updates: employee is obsessed with cleaning, I slept through an entire day of work, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager and 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– there’s more to come today!

1. My employee is obsessed with cleaning

Thank you for your advice last year, but I’m afraid my update is a downer!

After multiple staff quit and cited upper management’s constant absence and lack of accountability and needing more autonomy as reasons for leaving, I realized this was the real cause of my problem as well. Upper management is unwilling to provide support or be present in any way, but they also refuse to give up authority or let me enforce anything without asking for permission for every little thing. It’s no wonder I ran into a wall trying to fix the constant cleaning because I have to plead my case to get permission to do my basic job whenever there are issues. When I look back on previous management positions I’ve had, the constant cleaning never would’ve been an issue because I would have been able to address it promptly and with a standard system in place.

Your advice resonated with all the things I wanted to do but couldn’t, and it turns out my actual problem wasn’t the cleaning or not knowing how to deal with it–it was the fact that I couldn’t fix the situation because every normal solution had been shut off from me. I think I was hoping to get some sort of outside the box solution, but with hindsight I can see that if I was in a better work environment I wouldn’t need an outside the box solution in the first place. Other problems have popped up in the company since then, and each time it’s played out where nothing is dealt with in a good, timely manner because upper management has left everyone hanging and disappeared but refuses to allow anyone else to take control of a situation.

I wish I could say I quit and got an amazing new job like I see in many of your updates, but the reality is that this job pays way more than anything else I could hope to find with my skill set. I finally realized that the reason I’m paid so much is to put up with the bad environment and incompetent owners. I had to give up on hopes of being able to fix problems and just remind myself that I’d have to take a serious pay cut to work somewhere less dysfunctional.

And yes, the office is still spotless.

2. I slept through an entire day of work (first update; second update)

I wrote in 5 years ago (!????) and here’s how things went after that:

I stayed at that job for 5 years, or 4 from my last update. It was overall a great experience. I learned a ton and became close with my manager (professionally). I managed projects that seemed impossible at the time but grew professionally by leaps and bounds. Very recently my manager from that job gave me a glowing recommendation to take a HUGE jump forward in my career (that came with a 70% pay rise). I am now in a new, much more demanding position, as leadership in a new organization.

I am still chronically ill. This very moment I am experiencing a flare up but some commenters said the first 3 years of chronic illness are the worst and then you learn the rhythms, and that was spot on for me. I don’t feel the need to discuss my illness at work because I am able to manage it pretty well with our (company wide) flexible working arrangements.

I now lead a central department and was told just yesterday by a departing employee that working with me showed him “what good management can look like” – I was grinning ear to ear!

Still so much to learn but my own health/work journey has made me a very empathetic and flexible (and adaptable) leader. I led through a massive leadership crisis last year, and I think in large part I was able to do that by using my own prior experience from challenging times.

I read AAM most days on a break at some point and recommend it to other people. The dysfunctional stories in particular fill me with gratitude to be working in a place where people tell me, multiple times a day, how much they appreciate me. One of our core values is kindness. I just hope other readers know that: there are workplaces that will value you as an imperfect person and an imperfect employee. If you don’t already have it, demand better from your employers. I wish that everybody was as lucky as I am to have personal struggles and still be able to feel supported and successful at work.

P.S. I never finished my doctoral dissertation. That’s one of the things I had to cut, it just wasn’t in the cards. I don’t regret it, it hasn’t held me back, I still learned a ton. So no – I am not flawless or perfect and didn’t manage to make everything work out. But I am 100% comfortable with the sacrifices and tradeoffs and have no regrets.

3. I recommended a friend and it went terribly (#2 at the link)

At this point this friend had blocked me on everything so this is an update from my friends at the firm. My friend or should I say ‘ex-friend’ ended up retaining an employment attorney. It sounds like she was likely told she didn’t have a wrongful termination case so she instead asked for owed wages and for the company to sign off on credit working under a licensed professional in our field. In our field you must pass an exam and then work under a licensed professional for a number of years to become a professional yourself. When they sign this the person approving your time under them must vouch for your ability. You are able to write to what degree they succeeded but most people get signed off with high merit.

The company disputed her owed wages but offered to pay her the amount she asked for with a condition of no liability. (I have no clue how much money this was). Regarding the professional vouching process her supervisor refused to do it but the owner of the company said they would under the condition that they be allowed to say that it was completed at the bare minimum standard. My former friend is fighting this and last I heard they were moving ahead with taking it to court.

Our field is relatively small in our neck of the woods and there’s a lot of gossip about this but as guessed my name has stayed out of it. It sounds like former friend likely will have a hard time finding a new position in this field after everything that’s happened. As for me, I’m going to limit recommending people for jobs unless I’ve worked with them directly. It’s definitely a lessons learned all around. Thanks for the help!

4. How can I make myself look less qualified? (#2 at the link; first update here)

I have an update to a letter you answered for me years ago. I was looking for a part-time admin type job and was wondering if I should leave my master’s degree and big-city experience off my resume, so I wouldn’t appear over-educated for the type of position I was looking for. I laid off the job search for a while after that due to some family-care needs that came up. Last year, I started casually looking again and happened to spot an article in our county paper about my town approving a new part-time position in the town park office—admin, secretary, office manager, receptionist, holder-down-of-the-fort while the rest of the park workers were actually out in the park. I fired off an application before the job posting was even listed, and I got the job! It’s perfect. Low-stress, quiet, just enough human interaction to keep me sane, and I’ve gotten to use my editing and project management skills as we work to get an online facility reservation system up and running. I still have time for my freelance editing, and the addition of a regular (if not large) paycheck has greatly eased our financial situation.

And I do think I wrote a good cover letter. It also helped that my boss’s wife also does freelance editing work, so he knew the types of skills I’d bring to the job.

{ 46 comments… read them below }

  1. Hlao-roo*

    LW1 — thanks for the update! Bit of a bummer that you’re still in a dysfunctional environment, but way better to recognize that so you can appreciate the paycheck without questioning your management skills/sanity.

  2. Contrast*

    LW1–sounds like those tasks that Carol was neglecting in favor of cleaning are still being neglected. I guess the office just does without those tasks being completed?
    Sometimes in situations like that, I just decide that management is ok with the status quo, so I will be, too. It helps.

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      Yes; in those situations the best self-care is the mantra “they don’t think it’s broke so it’s not on me to fix it.”

  3. Chilipepper Attitude*

    I really appreciate all the points raised in #2. OP, what a great example of knowing yourself. And kudos on the kudos from your colleagues!

    1. SarahKay*

      Yes, the point I nearly teared up was when I got to “told just yesterday by a departing employee that working with me showed him “what good management can look like””.
      Congratulations, LW2, and I hope you continue to do great work.

  4. Richard Hershberger*

    “I finally realized that the reason I’m paid so much is to put up with the bad environment and incompetent owners.”

    Just the other day I commented about the classic observation that you shouldn’t care about things more than your boss does. This is an even more clearcut example. Take the paycheck and give absolutely no emotional investment to the job. Also, prepare for it to end. This doesn’t look like a business cut out for the long haul.

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      I agree. Save anything you can and definitely keep your resume and job searches updated. With remote work as a possibility maybe you can find a matching salary!

    2. GreyjoyGardens*

      I agree with you. LW 1, just take the paycheck and drop the rope. Do what is required and no more – absolutely NO going the proverbial extra mile. And no, this does not look like a sustainable business, so do keep your resume brushed up.

      Sucks that you have to put up with this to get the pay, but that can be true of a lot of jobs. It’s why I hate the whole “you have to have a passion for your work” with a, well, a passion. Work is a paycheck.

  5. EPLawyer*

    #3 — well that was quite the ride. Sounds like your ex-friend is burning bridges right and left.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I wonder if she’s documenting all this on Instagram or TikTok so she can position herself as an influencer? I’m trying (and failing) to come up with some concrete reason why someone would do this. It’s just bizarre.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        The person I mentioned below was just convinced that the “world owed it to them” to be given whatever the wanted whenever they wanted.

        Yes, they did get a reputation that I’m pretty sure they also felt was undeserved.

      2. periwinkle*

        But did she livestream her performance review & firing on Facebook Live?

        (that remains my favorite AAM update, short & sweet & delightfully WTF-y)

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Sadly – Facebook was still infancy when this guy insisted on not learning. Otherwise I’m sure he would have, he was a very big fan of himself.

      3. LW3*

        Hello, I’m the 3rd letter writer. Honestly no clue why she’s acting like this. She is the kind of person to write inspirational Linkedin posts and about her struggle but she’s blocked me there too so no idea if she’s still doing that.

        That said, she was a super diligent person in college and hard worker so I have no idea what changed between college and entering the work force.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I second-hand saw this same situation play out. After the fact it came out unprofessional circles they were dropped by more than one employment lawyer for lying to the lawyers. They only dropped it when they couldn’t get a third lawyer – because there is always some discrete “not a good client” advising that goes on.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        That should have read “ came out In Professional circles.”

        The joys of autoincorrect.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        It’s not even necessarily specific lawyer talk. Seeking a new lawyer in an existing case is a yellow flag. There are some good reasons to do this, but also a lot of bad ones. Doing it twice is a red flag. Ordinarily, a lawyer takes your case assuming you are relating the facts in good faith. The inability to get yet another lawyer might simply because the red flag makes them look more closely.

        1. Zarniwoop*

          I think there’s a guy in Florida having that problem about now. (Having a reputation for not paying lawyers doesn’t help.)

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Having a reputation for not paying anybody is a fast way to have trouble hiring any sort of professional.

            (I have very little sympathy for those in that Floridian’s shoes – don’t stiff the people who work for you.)

          2. ferrina*

            Throwing lawyers under the bus doesn’t help. I hear they don’t like when clients set them up to take the fall.
            Especially when said client may or may not pay.

            1. Avery*

              Yep. I’d say the main rules to hiring a lawyer are: stand back and let them do their job, do whatever they ask you to re: your case, be honest with them (lawyer-client confidentiality is a privilege for a reason, after all), and pay them on time.
              From what I’ve heard, the client in question does… roughly none of those. So it’s no surprise he’s burning through lawyers.
              (IANAL, but I do work for some as a paralegal.)

              1. Alexander Graham Yell*

                My philosophy is never lie to your doctor or your lawyer. Most other people I can start to understand a case for lying, but doctors and lawyers? Not even the tiniest of white lies, not a single one.

          3. Quill*

            I mean, how many times does a guy have to say “I will never pay for anything” before people as a whole decide to never do any work for him? Asking because there’s also famously a dude in California who has that problem.

            1. goddessoftransitory*

              It’s odd that the followers of this type of person only don’t believe him when he tells the simple truth.

  6. Nelalvai*

    I’m glad #2 updated again, because I’ve spent the last 3 years coming to terms with chronic illness. I read through their original post and other updates and the comments, there was a lot of helpful stuff in there. I’m slowly dismantling my “bad health = moral failing” mindset.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      It is an update. OP learned to distinguish what she could and couldn’t fix, and took to heart Richard’s advice about not caring more than your boss does.

      And while so often dysfunction and low pay go hand in hand, “the salary to up with me” is a thing.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Agreed! And if y’all want updates, please be encouraging to people who send them in, even if you wished for a different outcome…

      2. Antilles*

        If the pay is well above what OP would normally get, then they’re effectively choosing to accept significantly more aggravation than they’d get elsewhere in exchange for significantly more money than they’d get elsewhere. If you have the perspective and patience to deal with it, that’s a perfectly reasonable decision to make.

        1. LW1*

          This is exactly it, thank you! I made the mental change from “I am being paid to manage people and solve problems” despite that being impossible to “I am being paid to deal with a broken work environment where I cannot solve problems” where I’ve accepted that the tradeoff for the high pay is not being able to do my job effectively.

        2. GreyjoyGardens*

          Yep. It’s a trade-off, and we all make trade-offs. Some prefer to take less money and have a shorter commute; some, like LW1, are OK with more aggravation and PITAs in return for the extra money. Some people work non-passion careers so they don’t get burnt out and because they actually get paid enough to live on. Etc. Etc. Etc.

          LW1 obviously thinks the trade-off is worth it. And tbh I found this update not really a bummer compared to some OTHER updates where the OP says “welp, still unemployed” or “my company went out of business” or “I had to quit work and take disability” or other truly sad outcomes. LW1’s just sounds like a compromise, not a downer.

    2. LW1*

      I totally understand that it might not be the exciting conclusion you wanted (it’s not the exciting conclusion I wanted either!), but not every situation can lead to a happy ending or big changes, and sometimes the only thing you can change is your frame of mind. There are plenty of other recent updates that are full of drama and excitement and triumph and all that, so I hope that if you’re more interested in those kinds of updates that you’re able to find a way to focus on those and enjoy them without complaining about other outcomes.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Hah, I thought, “if I ever write to AAM, I’ll never update unless I’m out of the job,” because of this kind of reaction. Sometimes bad things just don’t change and you can’t leave.

      2. Sorrischian*

        I really appreciated your update! So often the message in any kind of employment-related media, even here at AAM, is focused on progression, moving onwards and upwards, that kind of thing. Your update is a really interesting and valuable counter narrative to that. It sounds like you took a really clear-eyed look at what you could and could not change, did the cost-benefit analysis, and decided that your best course was to care less and take the money. I respect the hell out of that kind of pragmatism, and I appreciate you telling us about it!

        1. SarahKay*

          Seconding this. Life isn’t perfect, and there’s a lot of value in knowing when and where and how to compromise to get the best results for you within the existing situation.
          I certainly appreciate LW1 taking the time to share the outcome.

      3. Wait but*

        Thank you. This was a very diplomatic way of reminding people that letter writers are real human beings, not characters in their favorite Netflix drama or fanfic.

      4. Falling Diphthong*

        I appreciate the range of updates. It reflects the range of real-world outcomes.

      5. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Honestly – I think your update is just fine. You had a problem, got information and clarity (the boss is a mess who can’t make a decision – but pays me extra to put up with his mess), and used it to make the best decision for YOU. I’m fine with “Boring” updates – as those are the ones that most of us are living in our realities anyways.

      6. allathian*

        I liked your update. Life can be messy and we don’t always get the outcome that we want, but even if all we get from an annoying or unpleasant experience is enough self-awareness so we can decide for ourselves the tradeoffs we’re willing to make, that’s just a life lesson.

        Like other posters have said, some commenters sometimes seem to forget that the LWs are real people, not actors in a scripted show. We should be kind to LWs who write in with updates if we want more updates. And I certainly do.

      7. Alexander Graham Yell*

        Honestly, if the change in perspective helps you be less stressed and able to handle the chaos around you, I think that’s a HUGE win.

    3. Lenora Rose*

      I dunno. I liked the update. I did not like the situation, and I am sad the workplace is that broken in the background, but the OP looked for advice, got it, learned that she could not implement it due to bad workplace reasons, learned what the real issue was… and chose what to do about it. Even that choice was in line with the kind of advice AAM has given past people who could not or would not leave.

      I would not want to work there, but it’s also not the kind of toxic workplace where it makes me think “RUN!” is the only viable solution, or that nobody should work with it for any premium in pay.

  7. GreyjoyGardens*

    LW 2, what a super duper terrific update! So very glad things are going well for you. May they continue to do so!

  8. Michelle Smith*

    LW 2: Thank you for writing in. I teared up reading your third update. I have had a bit of a hard time adjusting myself to my new physical normal, but it has been nowhere near 3 years for me yet. Your post gave me a LOT of much needed hope that this is going to get easier for me with time. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I wish you nothing but continued success in the future.

  9. Observer*

    LW, broken office.

    Just one thought. This business may not be sustainable, or you may come to a point where the paycheck is not worth it anymore. So you may want to see if there are things you can do (like getting a new credential) that would make you more employable if you need or want to move on some day.

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