updates: my dad has been applying to jobs pretending to be 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 three updates from past letter-writers.

1. My dad has been applying to jobs pretending to be me

Your advice and all the comments really did help to open my eyes about my predicament.

I really wish I could give a better update, but I’m still living with my parents unfortunately. My dad has thankfully stopped sending out those applications, I cited you as a source of professional advice, and that really helped! Also, all the comments did really open my eyes to how controlling, manipulative, abusive and downright vile both my parents could be… let’s just say a lot has happened this past year. My mental health hasn’t been the best either and I unfortunately haven’t had much luck at gaining steady employment, although I do have some work placement and internship experience under my belt now, so there’s that! I’ve also completed some courses to help me gain further skills for the industries I’m interested in, so I feel a little more confident in myself and the direction I want my career to go in. Even if it’s not much, I still want to feel hopeful about the future.

A lot of people advised me in the comments to move out, and as much as I want to, it doesn’t seem viable at the moment. I have however made it my long term goal, although it will definitely take time, and I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of drama involved too….

Overall, things are not great, but I know it takes time for the tides to turn, and I am hopeful for the future. I’m also very thankful for this community, and I really appreciate all the support and advice everyone gave, I still come back to read the comments sometimes! I’ve read every single one, and they all mean a lot :)

2. Employee is openly job searching from her work computer (#2 at the link)

I sent you an email in 2015 about supervising someone at the front desk reception area who was job searching where everyone could see. For what it’s worth, multiple people came to me with this info, which is why I was not sure I could let it go. A lot of people were job searching trying to get away from that place but nobody was doing it quite so unsubtly.

The issue resolved pretty amicably (had an uncomfy talk with the person and she moved on not long after) but it was part of a continuous problem keeping that role staffed. Writing in helped me realize part of that was how absolutely toxic the boss I had there was. Ultimately I realized part of the reason I wrote in was because I didn’t feel I could trust him to react in a rational way to even small things. He ended up getting worse and worse, to the point he would do things like attempt to physically fight people in our department and offered his entire team money to consider harming his ex wife (yes, really.) I tried to write in a couple of times again about these issues but eventually realized just by attempting to write them that there was no solution for this — the boss and the company supporting him was just that bad.

He’s still at the company (and they know his whole deal) but I am long, long gone from that job. I used your website as part of my inspiration to make the jump to grad school, then job hunting. I now work in an awesome role in the field I always wanted to be in, where I’ve never seen one of my coworkers publicly job searching and also nobody has threatened to get in a fist fight in front of me over an operations disagreement. My boss is an intelligent, thoughtful, interesting person who supports my career growth and about whose marriage I know almost nothing.

I write this update not because it is the most interesting one in the world but because I hope it helps your readers see what it took me WAY too long to see — the longer you stay in a toxic workplace, the easier it is to normalize it and try to focus on small problems instead of the giant looming one of how much you’re trapping yourself with a paycheck from a crappy company. I was there for seven and a half years and I wish I had left so much sooner! I felt so helpless to leave and convinced I would never find anything else but it was worth the leap. I am so much happier now and as scary as it was jumping was the best thing I could do. I hope anyone afraid to do the same does it sooner than I did!

3. My employee came back to work with a hair salon cape and dye cap on

We met to discuss my concerns about having a professional appearance when outside visitors are in the building. Having a hair dye set while working was a regular occurrence before I started and the employee didn’t see a problem with it. Because this was a long-standing practice (I checked with the previous manager), it made sense to find a compromise that would work for us. The employee made sure to check if we had meetings scheduled before getting hair done, and kept the office door closed when the dye was setting. Overall, it worked out.

4. Should I let my employee buy my crocheted toys? (#3 at the link)

One of my favorite suggestions from the commenters was to offer a suggestion for a different crafter or two who sells something similar, if my direct report ever mentioned my crochet work again. That way, I’m giving her a place to buy one if she wants to, but it has nothing to do with me and there’s no pressure for her to actually buy anything. But in the end, the crocheted toys never came up again, so it was overall pretty easy to navigate! Also, a lot of the comments assumed I was managing a team, when in reality, the person who mentioned my crochet work was my only direct report at the time. (I later was interim manager for two others who were normally at the same level as me, but I digress). We’ve since both moved on to work at other organizations, and we’ve kept in touch. I now consider this person to be a “work friend” (even if we don’t work together). We’re around the same age and both got our PhDs in similar areas before leaving academia, so it’s nice getting to have a more casual relationship with her. I also didn’t love being a people-manager overall, and I find it much easier to just be her friend.

One thing I want to note: One suggestion in the comments that got some support was for me to make crochet ornaments for my team. As Ailson has mentioned many times in the past, this assumes that Christmas is the default, and could make some direct reports really uncomfortable if they don’t celebrate. I’m also Jewish, and would feel really weird gifting ornaments to my team for a whole host of reasons, even if I knew with 100% certainty that everyone else I worked with celebrated Christmas. I don’t mention this to shame anyone, but moreso just as a reminder to not assume Christmas is a holiday for everyone, especially as we enter that time of year :)

updates: the interrupting coworker, the surprise reference, 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 interrupts to answer questions directed to me

I did end up talking to “Christy” one on one, but she didn’t really get what I was trying to say so the next time she did it, I told her right then and there, “Christy, while I appreciate you trying to be so helpful, you need to give me a chance to answer questions that are directed to me. You just gave Tyler incorrect information and told him to seek out a manager for his issue, but I went to his desk instead and we solved it right away.”

She mentioned again that if I wanted to “chime in,” I’m welcome to do that. I told her she may not mean to, but if she cuts me off in my own conversations, then she is dismissing me and acting as if I don’t exist in the room.

Also, I gave her a taste of her own medicine when one of her own attorneys came to her to ask a question and I stepped in and answered it, then gave her a look (see??) when she seemed annoyed. She was upset with me for a few days, but got over it. I mean, what made her upset if she is the one who thinks this behavior is appropriate?

Interestingly enough, she just put in her notice and I have to confess that I am not going to be sorry to see her go. She probably has the highest self esteem of anyone I have ever met and thinks very highly of herself, which can be a good thing and maybe get her places, but make some enemies along the way when it’s tied with rude behaviors.

2. My husband’s friend listed me as a reference without my okay (#4 at the link)

I know it’s been a ridiculous number of years since I wrote in, but I saw your recent call for updates (even if they aren’t big) and figured I’d send in mine:

On the original post, I posted a somewhat lengthy update in the comments that same day. It turns out there had been some major miscommunications between me and my husband that made everything seem worse than it was. Gwen had merely used me as a referral, not a reference, and HR never contacted me about her application. She did not get hired at my place of work, but she did get a job! Several years of steady work down the line, she is much more stable and happy (as I suspected she would be). It’s amazing what having money and a place to live will do for your mental health.

As for me, most of my worries at the time came down to the fact that I was on my second career and still very new to corporate life/norms. My first career was in a particularly toxic non-profit org, and when I left the bridge was well and truly burnt. Adjusting to corporate life was a multi-year process (AAM was instrumental in that process, thank you so much), one that I was particularly invested in succeeding at, as I had no ability to fall back on my contacts from my first career.

I am happy to say I am MUCH LESS on edge now than I was then. I’m no longer worried I’m going to violate some norm I wasn’t aware of and be fired. I’m also not desperately clinging to my position like a lifeline. Shortly after the letter was published, I was offered a full-time role in one of the departments I had trained as backup for. I’ve since been promoted twice within that department and learned some pretty cool skills that are highly transferable. If I ever lose this job, I’ll be fine. I’ve settled comfortably into my (not so) new industry as well as my company.

Happy endings all around! Thanks to the AAM community for being compassionate about a relatively trivial matter that meant a great deal to me at the time.

3. Update that isn’t an official “update”

I can’t thank you enough for answering another letter writer’s question about being asked to travel to Texas during early pregnancy. I happen to be in the exact same situation as that letter writer and with all day morning sickness, there is NO way I can travel anywhere, let alone a state where I can’t guarantee the healthcare I would need if anything went wrong with my baby, and I was really struggling with whether or not to reveal my pregnancy to my company earlier than I really wanted to. I’ve been negotiating a big, deserved raise that should be announced in the next month or so and did not want to risk even one cent by telling my company about my baby before it was finalized! I ended up using your suggested language of “having a medical issue and not able to travel” and was able to get out of my travel requirement with literally no pushback. Thank you SO much for making it feel a lot easier than I thought it would be!! I hope it was just as easy for the original letter writer.

4. Can I choose an alternate work schedule when my employees can’t use it in the same way? (#5 at the link)

I started my alternate work schedule a month ago! As you predicted, people easily understood that differing levels of staff have different benefits, and there was no problem. One of my junior staff – who I was worried might feel unfairly slighted – even approached me to say that they appreciated that I was taking an alternate work schedule and normalizing that it was okay for others on the team to do so as well.

update: how to cope when you don’t have an assigned work space

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.

Remember the letter-writer asking how to cope without an assigned work space? Here’s the update.

I wrote to you asking about how to cope with a hoteling office model, and your readers all had great advice! Some of them were outraged at my management on my behalf, which was also very nice. (A lot of them also sussed out that I live in a northerly climate, hence my shoe-related difficulties, and advised me accordingly.)

Here’s what I ended up doing:

1. Caring far less about how I look in the office. They can make me show up, but they cannot make me wear dress pants. I wear jeans now, as do most of my colleagues.

2. I wear a big scarf on the way in (it’s chilly now) and when I’m at my desk it becomes my blanket.

3. Pushed back about the shoes. We now have a shoe tray where we can leave office shoes overnight! I’m still wearing sneakers for now, but boot season’s a-coming.

4. Got a sturdy travel backpack (Monos brand), with lots of lovely compartments. I do wish it had a cup holder, that’s the only downside, but I generally sip my tea (out of my travel mug, another good suggestion!) on the way to the office anyway. Later in the day, that mug becomes my water cup.

5. Got the Libby app! I read books on my phone now, and I get to choose them from the local library! I’ve never read so much since I was in high school, and it saves me valuable backpack real estate. I promise they’re not sponsoring me, I just really love this app! Support your local library!

6. I’m still masking in common areas, but as there’s usually hardly anyone else in the office (collaboration!), I don’t feel the need to mask at my desk. Thus, the dehydration problem is solved for the moment.

I’m still not very happy about having to be in the office, since the only thing it does for my work is slow it down. But I am making the best of it, and the advice from readers helped me tackle the practical aspects of my new life as a pack mule.

update: what if an employee who gave notice won’t leave?

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 asking what to do if an employee who gave notice won’t leave (#4 at the link)?

It turned out one of the reasons Jane was offering to stay and help with the transition was because she had a two-week vacation planned and wanted to stay employed long enough to be paid for it. But the vacation was in the new fiscal year and when HR got wind of her plan, they had a chat about how leave time accrual works and she suddenly had a set end date.

Then she emailed us a list of people she’d like to have invited to her going-away party (not really a thing we do here), including volunteers and folks well outside our department, and suggestions for a venue. We downgraded it to a happy hour.

Jane’s last day came and went. I was offered the upgraded position a month later and accepted, agreeing to continue doing my old job until my position was filled. I heard through the grapevine that Jane was very disappointed to hear this news, because she still thought when we had a not-me new person on board we’d hire her temporarily to come back and train that person. That, of course, did not happen. I had also been covering a third position, which was ultimately filled in June, but that person had to be asked to leave in September. So then I was doing my new job, my old job, and the third job again. They decided not to fill my old position anytime soon because they felt the skill set required was too specialized.

Oh, and then another person in the office quit. So we were down to four employees, two of whom just started in September and required a lot of training. To say it’s been an overwhelming fall would be an understatement.

I had mentioned in the comments on the original post that I received tuition assistance for graduate school that came with a one-year clawback clause, so leaving right now isn’t an option. The stress became so debilitating that I spoke with my doctor about going on FMLA, but had not yet made a decision. I was working 70 hours a week trying to stay on top of everything and doing none of it well.

And then the week before Thanksgiving, an immediate family member was given a sudden and shocking terminal cancer diagnosis (glioblastoma), and suddenly it became very easy to stop caring about all the stuff at work. I’ve been here long enough that I have plenty of leave time to spend with my loved one when needed, plenty of kindness and support from my coworkers, and plenty of latitude to let some things slide here. I’ll be using all three in the weeks and months ahead. Who knows where I’ll be a year from now?

It’s all certainly been a learning experience. I’m hoping for some brighter days in 2024.

We did just fill that third position, though; she will start next week. I will also say that Jane, who has not yet found a new full-time job, likes to text me and others in the office to check up on our work and make helpful suggestions for improvement. I try to respond kindly when I can.

a truly hilarious company holiday party story, told in bullet points

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

This is one of my favorite holiday stories of all time, which was relayed last year by a reader who is a pure angel for sharing it with us:

I love me some bullet points, so here goes my holiday nightmare. Picture this:

* I was in my early twenties, with my first grown-up job, coinciding with my first house (rental, but it counted).

* I learned the gazillionaire owner of our company elected not to provide a holiday party.

* I decided to be a hero and open my OWN HOME to my co-workers, thereby providing cheer to all, while kissing up to management.

* I also decided to ignore the fact I had only moved into the house on December 1st, and the party needed to happen on the 15th….

* ….while purposely forgetting I had 79 coworkers, all of whom were noted to have iron-clad livers from many a Happy Hour (used car dealership, if it matters). The resources I checked swore that no more than 30% of those invited would likely show in the busy month of December, so I not only invited all 79, but their spouses and significant others. (Yes, it still hurts to admit this.) I was the youngest of the 79 employees by at least 10 years, with all the rest between 35-65 years of age.

* One co-worker (I am still ticked at her, so I will name and shame), SHEILA, decided to have mercy on me and volunteered to co-host. I happily agreed without bothering to nail down what “co-host” meant to SHEILA. At the moment the party started, she had not yet assisted in any way whatsoever.

* Since this was Minnesota in the 1990s, the “womenfolk” of the dealership agreed to provide the food and the rest was BYOB. (Mama didn’t raise no fool, my friends!) (Okay, so she did.) I slaved over my contributions, and everyone else brought chips and more salsa than Texas has ever sold in a month.

* I decorated every inch of my tiny, one-bedroom house, while also unpacking. I had beautiful lighting, Christmas music playing softly, and it even started snowing, just enough to be perfect!

* While I was smugly glowing in my Martha Stewart moment, the guests arrived…all at the same time, as if they were air-dropped by demonic forces.

* How many showed? 78. (The 79th person – the owner – had better plans. And really – didn’t we all?) Luckily, many didn’t bring their better halves, mostly because a shocking number were having affairs with each other, something no one had clued me in on.

* My co-host, SHEILA, was having an affair with our Sales Manager who showed up five minutes after she did, gifted her with raunchy lingerie, and whisked her away for the rest of the evening (but only after telling me to cover them with their respective spouses, should they call).

* None of my invitees remembered to bring glasses, but lucky me, I had already unpacked my grandmother’s vintage china, which they were able to locate all on their own, so they drank their Jack from tea cups. Very fragile teacups.

* And drink they did! When my fancy-pants appetizers ran out, and then all the chips, there was nothing left to balance the booze. Picture a tiny house filled with over 100 people, all drinking, and no food. At one point, I wandered around with a loaf of Wonderbread, gently offering toast to one and all. (Actually, just the bread itself….someone had moved the toaster off the counter to make room for the booze and it took me a week to locate it again.)

* I wasn’t even getting a true picture of how bad the scene was degrading, because 3/4 of my coworkers smoked. As it was December in MN, opening the windows wasn’t really possible, and the air took on a fog-like appearance, which I tried to convince myself was romantic.

* After a couple hours, I heard the most horrific crash, and then multiple thuds, another crash, more thuds, and so forth. Turns out, my boss’ husband decided he would “skate” downstairs to my basement, by lifting one leg in the air, and placing a large glass ashtray under the other foot. He attempted this three times (never clearing more than one step) before I gently suggested my boss should perhaps/possibly/maybe consider taking him home. This suggestion was not well received.

* By now, everyone had had their fill of Christmas music, but thankfully, a guest had the forethought to bring an Anthrax cd, among other metal music, which melded nicely with the cancer-inducing air, and the mosh pit now assembling in my living room.

* At one point, I joined my dogs in my large bedroom closet (tellingly, they had no interest in joining the party, once Johnny Mathis’ comforting carols were replaced by koЯn). I decided to remain in there with them, until my get-together was either busted by the cops or the Lord called me home. Neither happened.

* At midnight – five hours after the party began – I decided I never wanted to see any of these people again, and told them all to leave. Immediately. Over and over. I turned up all the lights, shut down the “music”, and put on old lady pajamas (I had read that trick in Good Housekeeping). Nothing worked until I rounded up all the partially full liquor bottles and heaved them out the back door, into a snow bank. I refrained from yelling, “Fetch!”

* It was then that I noticed the vibrant yellow ring in the snow all the way around my house. It was the color of a highlighter pen, forming a perfect circle. In my fatigue and smoke-dulled senses, it took a bit to notice the footprints next to the ring and I suddenly realized why I never witnessed any guy exiting my (single) bathroom. They had all decided to relieve themselves outside, bless them?

* The landscaping pee ring was my final straw. I collected myself, stormed back inside, and loudly announced that the party was over and everyone had two minutes to exit. Jackets would be collected and dispersed at work on Monday. GET. OUT.

* (I should note that sending people away after seeing them get so inebriated was not a good move on my part, and I would never be party to that today. But as I was the youngest person on staff, and naive, and totally without hope they were ever going to leave, please forgive.)

* After everyone left, around 12:30, I started cleaning. I finished just shy of 9 am, and had to twice run to the store for more cleaning supplies. Someone had sex in my bed, broken beer bottles on my floor, torn drapes, unplugged my fridge (I heard they wanted to get it colder, faster), vomited in various places that my dogs found first, etc. It was a crime scene, and I knew all the suspects.

* The following Monday, I received much appreciation from all, none of whom appeared to remember how I literally lost my cool and threw them out. The gazillionaire owner shook my hand, thanked me for my team spirit, and handed me $20.

* And the pee ring? I had forgotten about it that night and went to bed once I was done cleaning. My landlord stopped by that afternoon, to tell me he was back from vacation (he lived next door, and I was watching his house); he saw the urine and uncomfortably asked me if I was having issues with the plumbing. I ignored the insult that he thought I might squat and pee outdoors in a perfect ribbon like a lunatic, and since I was not allowed to have parties, I told him my dogs evidently were marking their territory and I would speak to them.

* I remained at the dealership for three additional years, and was begged to host the holiday party each season. I finally said I would if koЯn agreed to play the event live. I figured it would be the only way I could top the first (and last) “Stella70’s Holiday Extravaganza.” (And yes, that is actually what I had called it. Cringe.)

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updates: everyone gives me plants, the “childless” shirt, 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 boss and coworkers keep giving me plants (#2 at the link)

My question was low stakes, and my update is as well. To answer your question on why everyone was giving me plants, my boss and most of my team were all middle-aged women who just really love plants. My boss had a garden of plants in her office, and I think assumed that since they brought her joy that they’d bring everyone joy. Her love of plants rubbed off on the team. Plus, in many situations they’re easy to give as gifts, especially in a situation like mine: I have several severe food allergies and intolerances, so when people would normally get a cake or something, I got plants.

My plant killing days are behind me now. Due to reasons entirely separate from the plants, I left the old job in mid-2022. Before I left (and with a lot of help), I kept a succulent alive long enough that it had many plant babies. I repotted those and gave one to each team member on my last day, which they all loved. The original plant died a week after I left, in a surprise to no one.

At my new job, my coworkers asked if I wanted a plant early on for my desk. I told them “only if they want to watch the plant die over the course of a few weeks” and they laughed and never asked again. I admire my coworkers plants from a distance, and I decorate my desk with pictures of my dog.

2. As a manager, should I not wear a “childless” shirt in my off-hours?

I did not buy the sweatshirt.

I did spend some time thinking about your comment at the end — about how I placed myself in the preferred category due to being childless. I am nonbinary/transmasculine myself (“don’t ask, don’t tell” with regards to work, so I’m assumed to be a woman there). I am young enough that someone can still assume children are in my future, so some hypothetical sexist boss could both give me bonus points for the “will have kids eventually” assumption and at the same time not “mommy track” me. I also have never really personally experienced weirdness around not having children — most of the people in my circle are childfree, so there’s no one breathing down my neck about kids. But I have heard the horror stories about how weird people can get towards childless women! I completely agree that it can get women can’t win when it can go weird either way.

Thanks for taking up the question and for all the commenters who weighed in!

3. How should I respond when employees complain about financial stress?

I got so much wonderful feedback, both from you and your readers. It was especially interesting to engage in a conversation surrounding what compensation looks like at nonprofits versus private companies, and how that dovetails with privilege and diversity in this sector.

I heeded the advice I received to continue serving as an empathetic sounding board to my employees who were voicing concerns about their financial struggles, while also working on not taking those conversations so personally. I am happy to say I continue to increase pay when I can as well as to expand non-monetary benefits. In general I have had less of these conversations which affirms to me that some of my employees may have simply been facing challenges in their personal lives and saw me as a safe place to share those frustrations.

4. My new coworker’s annoying habits are driving me mad

My colleague was late coming into work a couple of times and said he was going to a physiotherapist to work out some muscle and joint issues. His fidgeting really was due to pain and discomfort. Treatment seems to be helping.

If he texts while I am talking, I stop talking and ask him if he needs a minute. This seems to have addressed the issue. I guess he was unaware he was doing it? Or unaware that it was rude? I’ve also noticed that he used to pick up his phone during meetings, and he no longer does that. I’m not sure if he noticed that no one else did that, or if someone else mentioned it to him. I think he’s still adjusting to professional norms.

I read through the comments. Many thought I just needed to deal with it, and, yeah that’s part of the job of working with people. Many of the commenters suggested various neurodiversity possibilities. That had occurred to me before (we do work in a technical field), but I did wonder what difference that would make to how I would respond. The only thing I could think of is that maybe I would be more direct; instead of expecting him to be able to recognize non verbal cues, I could tell him directly. So I tried that. Whenever it wasn’t a good time for me, I told him. Feeling like I have better control over my time and space has helped my attitude a lot.

share your funniest office holiday stories

We have once again entered the season of forced workplace merriment, holiday party disasters, and other seasonal delights! Thus it is time to hear about your office holiday debacles, past or current.

Did you pass out naked in the break room? Did your manager provide you with a three-page document of “party procedures”? Were you given a nude, spray-painted gold Barbie? These are all real stories that we’ve heard here in the past. Now you must top them.

Share your weirdest or funniest story related to holidays at the office in the comments.

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 to 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.