updates: the bad temper, the patronizing boss, and more

Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. How can I keep my temper at work?

I did not pass my probation and was let go (I hadn’t driven that day so got to walk through the city with some of my stuff in the pouring rain, very atmospheric).

My husband has been incredibly supportive and we sat down and worked out a budget and how much I pay for bills etc which he was able to cover with his wage. He basically told me to keep applying for jobs that were in my field rather than taking any job that came. I did a brief stint at the local gardens for some Christmas money when I found out my car was terminally ill and needed replacing but otherwise did as he said.

I had a few promising interviews but they ultimately came to nothing, however, they did boost my confidence and, with therapy, I’m starting to build some strategies and ways of coping with, well, how I cope with things.

Three weeks ago I started a new job working for our national health service (I’m in the UK) in exactly the field I did my Masters in. The pay is not great, but there is progression, training and lots of other benefits. I’m also being thoroughly trained, there are lots of procedures in place and very set ways of doing things that are clearly laid out which I like- there’s also a lot of other technicians (over 20) so there are no clique issues and no-one cares if I want to sit by myself and read a book on my breaks!

Thanks to everyone for your support and guidance on my original question.

2. My boss patronizes us (#2 at the link)

After sending the question and reading your advice and the comments, I realized just how fed up I was. Not just with the language my boss used, but the situation and also with my team. We were literally bending over backwards trying to accommodate every little ask the organisation made. There was, for example, The Excel.

Our manager asked us “what data should we collect in order to see our team’s contribution?” We answered. Then she said “I don’t care in what form you present that data, but I want it done daily, from each individual, gathered in one document.” And we delivered, one of us created an elaborate Excel and we tweaked and tested and made it more precise and finally got a working, usable sheet that presented the info we had previously agreed upon. (This was a long process, creating Excels is not part of our job. We work with patients in health-care). Then she goes: “Well, not like this. I don’t need that info, but instead, I need this. Just ask how the other team is doing it and make it like that.”

I tried to stop the process from the start and said that we shouldn’t do anything before we were given more precise instructions. I was accused of being “high-maintenance”.

The communication issues, the inexperienced boss, the overall “vibe” in my team were the reasons I decided to start job-hunting and I am lucky to say, I am about to leave in a month. Sometimes it’s the small things that finally hit you in the face and make you question just what is going on around you. Thank you and the community for answering!

3. I’m not productive every single minute of every day (first update here)

I finally have some good news. It took me nine months, but I just received a job offer this week that I’ll be signing the paperwork for shortly. It’s a bit of a pay cut from what I was making at my last job, since I’m heading back to the non-profit world after working in government, but they offered me the very top of their salary range. It’s also a heck of an improvement over my unemployment benefits, which actually just ran out.

I’m excited about the new position because it’s a little bit of a new direction for my career – it’s in the same field but much more focused on the technical side of things, which I really enjoy and have been wanting to move into. The work environment seems like it will also be much better – they even recognize that in my province, salaried employees are still legally entitled to overtime if they aren’t management, which is honestly pretty rare.

This has been one of the most difficult periods of my life. I knew I was horribly depressed after losing my job but I didn’t realize how truly bad it was until my doctor put me on a new medication a month ago and the fog finally lifted last week. I feel better than I have since before the pandemic, so it’s left me wondering to what extent under-medicated depression may have contributed to the issues at my last job. That said, while it’s something I can learn from, there’s nothing I can do to change the past. I’m just grateful that between the new medication and the job offer, I’m feeling much better and excited about the future.

{ 48 comments… read them below }

  1. ThatgirlK*

    3 – I worked in a job for about a year that used a ticketing system to track time. It was honestly hell. You had to track 7.5 hours of working time (this could include meetings if you had them). Managment would get upset if you didn’t hit your targets and would hard on “finding something to do”. This didn’t matter as much during the latter part of my time there. We were short staffed and over worked. However there were def slow times of the year, like at Christmas. Where it was a struggle to find even 3 -4 hours of work. It was very stressful and caused alot of staff members to quit.

      1. Sue Smith*

        The original letter from #3 in early 2022 talked about the tracking system their employer used.

      2. AngryOctopus*

        Well, they’re talking about how there were periods where it was super hard to fill their time, and that was obvious when they went to track time for the week (“wow, I have to have 7.5 hr/day, but yesterday I only had 2 hr of work on the tentacle project and then there was nothing else to do”). Having nothing to do at work can be as stressful as too much, especially if you have to track your time and you have managers being like “well, what if you filled out this paperwork on Unrelated Sucker Project” just to fill your hours.

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      I never want to work another job with time tracking again. It was so stressful to have to be/prove that I was being productive 100% of the time, but also having to restrict my logged hours without affecting output. It was a constant struggle of delivering a successful product only to be reprimanded for spending too much time on it, then reducing hours only to be reprimanded for not producing enough or the product not being as good. I eventually discovered that the only way to make my boss happy was to work multiple hours at home each night, essentially doing 12 hours of work but only logging 8.

      I’m much happier now at a job that treats us like adults and only really cares that the work gets done, not micromanaging how it happens.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        That sucks. We had to track time in one job, but it was for auditing purposes, since we had outside collaborators paying for FTE/PTE salary/supplies. And our director told us that it didn’t have to be granular, but if we were the PTE, we could do the work we needed to for that week and fill out half the time to that project, and it didn’t matter how long it actually took–they understood that science can ebb and flow as you wait for things to come from other departments, or compounds to arrive, or long assays to finish.

    2. TheseOldWings*

      I work in advertising and have to account for 8 hours each day in a PM system, and nearly all of it has to be billed to client hours. I also am not productive every single minute and am less busy than the rest of the team due to the nature of my position. All these tracking systems do is stress out employees and cause the amount of time devoted to each client to be at least somewhat inaccurate. For instance today I don’t have much to do because I’m waiting on client feedback, so how am I supposed to assign my time? But I worry about bringing it up with my boss and them realizing they may not actually need me on the team. It really, really sucks.

      1. LegoGirl*

        I briefly worked in the exact same situation – I didn’t realize just how stressful it was until I typed in that row of 7.5s at my new job and hit submit on my first time sheet.

      2. new year, new name*

        I worked in consulting (government contracting) for the first decade of my career and in many ways I loved it. But after I left, the amount of mental energy freed up by not having to be practically 100% billable was incredible. Now I work at a nonprofit and there are lots of things I don’t like about it, but the only thing I have to track is sick and vacation time and it’s so freeing. I don’t think I could ever go back to a billable hours job!

      3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        This sucks hard. I’m from UK BigLaw, where the maximum billable target was 4h/day. I’m in a small firm now where I don’t have a billable target at all.

    3. Kelly*

      That sounds a lot like my last job. Our busy season would be INSANE for 4-5 months and then peter out to a completely dead winter. Spring and summer we would work 60-70 hours a week, then winter we rarely had more than 30 hours of real work. Unfortunately our boss expected us to “stay busy” by writing articles for our newsletter (rarely used) and helping the office staff do administrative tasks that were wildly out of our job descriptions. It was awful being salary and expected to work like a dog (bare minimum 50 hours every week, year round) and weren’t paid very well.

  2. EPLawyer*

    #2 Ugh, I want you to waste time tracking each individual contribution and putting it into one document EVERY DAY. yeah your boss did not know how manage. Glad you are out of there.

    1. sundae funday*

      Yeah when I read the original, I really thought there had to be more to it than just the emoji use. Sure, heart-eye emojis when thanking your staff are excessive but not THAT bad.

      The micromanagement combined with the emoji use actually makes the emoji use seem passive aggressive.

  3. Voldemort’s cousin*

    OP3, so glad you’re feeling better! I related hard to not realizing how much depression/anxiety was affecting you, but as you said, there’s no way to change the past. Onwards and upwards.

  4. Sunshine*

    Oh man, I feel for OP1. It’s obviously not okay to snap at your coworkers, but tone and body language are hard to control, and being interrupted while doing Important Science sounds genuinely very annoying. I hope the new job is a better fit!

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Funny! I read the update about her new job and thought, “there’s a lid for every pot.”
      Best of luck OP 1.

    2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      I thought so, too. She’s trying to do something and people interrupt her? I’d be irritable too!

    3. All Het Up About It*

      Agree! I’m glad that the OP is employed again, but something about this one has always bugged me.

      Now with this update, since they allude to cliques and people not being okay with them reading alone on break, I wonder if there were other personality and place issues at play at the past position they didn’t include in their original letter. Like if that workplace was made up of “we’re a family” types who didn’t understand why the OP kept to themselves during breaks or snapped at them when they asked about Netflix in the lab… I don’t know. This is all conjecture of course, but I wonder if there were outside influences that lead to the OP feeling like their “normally placid temper” was out of their control, but they were only focused on themselves. Which is great, because you SHOULDN’T be snapping at people at work. But “I find myself snapping at my co-workers in the lab, because they goof off a lot and ask me questions because they weren’t paying attention and it’s so irritating that now I’m even snapping at my Boss when they are legitimately interrupting me” is just a different situation in my opinion than “I can’t stop snapping at people and I don’t know why!”

      Not that any of this matters currently. Best of luck to all LW’s in their new roles!

      1. Turquoisecow*

        Yeah some people can have idle chit chat when they work, easily switch from one task to another, answer a question about project B while working on Project A, and some people can’t. My husband finds it difficult to answer idle questions when he’s FOCUSED on something and will get annoyed if I ask him about dinner plans while he’s working on fixing a light bulb or something. He’d prefer to finish task A before starting to think about another task. Sounds like OP is similar and their workplace was much more chaotic and changing. Maybe Boss wanted an answer on a question about Project B and OP was focused on A and was annoyed about this and Boss realized the they needed someone who wasn’t going to be as dramatically thrown by switching between projects. The comments about how to spend break suggest that there were also some personality conflicts so maybe coworkers took OP’s annoyance personally or saw it as ruder than intended.

        It sounds like the new job is a better fit and I hope it works out for everyone.

      2. Sunshine*

        Totally agree. And reading the comments on the original letter, so many of the suggestions that people had – holding up a hand until you finish what you’re doing, saying “just a second,” etc – I think could all be interpreted as rudeness in an environment like that too, so it’s possible that OP just couldn’t win.

    4. Slightly Less Evil Bunny*

      I also really feel for OP1, Sunshine. As someone who used to work in a lab – one where there was a certain amount of manual work, so you didn’t always have an instrument printout or report for your tests/experiments – being interrupted at the wrong time (say, before I was able to write down the numbers in my head) could mean I would have to repeat a count or possibly an entire test.

      And if I was trying to process a sample at a defined timepoint, or do some other type of timed assay – it could potentially screw a whole study up if someone had demanded my undivided attention at a critical point.

      It definitely sounds like there were some additional personality issues going on, too. I have also seen those in my prior lab career, and it can really be not pretty. Wishing OP1 the best of luck going forward.

      1. Jack Russell Terrier*

        Yup – my father was a theoretical physicist. I wouldn’t interrupt him if he was working at home unless it was urgent. If I did, I’d hover in the doorway. He’d hold up a finger to let me know he knew I was there. He’d spend some seconds finishing up his thought and then look up at me.

        Mum never got this and couldn’t understand why he was put out when she would disturb him for something like ‘I’m having a shower, answer the phone if it rings’. This actually happened. It was the eighties so only a landline.

      2. Unkempt Flatware*

        Hearing about how labs like this operate reminds me of working on the line in a commercial kitchen. Tensions flare. It heats up literally and then figuratively. Then cools right back down. I’d have been fired so fast in the dish-pit of a busy restaurant if snapping were fireable there.

  5. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

    I feel for OP#1 actually losing their job over this because to me they didn’t even sound like they were being overly rude or snappish to my American ears, upon obviously being interrupted at an important task (believe me I’ve been the recipient of far worse!). But they said UK where people are more polite I suppose.

    I’m really surprised the manager pushed this to a probation and dismissal because it seemed quite mild and coachable. But you know if a manager doesn’t like you for whatever reader, it’s easy for them to get rid of you.

    1. FashionablyEvil*

      I dunno, I think all of the things the LW likes about their new role (highly structured, lots of training, lots of people doing their own thing) probably means the other environment wasn’t a great fit. Also, as Alison points out in her original response, it sucks to be the co-worker of someone where you’re never sure if they’re going to bite your head off or not. Much easier to part ways after a probationary period than to get stuck with someone volatile long-term.

      1. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

        I mean, yes about it not likely being a good fit.
        OP seems to be the type that likes to follow through a task COMPLETELY or get to a good stopping point. Seems to me a good quality to have in a scientific and lab space so I don’t get the management being quite so upset over this.

        I used to work with chemists and if you went into their lab, you had to stay behind a threshold until they acknowledged you (a safety protocol but also to minimize interruptions if they were running an experiment because some things might go boom!). I guess that’s why I don’t see this issue as being something to fire someone over.

        1. Zweisatz*

          Yeah, if the tasks just AREN’T interruptible or you have to repeat a huge chunk of work, it should be pretty standard to have some kind of nonverbal agreement when it is good to interrupt.
          It would be different if the task can be picked up in 5 to 10 minutes, but OP mentioned long rows of numbers so it sounds more like the former.

    2. Lady_Lessa*

      I agree with your thoughts about LW1. I even went back to the original to see if she had mentioned wanting to read alone during lunch, etc. and saw nothing.

      I super agree that if your manager doesn’t want you, they will find things and document things to push you out.

    3. Peanut Hamper*

      I felt the same way. I have worked with some people who had truly awful anger issues, and was expecting that in the letter and found…nothing that I couldn’t live with it.

      I am glad they are in a much better position now.

    4. Ellis Bell*

      I’m in the UK and I couldn’t figure out what was so rude or bad tempered at all. In fact the only solid example of rudeness I could find is of people interrupting someone who is trying not to lose count or do something engrossing and sensitive. That is most definitely rude! If OP were being short and snapping in conversations or exchanges then I would get it, but … while being obviously busy? You can’t make cheery statements and smile when you’re trying to do something complicated as part of your job. I honestly wondered if there were missing details because it makes no sense.

      1. Some words*

        That letter really really hit home with me, because I’ve been the snapper in the past. It’s hurt me professionally for sure and not a trait I’m proud of. But I have to correct you a bit, Ellis. Yes, we’re expected to be pleasant and accommodating at all times (in the offices I’ve worked in). Usually I’m able to slap a smile on my face while saying “hold on one second while I finish this”. Putting a sign on one’s desk or marking oneself “busy” or “do not disturb” has always been very frowned on (or forbidden). For clarification, I’m currently an hourly, non supervisory/managerial staff person.

        I’m very happy the LW is making progress on this. It gives me hope.

      2. I Am On Email*

        Eh I used to work in UK labs and the original letter reminded me of a couple of people who I really didn’t enjoy working with.

        Generally everyone who is running an experiment is busy and things often go pear shaped which can mean everyone is always slightly on edge. Add to this that labs are the most open plan you can get, having someone who is snappy or putting out ‘do not disturb’ / I am not approachable vibes can really quickly create a bad atmosphere. More so is the snappy person is a technician as they’re usually the experts in certain equipment / techniques and someone you should feel confident approaching to ask questions.

        I am really pleased the OP has found a lab that works for them though, that is so hard to do and why I’m now in a science adjacent field.

      3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Yeah. I sometimes have to concentrate hard on something and if you try to interrupt, I’ll hold up my hand to say Hi, yes I know you’re there, let me just finish this and I’ll be right with you. It works with everyone except narcissists (of whom there have been too many in my life).

    5. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      In a comment to the original, the OP said she had admitted to lying in a lab report.
      Sounds like there were extenuating factors, but probably her boss had little tolerance for an additional flaw that might otherwise have just resulted in coaching.

      It might also explain the boss wanting to step in immediately if a lab test looked to be going awry, to check things would be documented properly. Micro-managing is a natural consequence of a lie, whatever stress caused it.

      Also, she was in her probation period, when employees are expected to be on their best behaviour, so her boss might have feared the OP’s issues would get much worse if she became a permanent employee and hence (as it was UK) difficult to fire later.

      The OP now has a fresh start, in a more suitable environment. Well done!

      1. Op#1*

        Yeah. It didn’t end well and I’m happy to put it all behind me. Lessons learnt, lots of reflection.
        I’ve had some great feedback so far in this new role. It’s a very highly regulated lab that has strict guidelines and rules. Also some good progression and training opportunities. Terrible money but that’s public service for you :)

      2. Op#1*

        Yeah, please don’t feel too sorry for me folks, part of it was my own downward spiral/fault.

        Whilst I unknowingly was against it from the start I put the final nails on the coffin myself. I’m not too proud to admit that.

  6. MissGirl*

    Update 2 hit close to home. I worked for a brilliant woman who was single-handedly building our company. She kept after us to come up with ideas of our own. I was frustrated with my inability to deliver until one small thing really woke me up. She asked for ideas for breakfast for an early meeting.

    My coworker and I listed off every breakfast we could think of that sounded good. Food already prepared from some bakeries, bring in a waffle iron and make waffles, bagels, anything. With every idea, she came back with, “No, not that.” After a while, we stopped offering suggestions. Then she cajoled us, “Come on, I need ideas.” We were like, we’re out of ideas.

    Next day she showed up with milk and cereal. I realized she didn’t want our ideas; she wanted us to figure out what was in her brain that she couldn’t quite put words to. After that, I gave up a little. It was another small thing months later that put me over and I found a new job.

    1. 2 Cents*

      Meanwhile, cereal and milk is the last thing I’d want to eat in a group setting at work. Imagining the slurping is putting me over the edge.

    2. Budgie Buddy*

      Ugh reading someone’s mind is hard enough when at least they know what’s going on in there.

    3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      “I realized she didn’t want our ideas; she wanted us to figure out what was in her brain that she couldn’t quite put words to.”
      I’ve never seen this explained so clearly. I’ve seen people respond that Jane wants me to read her mind or Bob expects us to know what he’s thinking. But this really clarifies the “I’ll know it when I see it” people.

    4. Meep*

      Thanks for bringing back war flashbacks from AP Chem. My teacher was obsessed with us bringing in food for breakfast (first and second classes of the day) so we could have a “party” while simultaneously berating us for how far we were behind in prepping for the AP test.

      My friend and I still managed to get 4’s on the test, but I ended up taking Chemistry 101 in college because I felt like I learned nothing.

  7. Emotionally Invested OP*

    I’m very happy for OP #1. It sounds like they have gotten mental health support that has helped them do better in work environments. I took some time away from working last year to improve my mental and physical health, and when I returned to work I was scared I couldn’t handle it but I have been able to. And a big part of it has been not just learning the job, but learning how to communicate better and handle my emotions about the parts of work that frustrate me.

    I’ll link to an earlier conversation where I was talking about an old letter I sent in the replies to this.

  8. Op#1*

    Hi all op#1 here. Thanks for the kind comments. As mentioned in the comments on the original post, and as someone else mentioned in the comments here, I did something stupid that was the final nail in the coffin. I can admit that, and I’ve moved on.

    Onwards eh? Thanks again all.

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