updates: the “it’s him or me” ultimatum, the buffet food, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December 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 throughout the day.

1. Our HR director issued an “it’s him or me” ultimatum

Toby was not fired, and Michael did speak with Pam, leading to her coming back the next day to apologize for “trying to take over and run things her way” or something like that. Which I felt was a significant concession for her, but not enough to change my mind on her overall. Since then, the idea of letting Pam go has always been sort of in the background, as it was clear that Michael wasn’t happy with her.

Immediately after this event, Michael told Pam that she needed to hire a second HR person, which did happen, and then a few months after that Michael made a big push to really establish everyone’s role and responsibilities as an attempt at getting her less involved in things that weren’t her job. But more and more interpersonal issues kept happening which all traced back to Pam, and finally last week he told me that he couldn’t handle it anymore. The company had just presented an initiative to the floor team, essentially offering job transition assistance to anyone who didn’t like working here, as part of our efforts to streamline ahead of more projected growth. Basically, “We try to make this a good place to work, but it is never going to fit everyone and we will all be happier if we can help those who hate it here find somewhere else they don’t hate.” After presenting this, he said that he felt like it would be a very tangible show of sincerity if he asked Pam to go as well, since she was as much a bad culture fit as anyone on the floor.

Michael went through a whole process and some investigating turned up more issues with Pam’s behavior. But ultimately, he asked her to resign yesterday and she agreed. He’s offering her a very generous severance package and she’s said she’ll help us get someone new in. Aside from the small socialist voice in my head that resents the HR person getting several times more severance than the floor worker, I think it’s all turned out so much better than I feared it would. Though I suppose there’s still time for things to go sideways.

Update to the update:

I said there was still time for things to go sideways and they did. A week or two after the conversation letting her go, Michael held Pam back after a meeting to thank her for continuing to work so hard and have such a good attitude through the end of her time with us. She took the opportunity to completely lose her composure to the point of shouting. She insisted that any problems he had heard about were lies and proceeded to recount a list of all the run-ins she had had with various employees, several of which Michael hadn’t even heard about. These all being evidence of employees with grudges against her “being the enforcer around here, so of course everyone hates me.” She then started hinting at some huge secret that was a massive threat to the company and which she had been dreading telling him for weeks. He was finally able to drag it out of her: some of the employees went to each other’s homes on Friday nights after work to play video games and get drunk. She was certain this was “a massive lawsuit just waiting to happen.”

This exchange helped Michael stop feeling guilty about letting Pam go. But then, two weeks before she was due to leave there was another incident. A piece of equipment that had been down was putting us behind schedule so an extra shift was arranged to help keep up. The machine was finally fixed and Michael thanked the floor management team for handling the extra shift so well. He commented about how far we’d come, as a year ago it would have just been him and his brother coming in on weekends to try and bridge the gap. Pam left that meeting and immediately shared this comment with Andy, our former floor manager who had recently stepped down voluntarily after several years. However the conversation went, it resulted in an irate Andy calling another executive to curse out Michael and quit on the spot. This prompted Michael to ask Pam to leave early. She later insisted in an email that she had done nothing wrong and had shared his comment with Andy to “reassure him.” At no point did she ever acknowledge any blame for a single incident.

So we’ve been making the best of it since then. The second HR person Pam hired has been filling in, but running things singlehandedly is more than she signed on for and she put in her 2 weeks notice today. So we’ll be looking for to start over from the ground up. Fully rebooting HR after all.

2. Making sure halal and vegan buffet food doesn’t run out for the people who need it (#2 at the link)

Just wanted to give you a quick update. We had our holiday party today, and it was a huge success! We set up a separate small table with Halal/Vegan options and had a trusted colleague to man the table. I prepped her on how to respond to anyone requesting food from that table, so that we could redirect those who were just curious by letting them know that if there was some left near the end of the event, they could come back and try some. But we wanted our colleagues observing those diets to have first dibs. We also asked our main caterer to prepare most of the sides to be vegan as well (we did still need the mac and cheese though!)

We got SO MANY COMPLIMENTS AND THANKS! People raved about the food, and many non-Halal/non-vegan eaters said they would love to be able to try it in the future. Our finance person (who BTW was the person who manned the table, as luck would have it) was so pleased with the comments she was getting that she said she would find the funds for us to provide more of these options for our upcoming events.

Thank you so much for answering my question so quickly, and also to the commentariat with the great suggestions. It was definitely helpful!

3. My employees don’t want to talk in meetings … but their jobs require it

Your response to reflect on whether their speaking up was essential versus a nice-to-have was impactful. I realized that while for me public speaking and communicating about our work to various audiences is a requirement and something I encouraged in others, it wasn’t something that 100% of the team needed to be doing. In the end, I decided that it wasn’t essential that folks speak more than they currently did (both in internal meetings within our unit and with other departments) and stuck with only asking folks to provide factual information in meetings when it was something factual that they would have at their fingertips and wouldn’t be surprised by.

I wound up moving on to a new organization not long after this question was posted and didn’t get to the bottom of what went sideways with the DEI consultant, but we did continue to develop multiple channels for people to provide input into the DEI work (ex. surveys and internal conversations in addition to the meetings with the consultant) to ensure people didn’t have to be comfortable speaking in a group session to share feedback.

4. My boss refused to say goodbye on my last day (#2 at the link)

I wrote back in early 2020, seeking advice on a former boss not saying goodbye to me on my last day. Again, thank you for your advice. It helped me come to terms with leaving and going on to the next job. In hindsight it was kinda silly to even care about something like that, but live and learn.

On to the update: I was lucky to leave my first job when I did; a month later Covid happened, and my new job sent us all home. We were actually the first department to do so, as a test to see if the whole company could do it. I worked from home for a year and a half in my new job and I loved it! It gave me time to decompress, get acquainted with new coworkers, and try to unlearn all the bad habits I picked up at my first job. Not as easy as it sounds, what with everything else going on at the time (understatement of the century).

Alas, in the summer of 2021, our boss became anxious to have us back in the office. We were working better than ever, collaboration was at an all-time high … but he had signed a very expensive office lease. We went back, and over another year things got progressively worse at that job. I guess with Covid the general toxicity was muted, but once we were back in person I started to feel like a slow-boiling frog.

I was already looking at other jobs, but I finally got the push to leave last fall, when a coworker was arrested as part of a sting operation in our city. Their mugshot was on the evening news, and the nature of the crime made our workforce, mostly women, extremely upset and uncomfortable. I and several others brought it up to management, who just told us not to talk about it as it would embarrass the coworker. I guess because it was a slap on the wrist they were allowed to keep their job, as well as continue to travel on work trips. That coworker’s BFF was also his boss, which I suspect had something to do with him staying on.

This incident was really the straw that broke my back. While this job was a huge step up from my first, especially in pay, it was becoming too toxic for me. I know my value, and I knew I can get a better job elsewhere. Thanks to my daily reading of your site, I was able to rework my resume, answer and ask good questions at interviews, and make sure my references were in order. Thankfully, the executive director at my first job was more than happy to be a reference, and within six months I landed a new job! It’s another pay increase, which was needed, and so far it’s a calmer, more structured work environment.

As for my first job, I heard through the grapevine that while my old department was allowed to work from home during Covid, the rest of the office was not, which led to much resentment. My old position has become a revolving door, with most new hires staying less than a year before bouncing. Just what I’ve heard, but I’m not surprised. Thanks again for helping me when I was just starting out in the professional world and had no clue.

{ 73 comments… read them below }

  1. I should really pick a name*

    She then started hinting at some huge secret that was a massive threat to the company and which she had been dreading telling him for weeks.

    Her ace in the hole was “there’s a massive threat to the company and I didn’t tell you about it”?
    I’m sure that would inspire someone to keep you on.

    1. Yeah...*

      I recognize this logic, as I’ve seen it used too many times. The power is in the “secret,” Once revealed the “secret” looses a lot of its power. I would not be surprised if Pam had threatened the violators by revealing their secret, hence the value.

      (Yes, there are exceptions)

      1. Nea*

        It especially loses power when the big reveal is “some of the employees hang out together on their own time.”

        1. Bringerofbrownies*

          That reminds me. Gotta run – scheduled a happy hour with a bunch of former coworkers to reminisce about our old office holiday parties…and after parties…and after parties to the after parties. Lol.

        2. Dust Bunny*


          I’d be like, “Yeah, OK, but, seriously–what’s the secret? Because that can’t be it.”

        3. ferrina*

          Yeah, that secret was a lot more powerful when no one knew what it was. It could have been the plot to a spy movie….and it was coworkers also being friends. The horror?

          1. Nebula*

            Given that Pam apparently doesn’t understand how to show basic courtesy to the people she works with, it’s hardly surprising that she is baffled by and suspicious of coworkers actually enjoying each other’s company.

  2. Drake*

    I always think back to that one story about the toxic employee holding things hostage, what if something were to happen to the person tomorrow?
    Nothing should protect you from stupid decisions, especially using the power of seniority and knowledge over others.

    1. Bringerofbrownies*

      Especially for a function like HR. You can contract that out until your org gets back on its feet. In fact, an outside company might be able to help you build back a better process and culture for that workstream.

      1. Momma Bear*

        Many small businesses outsource HR functions so if it’s been hard to keep someone, maybe look for a PT person in the office for particular things and shift everything else to a contractor.

        RE: The food, so glad it went over well! Sometimes people just need to see the positives before they understand the value. Sounds like it was a win-win.

    2. Orv*

      In IT we call that “bus factor.” It’s a bit of dark humor. The bus factor for any given process is how many people could be hit by a bus before the business couldn’t function anymore. Anything with a bus factor of 1 should ideally trigger documentation and cross-training to raise the bus factor.

      1. Bruce*

        Oof… that really happened to someone I knew when he was rushing to a court date, it was the end of him and of his business. Turns out missing a court date due to being in the hospital does not always count for an extension, R.I.P.

        1. Mad Harry Crewe*

          In a humane world, that ought to get you an extension. I don’t care how horrible you are, we are all human, with fragile human bodies, and sometimes those bodies are hospitalized without notice. That shouldn’t mean an automatic fail in the legal system.

  3. Keeley Jones, The Independent Wonan*

    As someone who worked in various finance departments for many years, it must have been a huge success for them to agree to spend more money, LOL!

  4. Bringerofbrownies*

    Wow was that the curve ball in the last letter. Ugh, sounds like LW made the right choice to leave. I find it interesting, from the WFH vs. In-Office discussion kinda way, how they said toxicity was likely there all along but bloomed and really came to the forefront once things we back in-person. I’ll be thinking about that for awhile.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I made an indescribable sound when I read “mugshot was on the evening news.” And a loud “WHAT” to the followup.

      I’m glad OP has moved on!

      1. RVA Cat*

        Same, plus my blood boils that his crime not only made the women feel unsafe but he was allowed to keep working there! I assume it was a sex crime or domestic violence.

        1. Spiders Everywhere*

          Hard to see how that fits in with the sting operation though, unless it was just soliciting sex work, but the letter makes it seem worse than that.

            1. Gumby*

              I am guessing it was some sort of solicitation sting since it made women specifically feel uncomfortable. CSA, assuming I have selected the correct interpretation of that acronym, normally discomfits both men and women.

              If you paid attention to the Larry Nassar thing as it was happening, some people who knew him personally, even some gymnasts, were defending him in the press / on social media at the start when not as many details were public. Once it came out that LEOs found certain images on his computer those people dropped their support immediately. (I completely believe those people did have 100% positive interactions with him. But even long friendships and positive experiences went up in smoke at the first reports of his computer’s contents.)

    2. Wedge Tailed Eagle*

      I had the same experience as LW. Before covid I was having problems with my manager. Then we worked from home for a year and a half and things were good, so I thought we had things sorted. Turns out it was the slow-boiling frog thing. Should have got out of there sooner.

    3. chewingle*

      It’s too bad dysfunctional companies can’t see what a boon WFH would be for them, because it is a great way to hide it (or snuff it out completely, depending on who works with who) and retain employees they may otherwise lose. When WFH is possible, of course.

    1. Phryne*

      It really depends. Not in this letters case no. But in education they are functional: we have 3 months (in our contracts, not just an convention) because that is a quarter. It is an unspoken agreement that people will try, as much as possible, to work out the current educational period (a period is 10 weeks here). When they stay within education, this is fine as their destination job will be aiming for a start at the beginning of a period as well.
      Also, the three months can be broken if there is mutual agreement about this between employer and employee, and this happens often enough if someone has an earlier desired start date and it can be arranged within their courses.

  5. Emily*

    For #1, I am really confused why Pam was allowed to have such a long notice period when she was essentially forced to resign. More problems cropping up with her during a long notice period when she has already been causig problems seem inevitable (and clearly did happen).

    1. ferrina*

      Agree. When a problematic person is forced out, they should have as little access as possible to sensitive information. There are agencies that can provide a temporary HR person. Do your research, get your back-up in place, then get the problematic person out that day.

      1. Mad Harry Crewe*

        YUP. At a previous job, my HR person (who was lovely, competent, ethical, etc) told me that whenever she resigned she would be walked immediately, because HR has too much access and too much power, and it’s just not safe for any company to let someone with that level of access stay when they’re on their way out. (She wasn’t unhappy about this, it was just an obvious fact of life in her world.)

    2. Impending Heat Dome*

      No kidding. For someone who was being fired FOR CAUSE, they certainly soft-soaped her exit. And how did that work out for them? She caused chaos on her way out anyway, which was precisely why she was fired. What exactly was preserved here? Awful message to the rest of the staff, too.

      1. Princess Sparklepony*

        I’m wondering if Pam was the only problem at that company. They don’t sound like they handled anything well.

  6. Skytext*

    Yeah, their mistake was not walking Pam out the door immediately. Otherwise, why give her a generous severance package? I thought the point of a severance package is you don’t want to just cut off someone’s source of income with no notice, but you don’t want to give them notice because they could essentially damage or destroy your business in the meantime. So you pay them “not to work”. Letting Pam hold them hostage, even after they fired her, was not the smartest move (at least in hindsight).

    1. Fanny Price*

      The point of a severance package is not to ease the burden of cutting off someone’s income, but to mitigate risk to the company. Severance agreements pretty much always come with an agreement not to sue for anything that happened during the period of employment.

  7. GreyjoyGardens*

    LW1: Merciful heavens, Pam was a piece of work. How very dare employees meet up *on their own time* to drink and play video games! Tsk! I’m glad Michael was able to get rid of her finally, as it sounds like she was making the whole workplace toxic. Too bad that HR Worker #2 is overwhelmed, but at least she knows she’s in over her head, and you know what to look for in a new HR person.

    LW2: This is a great update! You handled “how to make sure the people who NEED the vegan and/or halal food actually get it” so well, that I think anyone who is reading this can follow your example. You got lots of positive feedback, and, best of all, you are now having more funds for more vegan and halal options going forward. Feel good, LW. I think lots of us learned something practical today.

  8. Critical Rolls*

    I hope Michael learned from this. The sunk cost fallacy cost him Andy, the previous person who got fired after clashing with Pam, probably the new HR person, and maybe other unknowns who quit because of Pam but didn’t say so. And he didn’t save himself anything, since (unsurprisingly) Pam used the long notice to make trouble rather than get a real replacement hired and up to speed.

    1. BridgeofFire*

      Not “probably the new HR person”. Definitely the new HR person.

      “The second HR person Pam hired has been filling in, but running things singlehandedly is more than she signed on for and she put in her 2 weeks notice today.”

  9. SparkyMcDragon*

    I didn’t follow what Pam told Andy that made him rage quit? that Michael said good job to the extra shift?

    1. econobiker*

      Pam stirred up the pot of “stuff” with the former manager Andy probably by saying “Michael said they did such a a better job last night than whenever you had ran the operation.”

      Which causes Andy to flip out and then HE calls a 3rd executive and curses about Michael. Then Andy walks out, quitting on the spot- because of what Pam related to him.

      An HR person creating that kind of drama is not a person to be trusted. If I were that company ‘s owners, I would have an audit of anything Pam had touched in the past.

      1. niknik*

        Thats what i figured, too. But how was that all that was needed to send Any ballistic like that ? Former history between Michael and Andy ? Bad temper ?

        1. Mongrel*

          I can’t help thinking Pam may have spiced up the exchange to piss of Andy as part of her “controlling the place through drama” method.

    2. Exile from Academia*

      So assuming LW is accurately reporting that what Michael said was roughly “thanked the floor management team for handling the extra shift so well … a year ago it would have just been him and his brother coming in on weekends to try and bridge the gap” – someone looking to start drama could absolutely spin that to claim that Michael was saying that Andy had been terrible as a floor manager and that it was his fault that things had previously been so badly handled, changing a neutral “you did a good job and I’m glad to see we’re doing things better than we used to” into “thank goodness that useless layabout Andy isn’t in charge anymore”

      1. Princess Sparklepony*

        Especially since Andy is no longer in charge anymore, I could see that really stinging even if he was moved for totally unrelated reasons.

    3. BananaHammock*

      Yes, I did not understand that either. And after seeing an explanation from another person, I have to say I still don’t understand.

  10. Bookworm*

    LW2: Yay!! Sounds like a win all around. Sounds like it could be a great way for some cross-cultural/inclusiveness (without making it a whole exercise, etc.) . Bare minimum it’s a great way for people to be introduced to more yummy food, haha.

    1. OP2*

      Yes, it was nice to hear people talking about how good the other food looked and how they would like to have more opportunities to try it. We are already looking forward to planning other events and exploring other catering options.

      1. Princess Sparklepony*

        I’m wondering if from time to time you had all or mostly vegan/halal meals brought in… switch the percentages of the kind of food you have. The small table would have the regular stuff for those that want that. It sounds like the “special” food you brought it was good stuff. (A lot depends on the quality of the food.)

  11. Addison DeWitt*

    Re: the buffet letter

    Yeah, you handled it well… except compared to the obvious choice of actually getting more of the food that everyone seems to want!

    1. Nebula*

      In the original letter, the LW explained that they had already booked caterers before someone raised the issue of having vegan/halal options, and they had then booked an extra caterer to accommodate that as the original one couldn’t. There was always the intention of going with a caterer in future that could accommodate everyone better, but at the time their hands were tied somewhat by the existing contract and, I presume, budget, given this ended up being an extra outlay.

      1. OP2*

        Yes, our mistake was in not thinking about having more options earlier in the process, so we did it as an add-on with an additional caterer. On the plus side, we have already done some research into additional catering options to provide a wider array of foods than what we’ve typically done.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          The add on is probably a really good thing, since not all places grasp that “vegetarian/vegan” is not the same thing as kosher/halal approved kitchen.

  12. No aurora*

    “He was finally able to drag it out of her: some of the employees went to each other’s homes on Friday nights after work to play video games and get drunk. She was certain this was “a massive lawsuit just waiting to happen.””

    The horror! The legal liability! Alcohol AND video games after work? Why, next they’ll have a picnic together and feed the pigeons!

  13. Cadet 12*

    When I resigned from my job I was planning on just leaving on my last day, saying goodbye to everyone but my boss, and sneaking out. By the time I left though, I decided to be the bigger person and say goodbye. I said goodbye to my boss and he wouldn’t even turn away from his computer- he just said “ok.” And that was it. It was a really terrible ending to a really terrible job.

    1. Princess Sparklepony*

      Although it reinforces exactly why you are glad to be leaving. Sometimes that is just easier. It’s when they turn on the charm at the end that you start second guessing your choices.

    2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      I didn’t even know it was the last time I’d see my boss when I said good-bye to him, but he sounded like he was being strangled as he said good-bye. Then on the following Monday my colleague told me he had said as he left that it was his last day.
      I was light-headed for the rest of that day and even posted a Schadenfreude thing on social media, I was that happy. He’d previously told me (before selling the company when it was about to go bankrupt because of him paying himself far more than the company could afford) that there wasn’t room for both of us and he wasn’t going anywhere because he was the boss. He wanted to fire me but I was actually the most productive employee and had done nothing wrong, I’d only stuck up for my rights, and we have decent protection from bosses acting on a whim here in France.

  14. NotBatman*

    I want to thank LW2 for being so considerate! As someone with dietary restrictions, I’ve dealt many times with the problem of the limited-diet option looking fresher than the main one, so that everyone eats the vegan food first and I get nothing for lunch.

    1. OP2*

      Thank you, we really did put some thought into how to ensure those who needed the foods were not left out, especially since it was come and go event. Everyone was so understanding, especially when we shared that we would increase the offerings of vegan food in particular.

  15. 1-800-BrownCow*

    LW #1, I swear reading this “Pam” is the former HR Manager at my company, but the timelines don’t match up. Regardless, a manipulative HR manager is definitely problematic to deal with. The former “Pam” at my job showed herself out the door thanks to some changes in management and the new head person didn’t stand for her BS. Sadly though, she had trained another person in HR that was brand new to the HR world who is now our HR manager. She is a much better person in general and thankfully not manipulative, but she learned some practices from the former manager that has been slow going in having her unlearn and change. Like, if your out for FMLA or other long-term leave, she makes us check-in daily because former HR “Pam” told people it was a requirement for insurance purposes (??). Which really sucked when my dad ended up in life-flighted to a major hospital for live-saving efforts due to a botched surgery and I took a week of PTO to be with him and my mom. Last thing I wanted to do that week was “check-in with HR” every day and give them updates and I never got an answer what any of it had to do with insurance since I used PTO. But if I didn’t check-in, I received non-stop phone calls and texts, so I only did it because I didn’t need the additional stress.

    1. Princess Sparklepony*

      I’m no expert but I thought I’ve read that requiring check ins like that is against the FMLA rules. But I’m not sure. It just seems very intrusive.

  16. Jordan*

    Am I the only one whose brain hurts from ‘Pam’ being the name of the HR rep, and ‘Toby’ the name of the regular employee?

  17. borealis*

    LW3, thanks for this update! I remember reading the original letter and thinking that I would have been one of the silent team members, and it looks like you handled the situation really well.

  18. thighjelly*

    Pam was really stirring the pot behind the scenes…this is what happens when you give someone too much leeway too early on and don’t step in to curb bad behavior. Looks like Toby had valid criticism of HR, even if he went about it the wrong way.

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