updates: the accommodation, the hated job, 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.

1. How can I explain to coworkers that I’m working from home as a medical accommodation? (#3 at the link)

It turns out I’m autistic. I was diagnosed not long after the letter was published, and all my quirks and needs fell into place. Permanent remote work is, it turns out, a common accomodation for autism. My need for natural light, privacy, quiet, and reduced visual noise are common.

I could not reply due to comments being closed, but the responses I did see were helpful. Below is a response I started before my diagnosis:

Honestly, the issue is more in my head than anywhere else — there are a few people who are being weird or snide, but more who just seem genuinely confused about what could necessitate working from home for a seemingly healthy person (I love being physically active when I can be and bounce between demanding hobbies and too tired to get out of bed).

The genuine confusion manifests as awkward requests and pauses when someone is trying to figure out logistics for presentation A or event B, perhaps wondering why it doesn’t merit the effort to come in when I did last week for less-important meeting C, but realizes they probably shouldn’t ask. (The answer is mostly that I don’t get to pick my good and bad days and also coming in for C was a lower-stakes experiment with the result “actually it’s worse than I thought”).

Looking back on this through the lens of my new diagnosis, it’s extremely common for autistic folks who are heavily masking to be overly concerned with inconveniencing or annoying others, and unsure how to respond in situations like this (especially women or gender minorities).

I hope that other folks get the accommodations they need, too. It’s essential for me if I want to keep working, so I’m grateful I have an understanding company.

2. I hate my job — do I have to stick it out for a year? (#3 at the link)

I am the person you answered in May about leaving a job after what I perceived as a stint of short strings. I was miserable, and it had only been a month. Your response was so encouraging. I didn’t want to leave without something lined up — and I wanted to see if I was just having a hard time adjusting — so I stayed on. I kept in touch with my old coworkers and old boss off and on.

Then, over the past month, my workload doubled with no end in sight. I have been working 8 am to 9 or 10 pm straight every day, with at least one day of work on the weekends. I haven’t been eating well, working out or seeing my family. I am in an industry known for hard work, but not at this level for this consistently. I have been behind no matter what I do, making mistakes, not being able to be the leader I want. I came to this role with a strong reputation for not being behind, for catching mistakes and being a good leader. I didn’t want to mess that up.

Then, a serendipitous set of dominoes started to fall, which included someone going into preterm labor (they and baby are happy and healthy), an unexpected budget increase, and an immediate need for me to rejoin my old team, under my old boss, at the higher title that I took when I left. It feels like a second chance from the universe. My old boss told me she could have an offer for me the same day, but I took your advice and asked for more time to make absolutely sure I wanted to do this. I made a list of questions for myself and for my old boss, and upon her answering them, I went forward to the offer stage. I knew I would be taking an undetermined pay cut (my old company pays slightly less than the company I moved to so that they can prioritize work/life balance) and decided on what my lowest would be. To my surprise, the company’s initial offer was $10k higher than my lowest, and I countered with a number that was squarely between their number and my current salary. I let HR know that salary was part of why I left, and I wanted to make sure the number we netted out at would have me feeling good if I were only taking merit or cost of living increases for the foreseeable future. They came up $5k, and I took the deal. Thank you for the wonderful advice you share, and for building my confidence to be able to negotiate for myself!

3. Should I leave my job with great benefits but a problem boss?

After I saw your response and the comments, I started job searching. Every interview made me miserable and the offers I got were not ones I was happy with. After a lot of therapy, soul searching, and talks with my husband, I realized I needed to get out of finance. It’s a career I picked at 21 years old when all I was worried about was money. I applied for graduate school to study something I’m passionate about and started a month ago to become a licensed therapist!

The bad news: a month before grad school started, I was abruptly hospitalized and diagnosed with a serious chronic mental health condition. When I informed my employer about what was going on and asked for some sort of medical leave, I was fired. I’m not even surprised, given how cavalier my boss was about breaking the law. I was so sick I couldn’t even think about it at first — but it all worked out in the end! I had an attorney send a very sternly worded letter to them, and am likely about to receive a small settlement. I’m working as an event waitress for now, since that schedule works better with my very intensive grad school program. And given the diagnosis, and all the big changes going on in my life, baby plans are on the backburner. I suppose everything happened for a reason.

Thank you and the commenters for helping me realize my situation was not normal! It was the push I needed to make some big changes.

4. The person who needs to confirm my employment dates always gets it wrong (#2 at the link)

I’m the person who had an issue with a former employer not confirming my employment dates correctly. I did connect with someone I interviewed with to let them know I was having some issues with a former employer and to ask if they could give any details, because I was concerned about future prospects. I connected with the actual person who interviewed me and not their HR department, who had given me a terse email about non-verified employment dates.

She let me know that they decided on a different candidate for reasons that had nothing to do with my former employer. She called Mary herself and said she had an impression Mary was “flaky” and she wasn’t sure why HR would include that bit in the rejection letter. They went on to say I was a strong candidate and interviewed well, and “I’m glad you reached out, I will have a conversation with the HR person about that, and please look out for other opportunities here. We may have an opening in a few months I am considering you for.” (I know anything can happen, so I’m not holding my breath, but I appreciated that answer.)

I also decided to email Mary with some verifiable information to refresh her memory and it was returned as undeliverable. I did some googling and the former agency seems to be not on the web anymore. It seems she has closed the agency and is running a completely different business now.

Taking some of your advice along with this information, I feel confident telling future prospective employers something like, “The owner of this agency has closed down and I believe is running another business. She has historically not been reliable about employment dates and verifiable information. I have some paperwork to confirm dates of employment and can provide a few references from people I worked with during this time if you have any questions.”

It’s kind of weird. But hiring managers know shit happens. Thanks for the advice!

{ 15 comments… read them below }

  1. Sandi*

    OP3: Your old-but-new-again workplace that pays less is probably paying you a higher per-hour rate based on those numbers. Good choice to return to them!

    1. Elsewise*

      I personally think that any time outside of your normal work hours that you spend crying or panicking over work should be time you factor in to your salary calculations. “Sure, I’m making $100k, but I’m working 80 hours a week and I spend an additional 20 hours a week crying because I hate my job, so really this 40 hour job making $60k would be a raise.” I know the real world doesn’t always work that way, but it should.

      1. Erin*

        Consider post-tax income (as tax is progressive) and the costs of trying to buy your way out of misery, and it’s even more dramatic!

      2. Freya*

        This. And also commuting time. It’s the opportunity cost associated with the thing you’re doing – the time you spend doing it and things associated with it is time you can’t spend on other things, and therefore you lose the opportunity to do those other things.

        (economics term; the technical definition is the opportunity cost is the ‘cost’ you pay by not enjoying the ‘benefit’ that is the best alternative to the choice you’re making)

      3. Dot*

        I had a stream of stress dreams about work last night. I am exhausted and more stressed out this morning, and absolutely taking a few extra minutes here and there to do things like read AAM.

        I need to tell my brain that it would be useful to at least have *productive* work dreams, if it’s going to force me to have any work dreams. Because, ugh, the amount of work I have to do hasn’t decreased.

      4. zuzu*

        I had a BigLaw job as an associate from 1998- early 2000. I sobbed – and I mean SOBBED — in my office from stress nearly every day. I got yelled at, blamed for things that happened YEARS before I got there because I discovered them and the person who did them was now a partner and couldn’t be blamed anymore (and shit flows downhill), got my vacation yanked, was told that I was committing malpractice every time I expressed an opinion, was constantly reminded that I could be replaced by any number of young attorneys hungry for my job.

        Oh, and I had an attitude because I didn’t like getting yelled at for no reason.

        I still call that the worst two years of my life, and I STILL have PTSD from it, 25 years later. Bad workplaces are no joke.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          This is so accurate and it’s hard to quantify when you’re in that situation just how much of that salary is going to be forfeit or offset by future therapy bills, medical bills, etc. Practicing law (not in as stressful an environment as Big Law, to be fair, but still extremely stressful) destroyed my physical health in ways I may never recover from. I can’t put a price tag on that.

          Hugs and solidarity to you.

  2. Happy meal with extra happy*

    OP 4, I would take out about a third of your proposed response – it’s not necessary and, if any, could just invite more questions.

    “The agency has closed down. I have some paperwork to confirm dates of employment and can provide a few references from people I worked with during this time if you have any questions.”

    1. fhqwhgads*

      Yuuup. Business no longer exists = nobody’s going to try to verify that. They’re going to just ask for the paperwork you already have.

  3. U*

    OP 1: Congrats on your diagnosis! I hope you continue to learn about and celebrate what you need to thrive, in work and outside it.

  4. MCMonkeyBean*

    I have permanent work from home as a medical accommodation for ADHD. The ability to control my environment–lights, sounds, temperature etc–has been *so* helpful for me.

    It’s kind of funny because while I had already recently become certain I had it, part of why I decided to pursue an official diagnosis and try to get medicated was because I was concern that working from home in the pandemic would be a huge problem for me. That not having other people around to make me feel like I had to work would keep me from getting as much done. But it turns out I am *hugely* more productive from home! I was really worried when my office tried to make me go hybrid but I confided in my direct supervisor and she supported me in pursuing an official accommodation.

Comments are closed.