updates: my bosses praise me so much that it’s embarrassing, 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. My bosses praise me so much that it’s embarrassing

It meant a lot to me that you took my question seriously. When I have talked about this with my friends, I have gotten a lot of “oh poor baby, are people too nice to you” type responses. Which was understandable but not helpful!

Not long after I wrote to you, a new manager role was created in between the director and the team and given to me. It changed the dynamic a lot. I still hear nice things from him in private, so I know my boss isn’t unhappy with me but now the public message is more simply “she manages the team” rather than “she is our rockstar analyst blah blah blah.”

As the new manager of the team, I try to say nice things about everyone as much as possible, both individually and collectively. I am also working on qualifying some of the juniors for title bumps and raises because a raise is the best praise. It’s not hard to be positive — they are a great team and always were.

In terms of pushback on ideas, the problem is now getting people to push back on their manager’s ideas, which didn’t exactly make that problem go away. I have found asking them to work together to identify problems in a document without me in the room gets good results. I suspect not having to take individual ownership of their pushback or do it to my face makes it easier to be more pointed.

I would like to build the kind of trust with the team that would let them feel they can those things to me directly — both because hashing ideas out in conversation makes them stronger more quickly than sending comments back and forth in Word and because knowing when and how to push back against people above you is a vital skill in our work. I get invited to more higher level meetings in my new role and see this happening at every level of our organization. We will all need to get better at giving and receiving that kind of pushback if we are going to advance.

2. My manager told me that my coworker’s sexism is something I should work out with him on my own (#2 at the link)

I wrote in after I had already talked to my then-manager. I didn’t go to HR because our HR department is known in general for making things much worse, and has proven themselves to be especially awful around equity issues. We lost an amazing employee who told me she left in large part because of my coworker’s sexism, and her replacement has apparently also expressed a lot of dismay about working for him, though I’m not sure if she sees his behavior as gender-based. Neither of them has given me permission to bring their concerns forward in any official capacity (and I’m not sure anyone would care about someone who’s already left).

I’ve since had a lateral transfer to a role where I have more direct involvement with workplace equity issues, and I’m hearing more reports of people experiencing racism or homophobia and basically being told to work it out or having it treated as an interpersonal issue rather than one of systemic bias that’s illegal in the workplace. My attempts to help people, especially other managers, understand how this is a legal liability issue and not just an interpersonal one have failed so far, so I’m working on some longer-term deeper solutions for organizational culture change, including coalition building so that people can’t write me off as easily, as well as plotting how I can push this particular issue in ways that aren’t going to further burden people with marginalized identities.

It’s hard and it’s frustrating. I’m trying to find ways to do this work without burning out, because I feel responsible to people with less power in the organization, and our clients, who are getting hurt more than I am. But I’m also getting hurt by it (I’ve also been hit heavily by ableism and other illegal harassment here previously). I’m just trying to keep using my organizational power to change things.

3. Should I say I’m leaving because of my horrible coworker? (#2 at the link)

Thank you very much for your response, and all the thoughts in the comments. The advice was genuinely useful.

I did end up getting a new job (although it was neither of the two jobs that I was interviewing for when I wrote in) and so had an opportunity to give an exit interview and give feedback on the situation that was making me leave.

However, the exit interview was on the last day of a two-month notice, so I had many, many days to contemplate exactly what I was going to say. If I’m honest, there were some days where I planned to go scorched earth on the questions and make it very personal and very satisfying in a Hollywood way.

But cooler heads prevailed, and by the time I was filling in exit interview questions, I was able to think rationally and follow your advice. I was honest and I was detailed about the issues at the company. However, I took time to remove the emotion from anything I was saying, and made sure to back everything I said up with examples. I wrote a lot.

The actual in-person interview ended up being very cathartic. The HR representative was grateful for the detail I went into, and she acknowledged that she saw many of the same issues too. I was a little emotional in that meeting but it was (genuine) sadness, rather than anger, and I think that it underscored I was sad to be leaving a job that I’d spent almost a decade at.

Many of the commenters helped me acknowledge that Beth wasn’t the sole problem at the company. She was, ultimately, taking advantage of wider issues. My final two months were very eye-opening on this, and I felt like I saw things clearly for the first time.

I think my manager did too. I think he understood, too late, the amount of work that I was doing behind the scenes to keep things running. When all my potential replacements were asking for 50% more salary than I was being paid, he apologized for not taking me seriously when I had approached him about how underpaid I was compared to the market rate. I’m not sure he fully understands all the issues at the company, but I think he understands more of them now.

I am a few weeks into a new role at a new company, and it’s going great. It’s been eight years since I’ve been a new starter, so that’s a nice change of pace. It’s a step back career and salary-wise, but I feel genuinely supported and have bosses and grand-bosses that are keen to advance me quickly.

Thank you for your advice, and thank you to all the commenters that weighed in!

4. The CEO makes us rank our personal lives at team meetings

I am still at this same job, but I’ve taken the approach of always ranking my personal life a 7 and saying I need a vacation. This seems to appease my boss and stop any further probing.

As the year has gone on, my boss continues to insert herself into people’s lives. A family member passed away recently and we had an hour and 45 minute heart-to-heart about it where she asked many personal questions, shared way more than I ever wanted to know about the deaths of her loved ones, and told me she had a dream I was deeply unhappy at her company. After I reassured her, she did give me a raise so I will accept the nonsense for a little while longer and continue my job search.


{ 37 comments… read them below }

  1. Uranus Wars*

    After I reassured her, she did give me a raise so I will accept the nonsense for a little while longer and continue my job search.

    I don’t know why this line struck me the most, but at least you got a raise for the interim and I am sure better things are out there for you OP!

  2. Rose*

    I got a full body cringe reading update 4 but I’m very happy you’re able to use this to your advantage and not go crazy. Spending almost two hours talking about death at work after the death of a loved one sounds so stressful and unpleasant. Good for you for handling all this and keeping your head.

    I think the “it’s always a 7!” Approach is the right one. I would be so tempted to share the same, very specific update every single week a weird form of snarky rebellion. “I’m a 7 because everything is going really well, except my cactus just died.” Every single week. If you get called out, you buy a new cactus weekly. OR it just feels so fresh.

    1. Princess Sparklepony*

      For some of us, the dying plant is a real thing… I can kill a plant just by looking at it wrong.

  3. BigLawEx*

    Is, ‘raise is the best praise’ as well-known saying? If not, it should be. I love that POV, LW 1.

  4. Critical Rolls*

    LW2, you probably got a fair amount of this with your initial letter, but in light of how broad and deep the problems are at your org, please consider seriously attempting to move on. Changing ingrained, pervasive company culture that both has rampant discrimination across multiple axes, and systematically dismisses it, is a heavy lift even if it’s coming from very committed people at the top. It’s great that you want to help others, but if you are in a situation where it’s impossible to be effective, will burning yourself out on this really benefit anyone? I hope you remember to take care of yourself, too.

    1. sparkle emoji*

      Agreed, this update sounds like the biases are an ingrained cultural problem, and the people responsible for fixing them don’t see the biases as a problem. To rephrase Allison’s frequent advice, “Your workplace is the problem and it’s not going to change”. Getting out and trying to help others get out may be a more productive effort.

    2. WellRed*

      Especially if others don’t want to be helped. OP, I applaud your efforts but agree it’s time to move on. Let these folks sink, and sink they will.

    3. Dina*

      I agree. This is all unlikely to change without buy-in from the top. I recommend not setting yourself on fire to keep others warm.

    4. I'm A Little Teapot*

      The only people who will be able to make real change are the people at the top who have the authority to hire, fire, promote, and set company direction. If the people who fit that criteria aren’t trying to make it happen, then it isn’t going to happen and LW2 is just wasting their time.

    5. Hot Flash Gordon*

      Yeah, the fish rots from the head OP. I admire your desire to affect change for others, but at some point you may want to consider a more progressive company.

    6. allathian*

      Yes, that struck me too. It sounds like this company’s unsalvageable under the current leadership.

    7. Feotakahari*

      Yeah, “the goodness of your mission and the needs of your clients can’t fix the organization’s rot” is a common subset of “your company sucks and isn’t going to change.” On this site, it mostly shows up when the letter-writer works for a nonprofit, but some for-profits have this too when they serve disadvantaged customers.

  5. Retail Dalliance*

    Oh my God I laughed out loud at number 4. That is honestly, genuinely hilarious. You DO need a vacation! And a raise! You should reassure her that’s how your number will go higher. Then bump it to an 8. Now she wants to know why not a 9 or a 10? Well, more vacation(s) and more raise(s) might just push it there…. :D

  6. TG*

    LW2 – I’d leave this toxic place asap – it’s untenable and disgusting they are turning a blind eye and I honestly hope someone uses the pants off of them. They’re losing people and have a lot of unhappy employees yet treat it like it’s nothing? Your HR is horrific. This is it normal. For your own mental well being I’d leave asap.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I for one hope someone does use the pants off them. That’s a hilarious typo. (But also I hope someone sues them too, that would be very satisfying.)

      2. Princess Sparklepony*

        Although you were kind of correct by saying this IS their normal. They have no interest in changing.

  7. Michelle Smith*

    LW2 I don’t disagree with the people who are saying you should consider moving on but I understand not wanting to and I think you are doing important work. Just take the advice seriously not to burn yourself out and really take care of yourself.

    Maybe I’m a little biased (I’m a lawyer), but sometimes a lawsuit is really the best and only way to get people to stop their discriminatory activity. A few of those people experiencing this backlash meeting with HR with their attorney in tow might go a long way towards forcing a change. Just food for thought. I wish you good luck and I hope you’ll update us again in a year or two to let us know how things are going with you.

  8. Observer*

    #2 – Dealing with sexism.

    I just want to mention 2 things.

    You don’t need your coworkers’ permission to bring things up in any forum where it could have a positive impact. Of course, I wouldn’t make any official complain using their name willy nilly, because it sounds like in your organization they could wind up being retaliated against. But if you see an opportunity to bring this up that *could* work, you have the right to mention what you know.

    Also, seriously consider finding another job. What you are describing sounds royally messed up and unless you can get quite high up, it’s not likely that you will be able to make much change. On your way out, make a complaint to the DOL and / or the EEOC. If you are willing to risk possible complications at work, you could do it now.

    1. ferrina*

      Glassdoor would be a great place to post this. Potential candidates should know that this is what they are walking in to. Some companies track their Glassdoor reviews and would take steps to try to fix the problem, but based on what LW said, pretty sure this isn’t one of those companies.

      1. FYI on GlassDoor*

        I worked at a company where they ‘paid’ their employees to review the company on GlassDoor so they could claim that they were loved by their workers. They then used the rating on GlassDoor as part of their sales pitch — well, if our employees love us then you should buy our product. It was sickening. I left after 6 months.

        And no, I didn’t post a positive review on GlassDoor. LOL

  9. LW 2*

    Thanks, all, I appreciate the support. I am fairly high up, I do see actual positive structural changes that are happening (and that I’m actively involved in but are not led by just me) that have the potential for lasting culture change, and I really think a lot of the problem is ignorance rather than malice (which I know get indistinguishable after a certain point, but I’m willing to keep pushing for now). There’s also a lot of support for these change from non-management staff in ways that currently have some leverage. And it’s not a for-profit company and the clients we have are both vulnerable and stuck with our services, so there’s more incentive to work toward change than there would be otherwise — any success, however small, is not going into a rich person’s pocket but back into the community.

    I am fully aware that there’s only so much futility I’m willing to put up with, though, and it’s actively part of how I’m evaluating my future plans.

    1. bamcheeks*

      Good luck! My suggestion would be to make sure you’re well-networked inside and outside the company with people who also value diversity work and understand it— you need a place to go to recharge, where you can talk about frustrations with people who will support you and confirm the importance of the work you’re doing (and possibly challenge you where necessary!) and leave you feeling energised. I hope you have somewhere like that.

    2. Cyborg Llama Horde*

      I’ll also note that if you’re a manager, my anti-harassment training recently made it very clear that in the US, managers are required to report harassment they know about, whether or not the person experiencing the harassment wants to report it or not.

  10. Chris*

    “she had a dream I was deeply unhappy at her company….I will accept the nonsense for a little while longer and continue my job search.”

    I guess the boss will have to wait a bit longer to learn her dreams are actually prophetic.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Wouldn’t it be ironic if that CEO had started reading AAM.

      If she’s reading this, I’d like to point out that she seems to have a good heart. I’m sure Alison can suggest a solid management training program to help develop new strategies to achieve her original goals without overstepping into private lives.

  11. Techie Boss*

    LW3, I’m reading that your replacement candidates at your old job were asking for 50% more than you made, but also that you took a pay cut for your new job? If that was intentional for trying to get a lower pressure/responsibility/pay role, then more power to you. But I hope you know that you’re worth that 50% raise too, and there are companies that are less dysfunctional than your old one out there that also pay market wages. Hope you get all the things you want!

    1. Nebula*

      Yes that struck me too – but they do say they have bosses looking to advance them quickly, so could be a good move to take something low stress with real possibility of advancing when they feel ready to take that on again. Here’s hoping it all works out!

    2. LW3*

      Hello. LW3 here. It is both correct that my replacement is on about 45% more than I was paid, and that I took a small paycut for my new role. Obviously the order is flipped, so I’d accepted the paycut before knowing quite the disparity in pay.

      However, the drop for this new job is <10% and it has about 70% less work and stress. I don't check emails out of hours. I'm not constantly pushed for deadline. I don't have unreasonable last minute requests. It is a world of difference!

      They have promised me that they want to advance me quickly, and that's something I'm paying attention to into the new year. Especially because I have been made acutely aware of my market value. But for now, I'm enjoying the break in responsibilities.

      Thanks for caring though, and Nebula too!

      1. Nebula*

        Ah OK, that makes sense – a shame that you didn’t realise about the pay before you took the other job, but sounds like you’re in a good place right now.

      2. No Longer Looking*

        Thanks for letting us know LW3! I had also noticed and worried about that disparity, but was hoping that it was a Solid Personal Choice.

  12. SJ*

    LW1 i hope you get better friends someday!! and/or your existing friends are more thoughtful in the future!

    seriously though thank you for the update, i struggle with an issue similar to this and will be keeping your tips in my back pocket. :)

  13. MCMonkeyBean*

    OP1, I can see why you have had a history of receiving excessive praise and I hope you won’t mind if I add a little more–you sound like a great boss, a conscientious employee, and someone who is always open to ways to make things better :)

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