updates: my job makes me feel like I’m the worst kid in gym class, and more

Welcome to “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager! Between now and the end of the year, I’ll be 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 throughout the day.

1. My job makes me feel like I’m the worst kid in gym class

Well, this is a positive update, but not an update I had anything to do with. Hilariously enough, I was not the person to bring up that they hate these barsports things. “I (expletive) hate bowling” were my coworker’s exact words when our boss brought up that we were having another scheduled Enforced Fun Day. The reaction from the rest of my team, including my boss, was pretty much, “Oh thank God, someone finally said it.” It seems like people across the umbrella organization have also been saying this.

Our more recent Enforced Fun things were “scavenger hunt, free beer” and “vegan-friendly sushi buffet, optional karaoke.” I’m sure we’ll have bowling or darts at some point but things are definitely more varied now. The moral is to remember that even people who don’t have motor skills issues might (expletive) hate barsports.

Some people in the comments were asking why we couldn’t switch to a trivia games situation. My answer was that the body of workers is very international, including many recent immigrants who don’t speak the local language very well. Our management tries to be sensitive to that. This is why the emphasis on adult play time in the first place: in theory, it’s accessible regardless of language level.

So a good ending, but with my coworker taking your advice!

2. Employee wants a month off during our busy period (#2 at the link)

Last year I wrote in about two employees on a small team looking to take extensive vacation time simultaneously. I ended up declining two of the four weeks requested off by the second employee, but approved remote work for those two weeks so he could still travel to see family during that time and the PTO rolled over to this year. We were thin for a few days but were able to catch up in the new year.

This year I wanted to be sure to get ahead of it – and am thankful I did, as the entire team apparently intended to take off the five days surrounding Christmas. I level-set with the team the expectation that no one would be on-call and on vacation simultaneously (a bad habit we’d slipped into when short-staffed) so they could truly disconnect during their time off and the flip side that I needed two people covering throughout. With a few voluntary tweaks, everyone was able to align their vacation time so we have the coverage we need but everyone’s getting some well deserved PTO as well.

Thanks to you and your readers for giving me the push I needed.

3. Coworker is posting daily bible verses on the company social channel (#3 at the link)

I’m the person who wrote in June about the guy posting daily bible verses (and who was asking us to commit to Jesus) at my company in June.

By the time I emailed you, he had toned down, and a few days later he stopped completely. So someone MUST have said something to him before I could get to it!

Thank you (and the commentariat), again, for your blog, which I read faithfully!

4. My coworker seems to mentally check out when we present together (#2 at the link)

I did take the time to address my colleague about her checking out during training feedback with training participants, and she told me I should have been more direct with her in the moment. While true, it was off-putting to me that the onus would be on me to get her to clue in to an essential part of her job. So it didn’t exactly cause the sweeping changes I was hoping for. She has behaved similarly in subsequent sessions with my other colleagues, and our supervisor’s response to it is to assign her to always co-lead these sessions with others. There seems to be no impetus to do much else, which I find incredibly frustrating but not atypical in government service. It really does diminish my enjoyment of the job overall.

A positive note to end on. I was recently promoted from my level 1 position to a level 2 position, so while there are many aspects of this job I don’t care for, at least I am earning more money doing it.

{ 54 comments… read them below }

  1. Candyland Lady*

    RE: #1
    When our department has a meeting, we usually have an activity… recently, there have been a few “trivia” style games with appropriate seasonal topics. We divide into two groups… but we can answer individually with our group getting the credit.

    Our department? Education. all subjects with many of us teaching multiple subjects as needed.

    The problem. Although everyone answers, one person gets most of the correct answers and that person’s team usually wins. We’ve talked about having trivia contests with other departments without telling them about the secret weapon person. We’ve tried different versions of trivia games, different general topics. Forget it!! SWP still knows the craziest obscure information!!

    I’m not sure what we’re doing next meeting day, but I hope it isn’t trivia!

    1. yvve*

      it’s a good reminder that literally nothing is universally accessible! you just have to vary the activities and make things optional

      1. PhyllisB*

        I’m the person who knows all kinds of weird things. ( My kids used to encourage me to try out for Who Wants to be a Millionaire.) I can’t remember why I walked into the kitchen, but I can tell you why restaurants always vary the way they sing Happy Birthday to patrons. (copyright issues.) HOWEVER!! put me in front of a crowd, and I will forget my own name.

        1. Helvetica*

          Same! And I have been on Who Wants to be a Millionaire at my peak era of knowing something about everything; my knowledge has definitely become more specific over time.

    2. dulcinea47*

      OMG that’s rough! We did trivia somewhat regularly at old job (don’t worry we did a variety of stuff) and there were a few category experts but there was enough variation in winners, I thought.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        This is my job at our annual party, because otherwise, nobody wants to play against me or my team.

        It’s actually pretty fun.

        1. Violin squeaks*

          Same here! My spouse and I have been the defacto trivia question writers for the last four years in our small town. We take it very seriously and have an absolute blast doing it. A major difference between my spouse and I, though, is that they won’t attend the trivia night because they don’t want to see people angry with/challenge questions whereas I enjoy explaining exactly why that person is wrong with an airtight argument. It’s part of the fun!

    3. WS*

      I am that person and the problem was solved by making me the quizmaster. Which I enjoy, despite usually being a very introverted person. Making quizzes is fun!

      1. Meemur*

        I am also that person but while I’m good at answering questions, I’m bad at coming up with them. So now I collect the answer cards, add up the scores, watch out for cheaters. I still get to participate but it’s more fun for everyone

    4. Rainy*

      I no longer participate in work trivia games because it’s not fair to everyone else. There was a themed trivia a while back and someone said “Rainy, get in on this!” and I said that I felt like trivia was more fun for everyone else when I didn’t, and three different people said, not very quietly “Good!” which made me feel like it was the right decision.

    5. Phryne*

      Just adding my voice to the ‘no one wants to play trivial puirsuit or cluedo with me anymore’ crowd. Last office party, I too was in the team that made/ran the pubquiz.

    6. Salsa Your Face*

      I’m another person who no one wants to play trivia against, but unlike the others I tend to feel really sad about it because I love trivia, but I don’t want to ruin other people’s experiences.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Trivia was kind of ruined for me when it was the only time my classmates wanted me on their team in school.

        If I participate now, I usually introduce some kind of handicap for myself (e.g. a 10-15 second delay).

    7. Lanlan*

      It’s me. I’m SWP in most situations. I would slay at Jeopardy. As a compromise to the teams playing trivia games, I usually offer to keep score.

  2. Sara*

    I love the coworker in #1 so much. I imagine them just driven to the point of insanity with these scheduled events that they just couldn’t take it one more day. I actually do love bowling, but even I would have been driven crazy by that point. Though honestly Karaoke with co-workers is my literal nightmare so the alternative seems scary as well.

      1. allathian*

        I’ve done it with friends in the past on a cruise, but that time I was so drunk that if they hadn’t taken a photo of all performers, I wouldn’t have remembered it. My friends told me that I was a very happy drunk, neither angry nor maudlin, so that’s something. But it’s scary to black out like that, and I don’t know how I managed it.

        And there’s no way that I’d ever get drunk enough to lose my memory in the company of my coworkers!

    1. Phryne*

      I was shanghaied into my works Party committee last year, and I am proud to say I’ve used my position for good by successfully scuppering the ‘let’s hire a karaoke set’ plan.

  3. Csethiro Ceredin*

    Solidarity to OP #1.

    I missed the original letter but I would hate this too, without as many excellent reasons as you! I WAS the worst kid in gym class. Dodgeball was a Lord of the Flies experience, and while I am a bit more coordinated now I am still basically made up of long limbs and nearsightedness.

    I’d loathe anything in a work context where people were watching me gangle all over the place.

    1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      “I am still basically made up of long limbs and nearsightedness.”

      I found this hilarious because I identify with it so hard. I could never manage any three dimensional sports.

    2. Johanna Cabal*

      I remember this letter! The part about others getting visibly upset about LW being on their team brought back memories of fifth grade when we had to play a class kickball game during recess (new school so no playground equipment). I was terrible at it and treated horribly by my peers for it. One day, the teacher was sorting us into teams for the game and when she put me on a team, some of the kids on that team groaned loudly. This upset the teacher and she made the class do a silent activity instead. Of course, my classmates blamed me for getting punished.

      I’m glad my current job doesn’t do physical activities.

  4. Velociraptor Attack*

    OP 2, I’d love to hear the system you worked out for the holidays, this is a topic I was pondering today. I’m new to managing a team and want to do some level setting in the new year for time around the holidays.

    1. Rocket Raccoon*

      I do coverage based work.

      My team does it where half the team takes PTO around Thanksgiving and the other half does Christmas (everyone gets the actual holiday off). We usually have one or two people who don’t travel for either holiday and volunteer to do both, for which my boss gives out gift cards and feeds them.

    2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      In my former role, we basically did a call for PTO requests in late September/early October for time covering the week prior to Thanksgiving and the week after New Years. Essentially, unless it was a situation where someone would have to plan and book major travel prior to then*, all requests were held until it could be reviewed as a group. The key to this is making sure the decisions are made in enough advance that, should a request need to be denied, people have time to make alternate plans.

      *This was always more of an issue with summer vacation travel than holiday travel, and I’d typically approve in advance in those cases. We had a similar model for summer, but that was a little looser and major trips were typically not denied, anyway. The only things I would see denied were when people would decide they wanted to take every Monday and/or Friday off in July and August, which I almost always had to negotiate with staff to be flexible.

    3. Jay (no, the other one)*

      I’m a doctor. My groups have always had one person working the actual holiday and that usually rotated (although I always work Christmas since I don’t celebrate it). The administration/lead partner decided how many people we needed to have in the office and preference for time off was given to the people who didn’t have that stretch off the year before, which in effect meant people usually alternated having Thanksgiving week off and having the week between Christmas and New Year’s. For years I worked the week of 12/24-12/31 with a half-day on New Year’s Eve and took PTO the first week on January. It was delightful.

    4. OP2*

      Since we have an on-call rotation already that helped (employees can swap weeks of coverage but it defaults to a straight rotation), so folks had already agreed to be on-call the week of Christmas and the week after back in September when we set the schedule for Q4, which meant they could not take their respective week off. We also track year-on-year holiday coverage so if you did either Thanksgiving or Christmas last year you will not be assigned either this year (you could volunteer to trade and end up covering 2 years in a row, but it’s not going to be assigned 2 years in a row).

      From there I asked everyone to send me the time they’d like to take off and let them know that we needed coverage by at least 2 people (of 5). A couple team members volunteered in their initial response that their dates were flexible, so they were the ones who adjusted (one taking time before christmas, the other rolling over and taking the days in January). Barring that my intention was to give preference to the person who’d had their vacation declined last year and then draw names. (if it had come to that I would have committed to giving preference to *those* employees the following year.)

      Perhaps there are better ways (and I’m sure other commenters will share!) but that was my plan.

    1. Hypnotist Collector*

      Indeed! Things are changing. In 2015, having inexplicably gotten a job in a startup at age 57, I was almost fired for not wanted to do Enforced Fun (an all-day staff trip to an amusement park). I didn’t know anyone yet, I was between 20 and 35 years older than my colleagues, I had a 90-minute-each-way commute by bus and this meant a day of doing that commute when it wasn’t even for work, and it was a wildly anxiety-producing nightmare for me. But it was 100% treated as “she doesn’t fit in.”

    2. Kyrielle*

      Yup. I had it made clear to me years ago that opting out of a bowling trip was not an option.

      I had weak ankles* and could just have them give under me if I moved wrong (forward walking was fine!), and sideways was definitely wrong. The odds that I’d follow the ball down the lane at least once were not zero, and the odds that I’d fall and hurt myself were pretty high.

      I managed to skate around that one (not literally, the ankles would not have been good for that!) by begging off the bowling but going to the event and taking photos of other people enjoying bowling (or pretending to).

      * Past tense, because after a decent period of PT, they’ve behaved normally for me.

  5. Clare*

    LW#1: since it sounds like adult play time isn’t going away, (regardless of desirability) may I suggest bringing up giant board games next time someone insists on a P.E. session? Giant chess, giant Jenga and giant connect-4 all seem physical, but so long as the pieces are light you only actually need the gross motor skill to be able to pick them up. Hopefully you don’t need it, but it could be a handy idea to keep in your back pocket with which to stave off darts a little longer.

  6. Always Tired*

    I make it my goal to be the worst at all Mandatory Fun Events. It entertains me to see others go from laughing and poking fun to genuine concern and horror that I could be THIS bad at something, and I like to think it makes everyone else less shy about their own abilities or choices to not participate. But it’s different going in intending to tank and actually struggling. We always have something back up to do/don’t force participation in the physical event (ie: we did a picnic at a paintball place, so people were free to play, or just hang around the grill and play cards and/or chat.) No event should be all physically based, and I say that working for a company where 95% of staff has to be able bodied because of the kind of work we do.

    1. Kit Kendrick*

      I eventually had to have a gentle word with my manager to explain that the sort of boisterous crosstalk that happens at Mandatory Fun (especially as the room usually used has an echo) sets off my sensory overload issues in a very bad way and my habit of avoiding those events was in no way a comment on my commitment to the team. I think he’d either seen me make myself ill the times I forced myself to stay or I used language that ticked the “reasonable accommodations” HR flag, because I was never given a hard time for always having to “take a customer call” just as things got loud after that.

  7. lilsheba*

    I’m super glad the daily bible verse person finally quit. Nothing more annoying than having that in your face when you don’t want it.

  8. RVA Cat*

    I mean, it says something when a recent miniseries featured a psycho with a bowling alley *in his kitchen*.

  9. nnn*

    OK, someone invent a some kind of bar/arcade/teambuilding thing where teams compete through some combination of barsports and trivia and karaoke and one or two other drastically different things. And you can get comparable amounts of points by doing any one of the things well without having to be able to do all of them well. So there’s generally something that everyone enjoys doing.

    So the people who are good at trivia can play trivia and earn points, and people who are good at bowling can bowl and earn points. You can have a team of all trivia buffs, or a team of all bowlers, or a team of all karaoke singers, or any combination thereof, and everyone comes away feeling like it was a fair, satisfying, enjoyable, well-matched competition.

  10. ecnaseener*

    #4, I’m not even sure I buy that you should’ve been more direct in the moment. What were you supposed to do, call out your fellow instructor in front of the students for looking distracted? She would’ve taken issue with that (and rightfully so).

    1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      That was utter DARVO. If she had been more direct in the moment, the co-worker would have said she should have waited.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Idk if I would apply DARVO to a minor work clash where there’s not really a “victim” or “attack,” but yeah I think this was a deflection.

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah, that is such a weird thing for them to say. It would be pretty awkward for everyone to be like “hey, can you stop looking at your hair and answer the question?” in front of a ton of other people! Seems like a weird way to deflect in the moment by trying to suggest OP had been doing something wrong too.

  11. trivial trivia*

    Re: #1 — not only is language ability an issue with trivia, cultural knowledge is, too.

    My spouse speaks near-native English but did not grow up in the country where we live, and many trivia questions (think sports, movies, national politics, songs) are complete mysteries to her despite being fully bilingual. That’s not to say it can’t be enjoyable with friends, but in a work setting she would find it pretty off-putting.

  12. Dek*

    “That probably has something to do with the first gathering turning into the Pam Family Reunion.”

    Pamily Reunion

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