updates: an employee 2 levels down refused to meet with me, the face tattoo, 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 five updates from past letter-writers.

1. An employee 2 levels down refused to meet with me

Last year, I sent in a question about what to do about an employee who declined a skip-level meeting with me, the division director. Your response and the readers’ comments shook me out of the “is this a me problem or a him problem?” question. I was kind of embarrassed, frankly, that I was debating whether I was right or wrong after reading your response and the “no duh” comments from a lot of readers.

In the short term, I let the employee know that meeting with me wasn’t optional and used some of your language re: the purpose of these meetings is to make our workplace better and, especially as a manager, it’s vital that he participate in this process. He met with me, it was fine.

Longer term, I have since left that job and now realize how exhausted I was swimming against the current of company culture trying to create a more trusting, collaborative environment within my division. I worked there for more than a decade, the last two years as the head of the division. A few months ago, I accepted a similar role at a company I worked at for a few years right out of college. There is a lot of opportunity for improvement with my new team and sometimes I get exasperated by how empowered everyone feels to share their opinions about every little thing, but it’s because they don’t fear reprisal and genuinely care about their work and the company. I’m happier and healthier. (And wealthier! The company is smaller, but a better known one in our industry as a specialist in a niche area and I got a nice pay bump.)

2. I think my employee is being abused by her partner

At this point, Carrie is still with Bob.

I have implemented many of the suggestions: e.g., having staff point out when his behavior is uncomfortable or abnormal. We also point out situations where she is right to be concerned or frustrated (him requiring dozens of reminders, etc). I do feel more equipped to help the staff, and her as an individual. I have also improved the coverage of our security camera to cover more of the surrounding streets. Next month, staff will be completing a mandatory training on recognizing signs of domestic violence and resources in our area. We are (at this time) unable to bar him from the building in its entirety, for reasons I would prefer to keep private, lest I ruin all attempts at anonymity. I have been able to implement policies to prevent any non-staff from being in staff areas, especially during/after closing.

I can feel a shift, but know that this will take time. I really appreciate your advice, and that of the experts you consulted on my behalf. I hope one day soon I will have a happier update.

3. Colleague doesn’t want me to lift things but it’s my job (#2 at the link; first update)

I’m still in the same lone-archivist job, and until recently there was no news: I had continued to do the physical parts of my job without any commentary from Jennifer. However, just recently I have been planning for another large box-moving operation — they come up every so often — and Jennifer mentioned, as we were discussing the logistics, that she misses having maintenance staff we can call on for this kind of physical task, as she had gotten used to that in a previous job.

I replied that this had been possible at one of my previous jobs too, but (it seemed a natural opportunity to mention this) of course moving boxes about is normal in my role — and that most job descriptions for similar roles require applicants to be able to lift 40 pounds or thereabouts. She was surprised at this. I then mentioned that I enjoy that my job has some movement built-in and isn’t desk-bound all the time, so it’s a feature not a bug for me.

I don’t know if it was really necessary to bring that up, but I’m glad we had the conversation, and I felt much better prepared for it than I did the last time it came up, thanks to the advice from Alison and the commentariat!

4. My organization says they can’t pay me market rate because of it wouldn’t be fair to non-attorneys (#3 at the link)

Thanks for answering my question last year! My update: I left! Despite the issues with management/HR, I had been nervous about leaving, as I had quite a bit of flexibility in my role. But I started at another (nonprofit) organization that came with a 30% pay increase, less time in-office, more vacation time, and much less stress. Thanks to you and the comment section for reaffirming to me that this was definitely some hot nonsense and that it was time for me to move on!

5. Did our new hire take their ID photo with fake face tattoos? (#2 at the link)

I don’t have much of an update! My work environment is very unusually structured, which I did not make clear in my initial question; this individual *did not* have any sort of visual interview with anyone on the human resources team so no one had any “before” image to compare to. This hiring structure is standard practice for this type of non-employee who is still on site and required to attend orientation.

I never heard anything from security or this person’s supervisor, but I doubt very strongly they were real tattoos and like to think this person now lives with a very silly badge photo or paid the replacement fee to get a new photo.

{ 33 comments… read them below }

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      I still don’t understand why LW is so sure they’re fake tattoos, and also still hasn’t seen the employee or talked to someone who has!

      1. Rebecca*

        I don’t get why LW is convinced the tattoos are fake either. What’s more likely here: that the employee has face tattoos, or that the employee draws on themself with a sharpie? Unless the designs are some kind of elaborate make-up, and if they are, I bet they wear it everyday.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            I thought of my then-toddler’s phase of trying to draw on everyone. Sleeping was briefly a courageous act.

      2. Beth*

        Well, LW has seen the picture and we have not. So the actual question is: do we assume that the LW is wrong about their real-life experience, or that the new employee did a dumb thing?

        1. Nah*

          sure, but they asked a fellow co-worker more versed in tattoos if they looked real and he said yes. so I took an baffled at LW’s insistence a full-grown adult in the workplace would be drawing on his face with markers versus the more logical explanation of them actually being real tats.

    2. The Terrible Tom*

      The simplest and most plausible explanation is that they’re real. What I can’t believe is that this person thought anyone wanted an update when they apparently gathered no additional evidence and nothing further happened? What kind of update is that?

      1. wordwords*

        I agree that I’m still not sure why LW is so sure they’re fake tattoos, when it sounds like all the evidence points to badly done but real facial tattoos, but let’s not police whether an update is sufficiently momentous to be worth sending in! There’ve been other low-info updates I was happy to get, and ultimately it’s Alison’s call whether she thinks something is worth posting.

  1. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

    My friend received a couple offers from a non profit in a smaller centre that had a pretty flat salary structure. As you can imagine, it was great for the the lower level staff to be paid a liveable-ish wage, but meant that even as senior staff you would need a second job to be able to make rent on a 3-bd apartment in the area, let alone a mortgage payment. Also, it meant everyone was working shorter weeks to make space for their second jobs, so tasks were all getting handed onto the new hires almost randomly, giving them a literally impossible workload.

    Incidentally, that job posting is still up. No idea why!

  2. AnonL&D*

    Just want to say that I recently finished rolling out a safety training for 6,000 employees. Based AAM discussions over the last few years (including some fabulous insights from a survivor), I included some resources on domestic violence and highlighted that building security can help prevent aggressors from coming onsite. Without AAM, I would not have known how important it is to spell out this information.

    1. AnonSurvivor*

      Thanks for this. I was in a relationship like that LW and it’s hard to know that you’re being abused when the family/community around you normalize the behavior. It took reading and being told these kinds of things in a neutral context to realize the truth.

      1. Anon cause I’m still there*

        Some people are living in h$ll and being told it is the most they should expect. Having an authority figure stating what is and isn’t acceptable is so incredibly valuable to people in abusive situations. You never know what is going on and believe me, sometimes a simple sentence is all it takes to start someone on the road to climbing out. Most people have no idea how normalized abusive behaviour has become in some relationships.

  3. ferrina*

    LW2, thank you for this update! This feels like a good update. Not the best (which would be that Bob is out of the picture and everyone is safe and thriving), but good. It sounds like you are all doing an amazing job of supporting Carrie while protecting yourselves (physically and hopefully emotionally too). The group DV training sounds really smart.

    Please update us again! Even if there is nothing to report, I’m really hoping for the best for Carrie and all of you.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      It was indeed a hopeful update. Not happily-ever-after, but you’re taking important steps and won’t know how many other people you’re helping.

  4. KateM*

    #2, you wrote that Carrie is still with Bob, but what I read was that Carrie is still surrounded by supportive coworkers and you can feel a shift.

  5. Smithy*

    Because the nonprofit sector can cover so many types of entities – all volunteer, grassroots groups up through universities – once you tease out your niche organization in terms of size, location, thematic area, etc etc, it’s very common to not always have loads of relevant peer organizations to compare your employer to.

    When it comes to salary, until you’re more senior, it’s more often than not possible to find those 30% pay increases with organizations that are close enough to your interest area. All to say, what’s “common” or “normal” across nonprofits can easily be misleading and is why I truly say it’s valuable to main industry networks to get more specific insight to your niche. I used to work somewhere, where I was regularly shocked by how high those employees believe their salaries were. No amount of data to the contrary around COL or other job postings ever managed to change the gut belief they were being paid at the top of our nonprofit sector’s pay scale. And while the pay there wasn’t bad, that was just flat out not true. However, that group think did a number on people’s mindsets that they couldn’t leave because they’d never come close to their current salary.

  6. Observer*

    #1 – Employee refused a meeting.

    Well. I’m glad you are in a better organization! And with a pay raise on top of it.

    But what you describe does confirm that this guy’s response was a bit of a red flag.

      1. PotatoRock*

        I think the red flag was more around, this employee’s initial reluctance to meet with his skip level turned out to be indicative of an overall culture of mistrust.

        For example- an employee not wanting to meet with his skip level boss could be just, he was really busy, thought it was optional, nothing to see her, etc. But it could also be he: is worried anything he says will come back to his boss in the most unflattering way possible; he doesn’t want to talk to senior level folks because he’s seen that burn people before, feels super antagonistic toward management, etc. Sounds like in this case, by the time OP left they’d seen enough to know the culture was such that the second set of concerning reasons could be in play.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      Yeah, I thought from the original letter that it was a flag that the guy was a problem if his professionalism was that bad… but as we’ve learned, professional norms get warped in organizations with major culture issues.

  7. Polly Hedron*

    In the short term, I let the employee know that meeting with me wasn’t optional….He met with me, it was fine.

    LW1, I want to know more. You had previously described this employee as “generally sullen”. Was he less sullen during your meeting? If so, did he revert to sullenness after the meeting, during the rest of your time there?

  8. Jessica Clubber Lang*

    I’m very happy to see an update on the face tattoo letter. Until that I hadn’t heard of Post Malone, i actually thought they meant Karl Malone. Anyway, after that letter I looked into Post Malone and I was completely blown away by his music. It opened up alot of new worlds for me musically and so I know this sounds weird but I am really grateful to OP for that.

    1. Rainy*

      This is probably one of the most heartwarming comments I’ve read this week. :) It feels like Post Malone has been in 80% of the movies I’ve watched recently, and I’m happy he’s experiencing success and that you found him!

  9. Rebecca*

    Re: Skip level meetings

    I love the number of times people said in the comment section that turning down a skip level meeting was not normal. In the time since this letter was published, I was asked to meet with a VP, and I weaseled my way out of it. It’s rare that I am called normal, however, so I guess that tracks.

  10. Volunteer Enforcer*

    I live in the UK. it is the best feeling to wake up and see updates along with the short answers.

  11. another lawyer*

    Update #4, I’m glad you got out of there. Wraparound services sound great in theory, but all the service providers have to be treated well – and I feel like legal aid type lawyers are often expected to work miracles in chaotic, unsupported circumstances. I hope you continued to be supported and valued where you are! Thank you for the work you do.

Comments are closed.