use the established calendar system) and all her directives are so unclear that they require constant clarification. She is destroying value. Oh, AND awhile the feedback regarding department performance was good, she tells the staff it’s poor, because they ask her questions. She’s destroying morale also!

      Congrats on getting out of there!

    2. Meep*

      My former manager was like this. Part of it came down to was she could feign ignorance when you pointed out to her that you were on vacation after she screamed at you. Which of course, led to more screaming, because “you didn’t inform her”. (No matter how many times you had and how she had gushed about how you deserved it prior.)

    3. Ama*

      If this company has a centralized IT department I would be really tempted to let them know about this second calendaring system on the way out the door. If boss is requiring use of a tool they don’t know about they won’t be happy.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      I audibly gasped at the line “we shouldn’t expect any title changes or salary increases for the next 5 years”. It’s great they said the implicit part out loud so everyone knew to abandon ship, but it’s still a shocking statement.

  3. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

    I missed #1 the first time around. Isn’t complaining about your boss a protected concerted action? That is, if they don’t prevent you from chit-chatting over chat (or around the water cooler) they can’t prevent you from also discussion wages, working conditions, or management. They could prevent you from chit-chatting over the company-provided chat program, and they can prevent you from using external chat programs during working hours, but they can’t prevent you from discussing the protected topics, and they can’t ban you from talking to each other outside of work hours.

    1. Mid*

      Complaining is protected, but monitoring is also allowed. Much like office water cooler chit chat can be overhead by bosses, chats on company software don’t really have an expectation of privacy. (I supposed if they directly lied that could get them in trouble? Such as saying no one can read messages when the company is actually getting copies of every message. But I’m not sure that’s been challenged yet and where the lines would be drawn.)

  4. Phony Genius*

    Nesting problem is on all pages. I want to respond to a comment on the one about passive-aggressive notes, but I can only start a new comment thread.

    1. Beth*

      Looks like it’s fixed. And the comment I was reporting has also disappeared, so our opportunity to make zillions of bucks in our spare time is now gone.

    1. Anonymosity*

      Wonderful! And I’m a bit jealous of the 4 day/30 hour workweek with no salary decrease.

  5. A*

    FIVE YEARS?? My goodness, I can’t imagine a company expecting a smidge of morale and motivation from their staff after telling them that. Best of luck with the job search!

    1. FrivYeti*

      Yeah, that jumped out to me, to! It’s bad enough when a company says they can’t do any raises for *one* year. If I was told there wouldn’t be any for anybody for *five*, I’d just assume the company was on the verge of bankruptcy and I needed to get out.

      1. mary anne*

        holy cats, any company that nixed raises or title changes for five years would have been running for the door so fast, all you’d see is dust in my path…..

      2. I have RBF*

        Yeah, that would be a signal to leave. Just the same as them bragging that they had “money in the bank” – if they have to mention something like that, it’s probably a problem.

    2. Still Life with Apple Product*

      Yeah, that’s wild. Five years is longer than many people even stay at a job nowadays!

    3. MassMatt*

      That was jaw dropping, and fortunately the company’s cluelessness did the employees a favor so they can get out now vs: seeing their careers stagnate and earning power dwindle.

      $1,000 will only be worth $733 in five years if current inflation continues. People need cost of living at least or they are losing ground.

    4. Sammmmmmmm*

      I haven’t stayed in a professional job for more than 3… I can’t imagine anyone is willing to sit waiting for 5 years for a raise.

      1. Leslie*

        I was flabbergasted too! If we take it seriously, that means they are in so much trouble they need five fiscal years to pull out of trouble? I’m thinking the direct manager issues are only part of the iceberg. #1 I’m glad you found a better job and I wish you all the best!

  6. Artemesia*

    This new software has lots of problems but the most annoying is that instead of taking you to your post after a post, you end up at the bottom of the comments section and have to scroll back and find it to continue.

  7. Lance*

    ‘she included a screenshot of the org chart and stated we all needed to listen to her without question because we report to her’

    She… she knows you’re employees and not servants, right?

    1. EPLawyer*

      I don’t think she does. And I think servants might even be too generous here. I think subjects might be better.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      The desperation and lack of confidence is palpable when a manager’s power move is … sending you the org chart.

  8. chloeacd*

    I’m so happy for LW3. I also suffer from pretty bad anxiety that was strongly exacerbated by COVID, and I had to go through a similar process of gradually expanding my comfort zone so I could feel safe out of my house, out of my neighborhood, out of my city, and so on and so forth. I know how LW3 felt, and I’m so glad to hear that they’re feeling better.

  9. Emotional support capybara (he/him)*

    OP1 and the screenshot of the org chart: wew, speaking of passive-aggressive notes…

    1. Goldenrod*

      “a screenshot of the org chart and stated we all needed to listen to her without question because we report to her”

      That’s the part that really stood out to me too! Mostly for being so pathetic. If you have to shout, “Stop questioning me, because I’M THE BOSS” then you have already lost the argument.

      Congrats, OW#1 on your new gig!!

  10. Appletini*

    LW #2, you have positively changed the world. I hope Ron appreciates your good influence on him. All good fortune and may everything go smoothly with your pregnancy!

  11. TPS reporter*

    LW3 I’m currently on a staycation and trying not to feel guilty. your update really helped enforce this is what I need. while not in a full breakdown my anxiety has been ramping up over the last few months. I realized I needed some time just to relax and do some local excursions. the goal is to come back better and ready to work – the anxiety has been eating away at my productivity and enthusiasm. I want to encourage my team members to do the same as needed. people like you help influence others to take time. we’re all in this together.

  12. LifeBeforeCorona*

    No salary increases for the next 5 years??? In a year there won’t be anyone left to have private chats. That’s the biggest get the heck out of Dodge now message ever.

  13. Cookie Monster*

    LW#1, I’d love to know what your manager’s reaction was when you put in your notice and how’s treated you since. Something tells me it’s probably…not good.

  14. Elle Woods' Pink Sunglasses*

    LW1 – congratulations!! I recently quit my job over a very similarly insecure power-tripper of a manager and getting out must be such a relief for you. You’re onto so many better things!

    If anyone wants some similar gossip/horror stories… My manager didn’t want to use our project management tool so he made it my job to add the same info to a sprawling 80 column Excel spreadsheet of hundreds of rows. He then approved my request to only update the old tool, which my team then unanimously decided to stop using because no one had time to update which tasks they’d done (the piling red flags…), but since I wasn’t updating the tool that we’d agreed not to use, he used that as one of many equally silly reasons to give me the lowest possible ratings on my performance review. Similar vein of purposely not emailing clients back for weeks, accusing female client representatives of “screaming at him” when they would politely request updates per our contracts, and no promotions (for anyone) and “meets expectations” for a coworker who singlehandedly brought in a new field of business to the company AND was constantly in contact with clients – senior level work – despite being a step above entry level. He expected all of the entry-level and entry-adjacent employees to tell other departments what their jobs were because “I’m in charge now, that’s how it works under me, and anything else is unacceptable”. Not sure what the other departments’ managers thought of that. He also got territorial about shipping information being sent to anyone else on the team but then refused to send anyone else the information, so scheduling projects in my department just… didn’t happen anymore, especially since sometimes he’d change people’s “top priority task” three times in an hour. Projects just kind of happened when they could; I don’t think we’ve finished anything on time since our old manager left a year ago.

    Btw our work was testing human and animal samples for experimental drugs, so good luck to all the experimental cancer drug patients out there waiting for their results. I’m so sorry.

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