getting out of a party that’s not accessible, angry coworker, and more

It’s four answers to four questions. Here we go…

But first, a quick announcement: Due to the quantity of updates we have, posts on Thursday will publish at 11 am, 12:15 pm, 1:15 pm, 2:15 pm, 3:30 pm, 5 pm, and 6 pm (all times Eastern).

1. Getting out of a holiday party that’s not accessible

The holiday season is upon us and I don’t want to go to my organization’s holiday party. For one, I absolutely detest awkward forced work socializing — there are a couple of coworkers I’m chummy with and have hung out with outside of the office, but that’s about it. More importantly, the venue (our department head’s home) is not handicapped accessible. I have a progressive degenerative condition that affects my mobility and I walk with a very noticeable limp. For reasons I don’t want to go into here, my organization is not legally obligated to make accommodations for me. This has been grating to say the least, but when I took the job, my condition hadn’t progressed as far and I thought I’d be okay.

I went to the holiday party last year. There is a fairly steep staircase to get into the home, not to mention parking is a substantial walk away from the house. Last year, there were at least 100 people crammed in with nowhere to sit (any potentially available seating had been removed to make space for all the bodies). I had to be on my feet for over two hours and the physical discomfort of standing was too much. I’m not planning on attending this year.

Here’s the problem: it’s very important to my boss that everyone attends. Our small team is a tiny part of the department that, although necessary, no one really cares about and I have a strong suspicion that our boss has a big ol’ chip on his shoulder about it. It seems to me that it’s REALLY important to him that our team be present in full force at department events: we get “attendance mandatory” emails for trainings and events that other teams only loosely show up to, and when one of my coworkers was late to last year’s party, my boss made comments about her tardiness multiple times. This wasn’t some sit-down eight-course meal and no one was told to show up at a specific time.

I have been planning to take PTO once the date is announced but having just taken a substantial vacation, I’d rather not waste 8 hours on this. Do you have any suggestions for other ways to handle this? I should add that while the logistics are less than favorable (walking, stairs, standing on my feet for hours), they’re not necessarily impossible. I’m still mobile enough that I could go. I just don’t think I should have to stress/compromise my body any more than I already am for this job.

The fact that your boss really wants everyone to attend does not mean that he’ll still push you once he understands you’re physically unable to! Sure, maybe he will — but give him the chance to act like a reasonable human first, because chances are good that he’ll back off if you explain the problem. You could say, “Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend. I found last year that the house isn’t very accessible for me, and physically it’s just not an option this year. I hope everyone has a great time!” Say it like of course this will make sense to him, because there’s such a high chance that it will.

If he pushes anyway, try saying, “If we can do it at a venue that’s more accessible, I’d be glad to come. I know it’s probably too late for this year, but maybe we can look at that for next year.”

2. How do I remain dispassionate when my coworker is getting passionately angry?

I’ve decided I’m definitely going to start job hunting next week, because leadership treats my coworkers and me terribly. The problem is what to do between now and then. I don’t want to quit with nothing lined up, because that seems unwise and a paycheck is a paycheck, but my equally fed up coworker, who is also going to be leaving some time in the next few months, keeps getting worked up and passionate about “why can’t we tell them this isn’t right?” and “how can they do this to us?” (Answer: because they don’t care, we’ve tried that, it didn’t work.) I’m finding it very difficult to remain dispassionate when coworker is being enraged. What’s the best way to not break down and quit before I have an offer letter in hand for literally anywhere else?

Can you talk to them about it? Try saying, “You know I agree with you, but I’m convinced nothing is going to change and meanwhile I need this job until I find a new one. When you complain, it gets me worked up too and I’m worried I’ll end up walking off the job in a rage, which would be disastrous for my finances. Can you help me by not focusing on it so much when we talk?” You could add, “I will happily rant with you over drinks once I have another job, but I really need to keep my sanity here until I do.”

3. Should you negotiate severance?

Should you negotiate your severance package the same way you would with your salary offer? For example, should you be looking at equity among others with the same title, or is that not really appropriate for a severance package? I was in a situation where six of us on the same team with the same title and role were laid off. One person was offered a package of higher value. Did the remaining five have standing to at least try negotiating for that higher package? If not, then what is the appropriate criteria to base your negotiations on?

You can sometimes negotiate severance, but it’s not a given. Most commonly the amount of severance is based on your tenure with the company — so it’s possible that your coworker who got offered more had been there longer. Otherwise, though, when companies are willing to negotiate severance, it’s because there’s some incentive for them to do it — like they’re concerned that you’ll sue over a real or perceived legal issue like discrimination (because in exchange for severance, they’ll have you sign a release of any legal claims) or because it will get you to agree to stay through a transition, or so forth. Sometimes they’ll agree to more if you can point out they’ve acted badly, like if you just moved to their city six weeks ago to take the job they’re now laying you off from. But if you don’t have anything like that to use as leverage, they’re probably not going to negotiate it (although that doesn’t mean you can’t still ask).

4. Verb tenses on resumes

How do you handle verb tenses on your resume when you are talking about your current job, but describing a specific accomplishment that occurred in the past and is no longer occurring? Is it okay to mix past and present tenses? I think it can be confusing for the reader, but I haven’t figured out how else to handle it.

It’s fine to mix past and present tenses as long as it’s clear that you’re doing it because some of the work you’re describing is ongoing and some is in the past (and that will indeed be clear if you’re writing clearly).

updates: I referred a friend to a freelancer I work with and it went badly, 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 three updates from past letter-writers.

1. I referred a friend to a freelancer I work with and it went badly

Thanks so much for publishing my question and I appreciate the folks who weighed in in the comments. I have a short update for you. I was really anxious about losing a good contractor, but after reading your answer and the comments, I decided not to mention anything to Jane unless she said something first. It never came up. We now have her contracted to do some work for us in Q1 and she never brought anything up about Lee when I spoke with her.

As for Lee, when they next contacted me (which was to get my opinion on some funding options to keep their business afloat that were, frankly, very shady), I asked what happened with Jane, and they were really dodgy and said they got their money back but refused to elaborate on anything. A couple commenters pointed out that their card probably looked like it had been double charged when really one was a pending charge that would fall off, and I’m inclined to think that’s what happened (though we will never know for sure). At any rate, I learned something about Lee and will not be referring them to any of my professional contacts again. For what it’s worth, I think more than anything they are very desperate to keep their business afloat and they’re making poor choices because of it. I politely told them that I wouldn’t recommend they move forward with any of the plans they came to me with, and also that my work schedule has gotten very full so I won’t be able to consult on their business with them anymore. I haven’t heard from them since.

2. I’m about to go on vacation — and just used up all my PTO on the flu (#2 at the link)

I already have an update for you and your lovely readers – who were super, incredibly helpful and kind.

It turns out my worries were completely unfounded. My boss is a reasonable and lovely person and after a discussion about something else, said “Hey your vacation is going be unpaid” and I said “You read my mind, will you please approve it as unpaid time off” and they said that they will and told me to take care of myself (because I keep getting sick and having to use up PTO – between myself and partner working with children and having a child who is school-age). I appreciated the advice from readers about just talking to my boss about it instead of trying to ignore the possible issue, because that did remind me that my boss is easy to talk to and we actually have a great working relationship. I am someone who actually really loves my job (sick, isn’t it?) and works very hard, so the time away will be such a treat (paid or not).

3. I accidentally implied to my new manager I might only be staying a year (#4 at the link)

I did take your advice to clarify with my manager, and it went very well (I didn’t even get the impression she’d thought anything of it, but it made me feel better to clarify). I’m almost six months into my new job now and I really like it, and my manager is excellent. Thank you again for your advice during that anxious first week. I read your blog every day and have recommended it to undergrad students I’ve mentored as a wonderful resource on the “hidden curriculum” of professional life!

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.

updates: my coworker brought 7 plus-ones, weighing food at a business lunch, 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 coworker brought seven plus-one’s to a work party

I’m the letter-writer whose colleague, “Pam,” brought four kids, her husband, her nanny, and her mother-in-law to a work gathering. The advice to let it go as a weird one-off was spot on. We’ve since had two more gatherings, and Pam missed one but came to the other alone.

Since some commenters asked: my original invitation specified that kids were welcome because the person receiving the award is a single parent, and we wanted her to know she could bring her son if she wanted even though the venue was a bar and grill.

At a recent (unrelated) work event, Pam brought two of her kids. She ended up venting to me about the fact that her mother-in-law moved in with her family to help with child care, but hasn’t lived up to her end of the bargain. That probably has something to do with the first gathering turning into the Pam Family Reunion.

2. I don’t want to start a business with my mom

First, I would like to thank Alison for publishing my letter and the response given and for all the commenters who gave me extremely helpful advice and consolation.

I did go to the meeting with the lawyer my sister recommended, I don’t know all the legal jargon so my sister took care of most of that, but the outcome was that the document I signed to be director was nullified and the lawyer suggested I send a message to my mum prior to any legal action taken, so as to not bombard her with legal documents. I spoke with her, explained how I don’t think I can fulfill the role she expects me to fulfill, how I don’t have a single clue on how to run a business, and how I’m extremely busy with film school.

She took it surprisingly well at first, or so I thought. She said she understood and that she was sorry for putting all of this on me while I’m still “so young and barely aware of how the world works” (her words, I know). She said she’ll take my name off the company. Given her previous record of lying, I told her that I can’t take her word for it so I’ll have the lawyer contact her with a contract nullifying document that she has to sign. I didn’t expect her to take this particular piece of information too well, and as expected, she didn’t. She passive aggressively texted me “okay…” and a few days later sent a very long message to the family group chat saying she wants no part of this family anymore, we all take her for granted and treat her like trash, all she’s ever done is care for us and try and make our lives better, and that she’s trying her best but she can’t be the “mother you want me to be.”

That was nearly a year ago, she seems to be doing alright now, no more talk of starting a new business with any of her kids. I don’t know what came of the flour milling company situation as I asked her to not tell me about it because i don’t want to have that bias against my father, and I’d rather remain blissfully ignorant on that front.

3. My employees constantly interrupt me and I can’t focus

To clarify, I run a small electronics manufacturing business. We fluctuate between 10-15 people, depending on quarterly workload. That said, the assembly and test procedures, I feel, are very thoroughly documented. I have, in my estimation, spent tens of thousands of dollars on documentation efforts, in terms of paying salary to people to write said procedures, take detailed step-by-step photos, make CAD drawings, etc.

Every step of every product now has detailed instructions. It is like building a Lego kit. I realized my frustration came from the fact that some people could do everything perfectly after their first day of training, while others, no matter how many times I had to explain things, the same questions kept coming up over and over.

I am getting closer to age 40 every day. The older I get, the less patience I have, unfortunately, and I’ve had to take a more abrasive tone. I am not proud to write this, but I have to say it has worked for the most part.

First, I established office hours. Since people arrive by 8:30, by 9 am I think it is reasonable to expect everyone to have settled in and know what they are expected to do for the day. I told everyone after 9 am, you can email me throughout the day and if I am free, then I will reply. Otherwise, it will need to wait until tomorrow. And if you are really stuck, then you have to go home early. I cannot hold your hands anymore because I am not getting my own work done.

For a while, if someone approached me, I would say “hold on a minute” and just keep working until I was at a stopping point. Then my response was “what have you done so far to solve this problem on your own?” Most people “got it” after a few times. For others, I had to just cut them off and say, “I’m busy now” or “ask X, he’s your supervisor.”

I had a couple of people who I had to tell them flat-out, “Part of your job is referencing and following the procedures. If I need to backtrack and do your job for you, then I don’t need you here.” Most of them understood and have stepped up. A few of them did leave. My stress level has dropped, and my productivity has increased.

In conclusion, I had to shift my personality from being overly helpful to being more of a “tough love” approach. It was uncomfortable but over time it ended up being for the better.

4. Would it be strange to weigh my food at a business lunch? (#2 at the link)

I went to the restaurant with a scale, intending to bite the bullet but luckily I didn’t need to!

My boss went to the bathroom when it was time to order and I used that time to ask the waitress if the kitchen could weigh the steak I was going to order. They weighed my six oz (at least I have to believe they did :)) and I didn’t eat anything else!

I try my best to avoid situations with formal sit down meals for work, as I’m not expecting it to work out like this every time.

Thank you again for the advice and support :)

update: my office pumping room is being taken over for chair massages

It’s “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, and between now and the end of the year I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

Remember the letter-writer whose office pumping room was being taken over for chair massages (#2 at the link)? Here’s the update.

I’m the new mom who had their office pumping room potentially turned into a massage room.

When I first got wind that the massage day would happen in the “wellness room,” it was in the middle of one of the busiest days for my department. Unfortunately, I did not handle it immediately well when I heard – I basically asked my coworker, who told another, where I was supposed to go. I asked loudly. I kind of wished I didn’t do that, because it wasn’t exactly professional, but I was shocked.

I did alert my (male) manager that day, and since he was also busy, he made a joke and didn’t offer much. It’s not like I wanted him to do anything – because HR shouldn’t have been doing this in the first place! Coincidentally, a director sent out an all-staff email the next day, telling people to clear their food from the fridge in the wellness room that was supposed to be available to me for pumped milk.

I think part of the problem is what I do is very niche compared to others in the company, so I think people didn’t understand that sometimes I can’t have set office hours. Or, I could, but I may be in the office more than I thought. So when things died down that week, I took a breath and send HR a very long email. It included specific examples of my erratic schedule. It also included me saying I didn’t want to be responsible for canceling massage day. I ended with, “Oh, by the way, this is what President Biden just signed into law.”

The compromise was when I was in the office, massage day would be moved to the conference room. I have no idea if massage day continues. The last Wednesday I was in was two weeks ago and no massages were found.

Couple things:

– Some commentors offered lots of great support, but some thought I was “entitled” to want to have the space to myself. To be clear: there is a law saying I need a private space to pump. It gets painful when I do not. And there were literally three other rooms and empty offices people can duck into for their phone calls. I don’t think my biological needs as a working mom made me entitled. Breast pumping in a locked car sucks. I do not recommend it.

– I think part of it was people were so used to thinking of it as an extra room, and I did nothing to help change that perspective. So I’ve literally just started saying, “I have to go breast pump now” and “I’ll be in the pumping room.” See below for why.

– On the day I heard about massage day, one of the young (like, out of college young) employees asked me why I was so mad about “free massages, yay!” I told him, “Where I was going to breast pump.” He was shocked and shut up about it.

– The best thing was I found a surprising ally! My Big Boss’s No. 2 and I were chatting a few weeks back and I mentioned the whole thing off the cuff. She told me she was appalled and was the one who told Operations about the mini fridge being co-opted for food! AND she caught her subordinate in there making calls and told her off about it! “It is a privilege for us to have you work with us during this special time in your life.”

Solidarity forever, and advocate for yourselves, y’all. Thanks for the advice.

updates: someone is deleting our work emails, the weekend retreat, 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. Someone or something is deleting our work emails

I really wish I had a great update about how everything magically stopped. Or my manager started to care that this was happening. But unfortunately, nothing changed. The deleting stopped for a little bit and then started up again. If I come across a deleted email, I forward to my manager. But that’s the last I hear about it.

I had left a brief message in the comments that this is something I just need to put out of my mind. Jane is probably not going to change anything. And my manager isn’t going to suddenly take this more seriously.

But in amazing personal news, after an excruciating five-year journey, my husband and I just became first parents to twins! A boy and a girl. I’m currently in week two of my maternity leave. I’m actually holding my sweet daughter as I type this. So I could not care less what is happening at work and it’s wonderful.

2. Teenager’s job wants her to go on a weekend retreat

The whole thing took an unexpected turn a few weeks after my letter. The supervisor in question was quite unexpectedly let go, and no information was provided to the employees other than “she violated company policy and we wish her well in her future plans.” Took everyone there by surprise, and there was a lot of speculation about whether these “girls trips” and activities outside of work had anything to do with it, but no one knows for sure.

When she was fired, five of the employees quit in protest, but the ones who stayed have been treated well by the management and the new outside person put in place to supervise them has been friendly and professional (no weekend getaways on the schedule!). Thanks again for your advice!

3. Is there a reasonable amount of yelling at work, or is any yelling too much?

It has been about nine months since Orion yelled at me in a video call, and he has gotten much better! I think you were correct that my firm shut-down made him feel sheepish and stop around me, but I suspect he also was spoken to about the problem in a more general sense. In a few calls I have seen him start to get worked up and suddenly take a breath and a pause, and he’s also gotten better at listening and making space for others to speak instead of feeling the need to explain (Orionsplain) everything himself. I can see the effort he’s putting in, and so I feel more forgiving when I find him difficult. I have also seen Cassandra, who had previously refused to work with him, back in meetings with him. I suspect that reflects changes in Orion’s behavior as well.

I was fascinated by dissenting opinions in the comments that I’m too sensitive. I can’t control my level of sensitivity much, I think it’s part of how my brain works. Reflecting on the incident, one of the reasons I reacted so strongly is that it was entirely new and my autistic brain didn’t have much of a script developed. With the experience of the incident and context from Alison, the commenters, and my real-life community, I would be able to deal with a similar situation much more easily in the future. But I’ll never be good at aggression and yelling in the workplace. That’s okay, even if it means I’m cutting myself out of high stress lines of work.

4. Should I lie about how many cats I have? (#2 at the link)

I’m the person who wrote asking if I should lie about how many cats I have when I started a new job. Thank you for posting my question! Your kind words and those of the commentors made me feel much better. I had previously dealt with a couple of judgmental people who called me a “crazy cat lady,” and those words really stuck with me once I began my new job. I had landed my dream job and was nervous about anything that could mess it up.

Reading the comments helped me realize it was unlikely that coworkers would drill me on my cat count. When pets came up, I just mentioned that I had cats, and no one questioned it further. Apparently, I’m the only one on the team that wants to know everything about other’s pets!

Cat updates! Apparently oblivious to our past experience, we found a stray in our neighborhood in really bad shape, so we took him in swearing we were just going to patch him up and adopt him out. And that’s how we ended up with a sixth cat.

The rest of the cats are doing well. There was a moth in the house that kept them entertained for most of this week.

Here’s a picture of our newest addition.

update: a medical issue means I have to keep saying no … but I don’t want to over-share

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.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

Remember the letter-writer whose medical issue meant she had to keep saying no, but she didn’t want to over-share? Here’s the update.

I’m writing with an update to my January 2022 question asking how to say no to things without oversharing about my chronic medical issue.

Your advice was very helpful—you suggested losing the “unfortunately” when I explained my limitations and immediately following up with a work-related question. This worked well. The comments from your readers were also great. In particular, many readers assured me that it was not uncomfortable for them to express sympathy for someone who’s sick! I realized that they were right. It’s a normal, human reaction and I wasn’t imposing by sharing my situation.

For the year following your response, I became more candid with colleagues and other work contacts about my limitations. This was necessary, as I was getting sicker. It was fine. I did what I could and people continued to consult me and work with me as I was able.

I had to stop working entirely last December. I now spend most of my time asleep or resting, but I go for a walk most days and I see friends occasionally for a movie, a walk or a low-key dinner out. I travel to New York (from Ottawa) about once per month for a medication clinical trial. The travel is tough, but I manage. My family, boyfriend, and friends have all been wonderful. I have long-term disability insurance and Canadian socialized health care, so money is not a concern.

I’m less devastated about this than I would have expected. When I was a kid and in university, a huge part of my self-identity was that I was a great student. As an adult, I defined myself primarily by my career. I didn’t excel at work as I was so limited by my illness, but I had an interesting, technical job designing tax law for the Canadian government. I really enjoyed it. However, it’s not possible anymore and I’m treating that as a fact rather than as a devastating blow. I’m probably able to do this due to a decade of “acceptance” therapy with a wonderful psychologist.

Oddly, my mental health has never been better! When I was working, I blamed myself constantly for not trying harder. I knew I was sick but I figured that I should be able to push through it since other people were doing fine despite having children, disabilities, long commutes or whatever. Now that I’m too sick to even manage grocery shopping for myself, I see what I did manage to accomplish in my career as a success rather than a failure.

I will probably never get better. New medication will make my life more comfortable, but I’ll likely never be well. I hope to be ok enough in the future to do some volunteer work, but there’s no way to know at this time.

update: my company says it’s “best practice” to do layoffs over email

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.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

Remember the letter-writer whose company said it was “best practice” to do layoffs over email? Here’s the update.

I wanted to send in an update about the “cartoon villain” 100% remote company I was working for that laid off 12 people over email and called it “best practices.” Thank you and thank you to the commenters for solidifying that the whole situation was bonkers — I felt genuinely gaslit (and I don’t use that term lightly) at that workplace, so hearing that my intuition was correct was incredibly needed. The commenters were also really funny about the whole thing — y’all made me laugh when I was basically stuck in an extended panic attack, so thank you!

Before I do a proper update, I want to name some things that happened at that company before those layoffs, just to paint a fuller picture of what everyday life was like:

  • We had layoffs (also done over email) in September 2022. On the same day, we were informed that all remaining employees would be taking mandatory furlough days, and therefore a pay cut. At the end of the company-wide meeting to discuss this, the meeting ended with the COO casually chatting to an employee about her children and remarking in front of the whole company, “You only have to worry about kidnappers if you have cute kids, no one wants to kidnap an ugly kid!” It was so jarring to be told “You’re getting a pay cut and your kids are ugly.”
  • At the end of 2022, the COO decided that the best way to announce that we would have no holiday bonuses or COLA raises was by putting it in the small print of a company newsletter.
  • During a management meeting, an employee remarked that her passport had her hair marked as gray. The COO said, “Well, you can just do what the Zoomers do nowadays and tell them you identify as blonde!” I was the only person in the room under the age of 30 and the only one who was gender non-conforming. When I told HR this made me uncomfortable, it was dismissed as a “personality thing.”
  • In a meeting with my manager and a few peers, we were told that after processing the most recent payroll, the company had less than $50 to its name. We were told to be grateful that the company was being so radically candid with us. When I pointed out that this was upsetting to hear, I was told that we should always work hard to choose and control the things that are upsetting to us. Yeah. I choose to be upset about the fact that my source of income may go under.
  • This same manager once berated me in a 1 on 1 meeting until I started crying because my team of 5 people was not producing the output that we had had a year ago….when our team had 12 people.

So … that brings us to the layoffs that I wrote about. Here’s a fun twist to that story: I had actually given my notice the week before the layoffs happened! The stories above plus much, much more bullshit made me decide to jump ship. When I gave three weeks’ notice to my manager, she said, “If you really care about your team, you’d stay six to eight more weeks to make sure they’re okay.” Which, um, hell no. She did apologize for saying this, but still.

Anyway. The company decided to move a manager who would have otherwise been laid off into my position, and they announced this at the same time as the layoffs — making it look like I had been laid off, too! I had already told my team, luckily, but I fielded messages from everyone else in the company apologizing for what had happened and hoping I was okay. Not a big deal, but it was so awkward to receive a dozen messages of condolence and have to explain that I’d actually quit!

Your letter was published while I was still at the company, and two of my colleagues actually sent it to me and said “WAS THIS YOU?!” (I owned up). Several other people at the company read this blog, so I imagine a lot of them read the letter as well. If I had been planning to stay, I may have been embarrassed, but what were they gonna do? Lay me off over email? Pff.

When I left, I thought that was more or less the end of it. But I stayed in touch with my old coworkers, and the last few months have been bonkers:

  • There was another round of layoffs in September, where the company laid off 14 people — including someone at director level — by sending out an email saying, “There will be layoffs in 30 minutes. If you are laid off you will be sent a link to a Zoom chat in 30 minutes.” Which I guess is better than just an email. Still feels shitty, though, especially because not two weeks before then, they had an all-company meeting where the COO and upper management boasted about how well the company was doing.
  • The two CEOs, who have not touched the company in almost a decade, decided to start running things again. This has gone about how you would expect.
  • The COO — the one who said our kids were ugly if they hadn’t been kidnapped — was laid off by the CEOs. He immediately posted about it on LinkedIn, so the majority of the company found out they no longer had a COO over LinkedIn on a Friday evening.
  • The CEOs are taking over the work of the COO and the finance department.
  • Two other department heads have been laid off, and the CEOs have taken over their departments as well.
  • Everyone still at the company was given a 3% raise for 2022 COLA. In October 2023.

I hesitated to send an update about this, especially since my first email was so brief, but I just have to put all this out there. If for no other reason than to remind myself that this was all real, and not a very strange, very tedious fever dream. The good news is I am at a new agency and much, much happier. And we have more than $50 to our names.

my coworker asked me to stop dressing professionally, saying where you’re going when you resign, and more

It’s four answers to four questions. Here we go…

But first, a quick announcement: Due to the quantity of updates we have, posts on Wednesday will publish at 11 am, 12:15 pm, 1:15 pm, 2:15 pm, 3:30 pm, 5 pm, and 6 pm (all times Eastern).

1. My coworker asked me to stop dressing professionally

Your letter last month about coworkers complaining that someone is violating the dress code but they aren’t reminded me of a situation a few years ago that I’m wondering if I could have handled differently.

When I started a new job, I was working with a woman, Cornelia. Our roles were very similar and we often ended up working together and co-presenting to small groups. We were the same age but generally had different lifestyles, personalities, and styles. For example, she was single, lived alone, did not have children, and generally wore jeans, band t-shirts, and cardigans (I promise this is important later). I am married, have two children, and generally wear business casual things to the office. Sometimes I mix it up with dresses, and I participate in casual Fridays with jeans and company t-shirts/polos. I do dress business casual, but certainly no one had ever mistaken me for a higher up/admin.

Once, after we finished presenting together, Cornelia asked me if I could stop dressing so nicely, because it made her look bad. In the moment, I think I was so shocked that I kind of looked at her funny and said, “Oh, I’m comfortable and I’m not going to go out and buy a whole other casual wardrobe.” I had never heard anyone make a comment about her clothing choices or imply that she wasn’t professional because of them. A few months later, Cornelia ended up getting a different job at another company, and I never said anything to anyone else about it.

But it made me start second-guessing my outfit choices, especially on days I presented with her. I started looking at other people’s clothing choices more carefully and ultimately decided that I could be perceived as landing on the more professional/dressier side of the office spectrum, but I was okay with that because this is how I’m comfortable. I don’t feel confident or like I do my best work in jeans and t-shirts every day. Plus, I really enjoy putting outfits together and getting ready in the morning, it’s a form of self-care for me. I guess I’m just wondering if I handled this the right way, or if there was something else you would have done in the situation.

You handled it perfectly! You shut it down with a firm no.

That said, I can kind of see where Cornelia was coming from. Because you were co-presenters, she might have worried that the two of you looked visually out of sync to your audiences. Normally the solution to that wouldn’t necessarily be that you needed to dress down — it could just as easily be that she needed to dress up more — but if she was was solidly within your office’s dress code and you were more formal than most people, I could see her thinking it was reasonable to ask you to be the one to change.

That said, this wasn’t a situation where one of you was presenting in sweats while the other was in a suit. Jeans, a t-shirt, and a cardigan aren’t that out of sync with your business casual outfits, so Cornelia may have been overthinking it.

2. Senior colleague forwards emails with no context

Not my direct supervisor, but a C-Level employee at my company is known for flinging emails like a gorilla flings poo. He will often forward emails without context, requiring me to sift through multiple messages to discern the purpose/task. I find it challenging to understand the intended action or request buried within the email chain.

How can I get him to include his request at the top? Replying with “is there a task for me here or is this an FYI?” feels too passive aggressive, nor has it seemed to change his email etiquette. I report to the CFO and he’s the COO.

It really depends on the internal politics, what your relationship with him is like, and how open he is to hearing pushback. In some cases you could say, “When you forward messages, would you mind indicating whether it’s an FYI or you want me to take action? It’s not always clear.” In other cases that would go over badly — so you’ve got to know the players and the politics.

3. Adult toy ads on a website I use for work

I’m an early career software engineer working at a huge company with a relatively conservative culture. I often rely on articles and documentation from various websites, but I’m having a serious problem with one I use very frequently. Ads keep appearing for a popular sex toy company! It goes without saying that I’ve never browsed anything of a remotely sexual nature on my work laptop, so I have no idea why this is happening. There’s no way to install an ad blocker, and I need to use this particular website for my projects.

I live in fear that my boss will walk behind me while I’m working on something and see ads for vibrators! We certainly don’t have the kind of rapport where I could laugh it off (after all, does anyone have that kind of rapport with their boss?). I have no idea how to ask IT about this problem as it’s pretty embarrassing. What should I do?

IT has dealt with much worse! But it doesn’t sound like this is something they’d be able to stop anyway unless they’re willing to let you install an ad blocker.

Personally, I’d just say to your boss, “Just FYI, I regularly have to use SiteName to research X and it has really unsafe-for-work ads on it. I wanted to preemptively mention it in case anyone ever wonders about it.”

If the ads are obviously out of sync with the content of the website, you might also consider reporting it to the site. Websites are generally able to block ads by category (and adult products are definitely a category) but sometimes those blocks fail and they might appreciate the heads-up.

4. Why shouldn’t you say where you’re going when you resign?

I have universally heard that you are not supposed to tell your current work what your next job is when you are resigning. Although I have heard this from everyone, I have not heard a compelling, specific reason why this is so. Is it just that where you are going should be on a need-to-know basis, or is there some specific concern that people have when declining to provide this information?

I’m surprised you’ve heard this so much! Most people don’t hide where they’re going when they resign, unless they have a specific reason to — like if you’re going to a competitor and don’t want your employer to know right away, or if you have reason to believe your old employer will try to cause problems for you with the new employer. It’s very normal, though, for people to ask what you’ll be doing next when you leave, and most people will answer unless there’s some specific (and generally unusual) reason they don’t want to.

updates: my coworker accidentally sent me an email complaining about me, 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.

1. My coworker accidentally sent me an email complaining about me

I really appreciated your advice at the time and getting to hear from other readers and engage in further discussion with them. It helped as well to depersonalize things and to stop ruminating over it.

Unfortunately, shortly after I wrote to you, C ended up hospitalized, requiring emergency surgery, and did not return into the new year. Both of us are relatively young and I firmly believe that we had these issues due to the sustained stress we were under as a result of poor strategic insight from our employer — but I digress.

As things progressed, C wasn’t able to return to work until late January, at which point the pressure we were under had increased again, and disappointingly their behavior deteriorated. I began fielding complaints from members of my team and stakeholders in the wider business about C’s behavior towards them, and on more than one occasion C and I had blunt discussions about their manner towards me. Shortly thereafter, C ended up resigning and admitted they had been unhappy in the role for sometime.

Our relationship has since recovered somewhat to that of a warm acquaintance and we have kept in touch as they have moved overseas. Upon C’s resignation, I again raised my concerns with my line manager about our team’s structure and my proposal was summarily dismissed. I then moved on a few months after into a new role, feeling quite burnt out. Nearly a year later, and in the face of some fairly intense cost challenges, my dear manager has had a great idea and is currently proposing to consolidate the two roles to the two new employees performing them.

Apologies, I suspect this is a bit of a disheartening update for your readers. Ultimately though I am personally doing really well and I chalk a lot of the experience up to the fact that our employer regularly puts its employees into fairly adversarial situations. I’m looking to learn as much as I can from the new piece of work that I am on and then to look for a new opportunity (hopefully in a more functional environment) in 2024.

2. My employee is lying about his title, with our boss’s approval (#3 at the link)

Hustlers gonna hustle. After being rejected by the job previously mentioned where he lied about his title, Joe continued to use the deceptive title with my big boss’s encouragement. He ultimately landed a CEO equivalent job making more money than I (his previous manager) make with less responsibility — and he’s excelling at it. I wish Joe all the best (but continue to question my own big boss’ values).

3. My boss disclosed my pregnancy (#2 at the link)

It has been a wild ride since I wrote to you last. A lot has happened, but not so much good in regards to work. I did get a beautiful baby girl out of it, so that part I am extremely grateful for. I pretty much went radio silent regarding my pregnancy after the disclosure. My boss wasn’t thrilled with it and would often make comments about how private I was being. However, here are some highlights that you may find interesting:

– Another member of upper management ended up disclosing my pregnancy to another employee after being asked not to.
– My boss refused my request to work from home the last two weeks of my pregnancy because that wasn’t an option 30 or so years ago when she had kids. Also said that I was expected to be there in person until the day I delivered…
– They celebrated my baby shower without me (I was at home sick).
– My manager rubbed my belly without my permission in front of a managing director.

There are many more instances, but these were the major offenders.

4. Employer driving us to work during a snowstorm (#2 at the link)

I wrote to you at the beginning of 2021 about my employer driving employees during a snowstorm, and I will be honest — I was a little upset by your answer. In my mind, it was clearly outrageous that our company was demanding people come in. However, I’m glad I wrote it because your advice is always very measured and logical, and it made me stop and think about why I was so upset. I realized that I was definitely at the BEC stage at my job, and I needed to really up my job searching. But it also made me realize that my position wasn’t as bad as I was internalizing — I just think that this particular role and how it relates to the overall organization wasn’t a good fit for me. I am someone who enjoys building new processes and am always looking for ways to improve/change things, whereas the organization is very much “it’s worked for X years, why change it?” I was getting a ton of pushback when I tried to implement changes, and oftentimes I would be given the green light to change something, only for it to be taken back when I was about to implement it.

So, like hundreds of other people, I used the advice from your site and started applying for jobs. I was extremely selective and only applied for roles I really wanted — fully remote, progressive activist organization, clear respect for the candidate, etc. I made it to the final round I don’t know how many times. However, I saw a posting for the “dream role” two months ago, so suddenly I was very glad the last several positions fell through. The role and the organization seemed custom-tailored to my work experience, the work I enjoy doing, and I couldn’t have created an organization that fell in line better with my interests and passions. In my final interview with the president of the organization, she raved about my cover letter (it was written with advice from throughout your site). I just received a job offer Friday, and because of how transparent the organization has been throughout the process, there was no need to negotiate — everything was exactly what I was looking for.

Thank you for your fantastic advice, even when it made me take a hard look at myself and my own issues. While I know no job is perfect, it is awesome to actually be excited about work for the first time in years. Thank you!