updates: pregnant coworker keeps saying awful things to my terminally ill sister, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and for the rest 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. Pregnant coworker keeps saying awful things to my terminally ill sister

I have an update that, while dissatisfying from an HR perspective, will probably be pretty fun to read.

My sister vents often to me and our best male friend. Preggo left a comment on Lil Sis’s Facebook – some sort of “did you know I’m pregnant bc I’m pregnant” comment on a cancer update. While Lil Sis and I were brainstorming firm but tasteful responses, Male Friend just left a reply that tore her a new asshole. She immediately deleted her reply and went radio silent.

Lil Sis met with her boss the next morning to get ahead of any potential drama. Her boss actually shrugged and said, “This is what happens when you talk crazy out of church” (did I mention they’re in a tiny mountain town?). The gist was she gave my sister carte blanche to put Preggo in her place as needed. A warning and write up would have been better and I’m disappointed that my sister’s manager is kind of a coward. We’re glad manager is on her side in at least some way.

Preggo came into my sister’s office with her tail between her legs and apologized profusely and has since only been annoying in an overly accomodating way. No pregnant talk, no minimizing the TERMINAL CANCER.

Apparently we just needed the audacity of a straight white man with nothing to lose.

2. My employees must have short, unpainted fingernails (#2 at the link)

I took your advice during our annual hiring cycle this past summer and provided those applicants I selected for interviews with a supplemental document describing the work environment in more detail. If they agreed that these were conditions they’d be willing to work under, I went ahead and scheduled the interview. This proved a good opportunity to highlight some other unusual requirements that our student employees need to be aware of, such as not having any food in the lab and the necessity of following security protocols such as leaving coats and backpacks in a designated space away from their work stations. Using the supplemental document makes it clear that these are the rules for everybody and they’re not getting singled out.

I also agree with your assessment that I was way overthinking it! The precipitating incident that prompted me to write in was a recent interview I’d conducted with an exceptionally qualified student of color who uses he/him pronouns and has very long, natural painted nails. I had to ask him if he would be willing to cut them and he said no, which is totally understandable! Coupled with the fact that I am white and the previous student I had to fire for getting acrylics was also a person of color, I couldn’t help but worry I was misstepping somehow.

Thanks also to the commentariat! Hearing about all the other jobs, especially in food service, that require short, unpainted nails, made me feel less like this was an extreme imposition. (Just a heads-up for this time that I use they/them pronouns.) Folks were right that we work with rare books, archives, and museum specimens and because people in my field get this question a lot I did want to address the comments about wearing gloves. American conservators recommend against those iconic white cotton gloves you see in movies for working with paper materials; recently washed, dry, unlotioned hands are the way to go (this can be a real pain – literally – in the winter!). “The acidity of human skin” as one person put it does not damage paper. Fabric gloves can greatly decrease the user’s manual dexterity and sensitivity, especially when improperly fitted, making it easier to inadvertently cause damage to the materials they’re working with. The textile fibers can also snag on paper fibers, leading to tears. From a purely practical perspective, fabric gloves are often reused again and again and unless somebody is vigilant about taking them home to wash properly between uses they can end up introducing more contamination than they prevent (especially if you’ve been handling a book with red rot!). Plastic gloves are a necessity for handling photos, some metals, and some textiles, however.

3. Booking a luxury hotel for business travel (#3 at the link)

I ended up going with the cheaper hotel that was a short drive away, since the price of the hotel + Ubers was significantly less expensive than nightly rate of the luxury hotel. It was definitely the right decision, and I feel silly now for having even considered paying $800/night for a hotel, but I’ve come to realize that my norms around business travel were a bit skewed before this. At the last job I had where I traveled for work, I would regularly stay at very nice hotels where my boss (who handled the bookings) had rewards points. That company was, in general, not a great example of a healthy work environment, and I probably should have realized that extended to this situation also…

Anyways, the cheaper hotel worked out fine for this trip, and the business part of the trip went well also. The people at the office I visited did recommend checking the luxury hotel next time though, as sometimes the hotel will run promotions that significantly defray the cost and make the nightly rate more reasonable.

A few commenters also pointed out that, as is the case with so many letters Alison receives, better communication from my boss would have prevented this whole situation. I have since learned that clear and concise comms and maintaining process documents are generally not my boss’ strength, but now that it’s something I’m aware of, I’m working to manage it better in all aspects of my work.

4. My professor wants us to walk into local businesses and ask if we can do a free project for them

While several students from both classes the teacher pulls the “find your own project” stunt in have filed complaints, none of the students I’ve talked to have had any progress in getting their complaints heard. Whether the IT dean has even seen the complaints is unknown. Meanwhile, I’ve heard the teacher’s doing it again this quarter.

In the comments of that post, I mentioned the dean of the IT school was having an argument with the teachers over the dean wanting all classes back to 100% butt in seat, while the teachers wanted hybrid and asynchronized classes. The teachers won, and with surprisingly minor compromises on their part.

update: my coworker keeps bringing me “problems” that aren’t problems … and they’re definitely not HER problems

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and for the rest 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 coworker kept bringing her “problems” that weren’t problems … and they definitely weren’t her problems? Here’s the update.

This feels like a lifetime ago! As you and many commenters picked up, my manager was… not great. The reason the Emily problem grew so insufferable was because our manager didn’t want to manage her. Despite telling me that she agreed with me and that she would speak to Emily, she did the bare minimum; I found out that some of the meetings she promised never actually happened. I think this was partly because Emily’s schedule rarely overlapped with our manager’s, making her an easy problem to ignore. Our manager had a habit of “managing” like that, so it’s not surprising that, within the two years I was there, every single position in my department turned over at least once.

After reading your advice, I did my best to have Emily make a list for me rather than constantly interrupting me. This worked briefly, but she soon started coming up to me and saying “This is urgent!” for “problems” that were really, really not urgent. When I did get a list, it was mostly things that were, shockingly, not actual problems. I was careful to act quickly on items that made sense, even if it was something very minor, hoping that Emily would feel she had contributed. But, she soon realized that I wasn’t acting on all of her list items, and she began arguing for every single item to be resolved. I directed her to our manager every single time, but Emily despised our manager, so nothing ever came of it.

Fast forward to June: Emily is still there, but no worries, because I got a new job! My last interactions with Emily, though, were a complete circus. The day before my last, she found out that I had interviewed for the same job as her (a different job than the one I accepted) and she was LIVID that I hadn’t disclosed it to her. The truth is, she had told me about her interview, and I didn’t say anything about mine because 1) I was certain her reaction would be volcanic, and 2) I was lukewarm on that company, and was pretty sure I was going to take the other offer I had on the table. On my last day, she STOMPED into our shared workspace, refusing to make eye contact with me, threw her things on her desk, and STOMPED out to the public area. A few minutes later, she saw me working on a piece of equipment, stomped back into the space, and, with a raised voice, told me to get off of it because she needed it IMMEDIATELY. I calmly replied, “Okay, Emily, that’s fine.” She glared at me and said, “I am SO disappointed in you. You knew you had another job lined up and you still interviewed for a position YOU KNEW I WANTED. I NEED IT MORE THAN YOU.” I said, “Emily, everyone can interview for whatever jobs they want.” She then raised her voice again and started blatantly insulting me, to which I immediately said, “I’m sorry you feel like that, but I am not going to be spoken to that way.” I walked away and continued wrapping up my things.

A few minutes later, a coworker asked me why Emily was nearly in tears, in the public area. I pointed her to our manager, and said to bring any behavioral issues directly to her. The last thing Emily said to me was that she was “disgusted” by me for interviewing for a job I knew she wanted.

I started my new position the following Monday, and I have never been happier or more satisfied with my career. It’s a better title, with much better pay, doing work that I love. The organization’s culture is absolutely fantastic. I work with so many talented people, and I have a wonderful manager. I’ve gotten glowing reviews already, which I think is a direct result of working in a positive, professional, friendly, flexible workplace that truly values its staff.

our holiday party is mandatory, but I don’t want to be around unmasked coworkers

A reader writes:

My office is hybrid now, with each team in one day per week. I’m still being very vigilant about masking on the days that I’m in the office because my mom, who lives with me, is having chemo and is immunocompromised. So on the days I’m in the office, I’m careful to eat in my office with my door closed so that I’m not around anyone while I’m unmasked. However, we’re having a holiday party and we’ve recently been told that everyone will be required to come into the office that day. There will be eating and drinking so people will definitely be unmasked – indoors, for several hours without great ventilation, during a period when Covid cases are supposed to be surging. The idea of a mandatory party is weird enough already, but throw in the health risk and I’m really unhappy to be required to be there. What do I do?

I answer this question — and many others — over at New York Magazine today. You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

Should I give my boss a gift?
My boss wants an expensive gift!
My coworker gives me a gift every year – should I be reciprocating?
My company gives terrible gifts

update: the CEO is obsessed with me and wants me to be his emotional support

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and for the rest 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 boss was obsessed with her and wanted her to be his emotional support? The first update was here, and here’s the latest.

Your readers may remember me as the executive assistant who wanted advice about the increasingly obsessive behavior of their CEO. Shortly after reading your response, I began job hunting in the public sector. I was disillusioned by my recent experiences and the thought of landing a position that was even remotely similar made my skin crawl. Fortunately, I was able to land a position in my local government after a relatively brief search. I’ve been in this new position for a few months and it’s been the single most humbling experience of my life: the caliber of people that I work for and with is astonishing; I’ve never been part of a team that operates this way and it’s incredibly gratifying. However, I’ve been struggling to find my footing and rather than hit the ground running, I took two steps and face planted. I feel like I’ve gone from playing with Lego Duplo to Lego Creator Expert sets overnight — one of the many astute comments left by your readers suggested that my old job was doing nothing for my skill building and they couldn’t have been more right! However, I’m happy to say my new boss has been incredible at every turn: they understand it’s been a rough transition and they are willing to see me through. I’m learning and growing in fantastic and challenging ways for the first time in my adult career. It’s been really hard, but the kind of hard that makes a person better for having experienced it.

As you can expect, it’s been a really bitter pill to swallow, now that I have first hand knowledge of what an appropriate EA/executive relationship should look like. In an effort to insure that my ex-boss is no longer able to leverage his title and position to manipulate or out-right force women into these relationships with him, I’ve retained an attorney and am currently working through the list of options available to hold him and the organization accountable.

And I’m still married, happily for the most part (ha!)

I remain forever grateful that you responded – you and your readers showed me everything I was missing when I was too close to see.

dog rampage in the office, temps accused me of bullying, and more

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

1. Misbehaving dog rampages around the office

About four months ago, we were asked to return to the office after two amazing years working from home, first two days a week, then Monday through Thursday.

We are a five-person design studio with three associates who own it, and one of them got a dog, Pepito, about a year ago. The dog is an absolute nightmare. The owner has tried a bit of training with the help of a trainer, but I don’t see much effort (or authority) on her end to actually correct her dog’s behavior. He chews on everything, bites people when we walk around the office, loves to counter surf (and any other surface for that matter), and plays with loud toys and with a dog that another person that works here brings sometimes (even that dog gets tired of playing with Pepito and has to be locked up). I am completely in awe that neither of the other two associates say anything to her about it and just normalize everything the dog does.

This has made the work environment completely dreadful to me. The constant yelling at the dog trying to make him stop the shenanigans he is always up to, being alert when I have lunch so he doesn’t try to eat it and that I don’t get attacked when I’m finally leaving, etc. is causing me stress. We always have a meeting at the end of the year, and I thought maybe I could bring it up at that time, but I’m unsure of the best way to discuss this because I am also planning on asking for a raise. Do you have any suggestions for this situation? I feel trapped, and I am seriously considering (if I don’t get a raise and this dog thing continues) looking for another job.

Because the dog belongs to one of the owners, your options may be limited. But do any of the other owners seem annoyed by the situation? If you’ve ever seen signs of that, talk to that person! Otherwise, is there one of the owners who you have an especially good rapport with and who you know values your work? You could talk to that person, explain how disruptive the dog is, cite the specific problems he’s causing (biting should be at the top of that list since that could create legal liability for the company), and ask if they can talk to Pepito’s owner about keeping him at home (or at least getting him training).

Alternately, you could try alerting Pepito’s owner every time the dog is misbehaving — “Jane, Pepito is biting people, can you keep him in your office?” … “Jane, Pepito is chewing on wires, can you keep him in your office?” … “Jane, Pepito is digging through the trash, can you keep him in your office?” … etc. But that sounds exhausting, and I’m not convinced it’ll change anything, given the pattern so far. You could also try a more straightforward “It’s really hard to work with Pepito rampaging around and getting yelled at so often” — but how well that’ll go over depends on what the owner is like and how they deal with messages they don’t want to hear. Their total lack of consideration isn’t encouraging, but there are some people who are this oblivious but are still willing to change things up once someone tells them they need to. This person may or may not be in that category.

You’re probably better off using one of those methods rather than bringing it up at the year-end meeting; with the latter, there’s too much risk that others won’t chime in with support (especially if taken off-guard without time to prepare) and you’ll end up looking like the only one who has a problem with the situation. It might turn out you are the only one who objects, and if that’s the case, you’ll have to decide if you’re willing to stay in these conditions or not. But raise it first and see if anything changes. (Also, this conversation should be totally separate from your raise conversation — one has nothing to do with the other.)

2. Two temps accused me of bullying

Last year we were very much a toxic workplace and I’m the only survivor. I didn’t find a new position before the current manager quit, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

My grandboss become my boss and HR assigned him some one-on-one time for outside coaching, as my boss flat out lied about him on her way out. She started out saying she was going to take his job and when that didn’t work moved on to a “burn the place down” mentality.

We got behind on our regular work and starting using temps. We’ve been through 13 temps in a year, not counting the three we currently have. Two became full-time in our department, one full-time in another department, and a few didn’t last a whole day or only a couple of days because they didn’t like the work or they found full-time work outside of our company. However, two have now left, personally attacking me and calling me a bully. I know I’m a little warped from surviving the toxic phase, which is why I have sought out opportunities to work closely with other departments and attend trainings to reset my mindset. Both temps have had similar issues of being late, preferring to play on their phones, and parking in our visitor parking and having to be asked repeatedly to put their phones away or move their cars. Expectations are set up front for phone usage, parking, and a set 8-5 schedule.

The most recent one was this week, and I got a horrific six-paragraph text attacking everything from my looks, my current/future children, my profession, and my childhood. I know that isn’t all true, but it was extremely hurtful in the moment. But I am concerned about having two now refer to me as a bully. As far as parking, I’ve always asked (after HR told me there was an issue), “Hey, are you parked in visitor parking by any chance?” and once they confirm I’ve asked them to move their car and gently reminded them that they need to park in general parking. For phones I’ve asked, “Oh hey, whatcha working on?” and if they responded that they didn’t currently have anything, I’ve found them work and asked that in the future they let me know when they’ve run out of work. If they currently did have something, I’ve asked them to put the phone away so they could concentrate on the task.

I’m not a new manager but I am a new manager at this company. My promotion was only a partial replacement of my boss and I’m working on a master’s degree to fully qualify. I’m worried I’m going to put time and effort into additional education that I didn’t really want and then I get told I’m no longer eligible because of complaints.

Am I off-base? I’ve only asked about parking when HR reported to me there was an issue. I’ve never singled anyone out in a group setting. I’ve only asked what they were working on when the phones stayed out over a 15–30-minute period or they were watching videos/TV on them. The only way out of my office is to walk by everyone and I am up and down all day either for meetings or the bathroom (hello pregnancy).

When someone attacks your looks, your children, and your childhood, the problem is with them.

None of the actions you described taking sound unreasonable. That doesn’t mean there’s not more to it — for all I know, you could be a terrible manager in all sorts of ways. It’s possible you are a bully; I can’t say that you’re not, but the stuff about parking and phone use certainly wouldn’t qualify. Could there be other stuff going on? Sure, there could be. But someone who attacks your looks, your children, and your childhood is someone of terrible character, with terrible judgment. Their assessment of you shouldn’t carry much weight, because they’re out of their gourd.

It’s still worth getting feedback from other people you manage, since you’ve now had complaints from two separate people and especially because you note that you know working in a toxic environment has warped your norms. There could be real work you need to do to change how you manage (stuff that might have nothing to do with the parking/phone issues). It’s important to find out. But it sounds like at least one of the two people who accused you has their own severe toxicity issues, and you’ve got to factor that in too.

3. What do people who work in offices do?

I have only ever worked at non-office jobs (Kroger, waitressing, currently a hospital employee, etc.) and it seems like an overwhelming number of people who write to you work in office jobs. So, what is everyone doing? I feel like I’m ignorant of a whole other world.

There’s no way to give a comprehensive answer to this, so I’m just going to list out everything I can think of in 60 seconds to give you a sense of the breadth of the types of office work: writing, editing, pitching clients, servicing clients, creating marketing campaigns and materials, analyzing the effectiveness of those campaigns, raising money, designing and building products, software engineering, writing product documentation, analyzing legislation and regulations, training, gathering data, analyzing data, building and maintaining websites, benchmarking costs, assessing legal risk, issuing invoices and ensuring they’re paid, paying bills, running payroll, tax compliance, procurement, managing transportation logistics, processing claims, making financial projections, accounting, medical coding, sales, lobbying, developing public policy, processing orders, managing grants, writing and managing contracts, writing legal briefs, planning events, managing supply chains, evaluating programs’ effectiveness, designing curriculums, managing investments, doing the administrative work that supports all of the above … and that’s barely scratching the surface!

You’d probably find it interesting to look at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ website, where they list just about every job you can imagine, divided by category, and give info about each of them.

4. Does LinkedIn need to match my resume?

For the first time in many years, I am searching for a new job. As a 40+ woman who has generally worked administrative jobs, I am concerned about ageism. The resume I plan to use is one page long, contains the last 15 years, and leaves off my college graduation date. Since LinkedIn is my public/online resume, the information on my LinkedIn should match the resume I’m using — is that correct?

It doesn’t need to. Obviously you shouldn’t have conflicting information on LinkedIn, but it’s fine if LinkedIn contains more info than your resume does and vice versa. In your case, where you’re specifically trying to avoid age discrimination, you might choose to tailor LinkedIn the same way you have your resume, but there’s no rule that they must match in general. (In fact, it would be really difficult to have them match if you ever tailor your resume for the specific job you’re applying for, since you might have multiple different versions of your resume depending on what skills and experiences you’re emphasizing for any given job.)

updates: my boss sent me a message urging me to follow Jesus, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and for the rest 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 younger employee doesn’t know professional norms

Thank you to Alison for your advice and to the commenters as well. I wasn’t able to be in the comments in real time, but appreciated the feedback (and drubbing haha). I’m happy to report that my employee continues to thrive in his role and that we sorted out the issues in the letter. The most important thing to address was being on time to our check ins, which I brought up and we haven’t had an issue since. I mostly decided to let the “boss” thing go, although I did let him know that it should stay in internal communications. Finally, I learned from my employee (and from my brother and in the comments) that there are actually a few different interpretations of the 😤 emoji! He intended it to communicate “Yes, I’m hard at work!”. Like, you are grunting from the exertion of doing your task. I let him know that since there’s a few different interpretations of its meaning, that we should probably keep it out of social posts. (We had a separate funny conversation about how millennials use 😂 but Gen Z prefers 🤣. Still learning a lot about which emojis are in these days!)

Overall, I’m very happy with my hire for this role. In addition to the coaching I provide him as his manager, we also secured funding to hire an outside consultant who has been helping him shape his work plan, which I think has been invaluable professional development for him. His role is one that we haven’t had a dedicated staff person for in years, so it’s a huge boost to our organization’s impact to have him there. Excited to see how he continues to grow into the role!

2. I’m taking six months off to hike — should I tell people what I’m doing? (#2 at the link)

I did end up telling folks why I was taking off for 6 months and it was pretty much a non-issue. People were generally excited for me, supportive and curious. I recently got back after completing the trail, and have gotten absolutely no negative feedback, even though I ended up extending the trip by two weeks. My one remaining team member had a fairly miserable May/June but she is more frustrated with my boss than me, b/c he also took off for more than a month in her busiest season. I also ended up getting the promotion I had anticipated (while I was on leave already, gotta love those sloooow government processes) and have had overwhelmingly positive responses to that – my team member/new direct report has been particularly effusive as have all our internal partners.

3. My boss sent me a message urging me to follow Jesus

Unfortunately I never texted back or reported but as the job was a a grocery store I still shop at I have run in to her. When it happens we both have acted like it didn’t happen. I don’t really want to risk her being fired as she retires this year. But I did tell a lot of the coworkers there about it.

4. My coworker/friend keeps coming to work drunk

Unfortunately, my story did not have a happy ending. Despite my and my coworkers’/supervisor’s best efforts, my friend ended up being caught drunk on the job a second time and was terminated back in the spring. She has recently started to look for work again but did no additional substance abuse counseling and I’m positive she’s still drinking. It’s really very sad.

update: my boss won’t stop texting me — and I’m in a hospital bed

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and for the rest of the year I’ll be running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose boss wouldn’t stop texting her while she was in a hospital bed? Here’s the update.

First, I want to thank the commentariat for all the well wishes for my recovery and for those who shared their own stories of cancer/major illness. Reading your supportive comments got me through a difficult month. I’m six months out from surgery and just had a good scan and follow-up appointments. I’m seeing a therapist who specializes in patients who have/had cancer and have my first visit with the exercise oncology group next week. Things are looking good.

Before I get to the update itself, I also need to thank Alison who, on the day of and after my letter was posted, kindly and quickly dealt with my mental fog and opioid-induced paranoia. At my request, she made several edits to the piece (e.g. removing the word-for-word text messages I originally included) and removed my comments, which is why the comment section seems confusing. There were LOADS of identifying details in the post and in my comments, so I freaked out a little. She was great and reassured me as well as made every change I asked for.

Now, on to my update and to answer a few questions that commenters had. The flowers were purchased via a PO sent to an admin — not personally paid for by my team. More than a few descriptions of my boss were spot on: wants to be acknowledged for “kindness,” extrovert who is projecting her needs onto others, narcissist, has boundary issues, believes she is empathetic but shows it all wrong, and performative just to name a few. Several readers caught that I said these were just the texts my boss initiated, speculating that I’d been encouraging the communication. While, yes, I’d replied to her texts, I wasn’t the one to start any of the conversations. Grumpy Elder Millennial’s comment summarizes why I responded to them: “I’m guessing that OP is concerned about the interpersonal and career consequences of [ignoring them].” I also didn’t want my boss to have the phone numbers of any friends/family members (I’ll probably do this with a Google number next time), which is why she only had my number.

Now for what I did. I used Alison’s advice and some of the suggestions made in the comments to craft a reply that said I (1) was settling back in at home (I’m out of the hospital), (2)  was wiped out and focused on rest/recovery (I’m exhausted and healing), and (3) would get back in touch closer to my return date when I was feeling more up to it (I’m not at work so leave me alone). I also thanked the team again for the flowers and conveyed my appreciation for their concern. My coworker (we are a team of 3) reacted with a simple heart within minutes. Boss never reacted at all — no email, no text, no call, zero reaction. I hear nothing from her until I emailed several weeks later letting her know I would be able to come back half days a week before my return date, so all the advice worked. The relationship between the two of us is fine now. She’s back to her oversharing self but not hounding me like she was when I was on leave, which I can deal with now that 90% of my energy isn’t spent healing my body from a 10+ hour surgery with a surprise organ removal.

An unrelated, final thought for the readers who didn’t understand the difference between “Did they get all the cancer?” and “How did everything go?” Although people and cancers are all different, you should really never say that. Even if the surgeon or oncologist thinks they got it all, you really have no idea until you hit a 5-year (or more) mark — or when it comes back. There is literally no way to know if they “got it all” until years later. different pseudonym’s comment sums it up nicely: “There is a difference between cancer and ‘not feeling well,’ and when you speak as though they are the same you are being cruel.”

Thank you to everyone who engaged in the comments. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated it!

update: new hire keeps kneeling in front of me

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and for the rest 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 FASCINATING letter from the person whose new hire kept kneeling in front of him? Here’s the update.

A while back I wrote about a new hire that had a strange habit of kneeling in my office. First of all: the comments are always so unexpected. Commenters were convinced it was cultural, or that Sam was deaf or blind and needed to be inches from me to communicate, or that he was super tall or super short, or that he had some chronic wasting disease that made sitting in an office chair impossible and painful, or that my cubicle size/layout made the extra chair impractical. It really was just as simple as I suggested: a new employee just didn’t really get it.

Anyway, after I read through the response and the comments I decided I would ask him explicitly to sit in the chair. He came into my cube, and I said something like “hey dude, I don’t mean to make a big deal about this, but I’m gonna need you to sit in the chair. It’s just a little weird, especially when [president of company] walks by, you know?” He said OK (albeit somewhat confused), and sat in the chair. I had a hunch he may just be sick of sitting, so I said “you know [our company] has a bunch of extra sit-stand desks, right? You can ask for one.”

So, the next day Sam had a sit-stand desk. And then a few months later I moved cities to be closer to family. No telling if he’s gone back to his subservient ways or not.

update: our boss is demanding a gift with an accounting of names and how much each person contributed

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and for the rest 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 boss was demanding a gift with an accounting of names and how much each person contributed? Here’s the update.

Here’s what happened. Feeling more brave after reading your and readers’ responses, first I tried a lowkey version of asking for help from HR. When I asked them about the grievance process in general (I did not provide any specifics) , they said the first step in the official company process is to talk directly with the person to try to resolve the issue one to one. They said this was true whether it was a peer or a supervisor — even though I hadn’t asked that question. Which reinforced my belief that HR protects the company, not any of the human beings in their employ. This was an effective dead end because I neither wanted to share more details with HR, nor confront the boss about the whole messed up pay-for-performance-review system.

Then I asked around to get an idea of what other employees were planning to do. A few had already made substantial “contributions” but many hadn’t done anything yet because they were feeling stuck too. I suggested those of us remaining contribute to a gift made “in honor of the Boss’s leaving the company for XYZ Corp” to a local organization that focuses on people facing food insecurity. I liked the suggested idea of making a donation to a cause Boss would find odious. But we all agreed that doing something that would ameliorate suffering in our community would be more impactful. It would be something good to come of the bad situation we found ourselves. So that’s what we did. And then we waited.

The deadline for performance reviews came and went. Cartoon Villain Boss left town for the new gig. I assumed she passed her review of me to the new boss, so she would have the satisfaction of cutting me down and forcing another person to deliver the bad news, and also poisoning the new boss about my work as an added parting-gift evil bonus.

In my first meeting with New Boss I mentioned, Lt. Columbo style, “I noticed it didn’t seem as if Former Boss uploaded my performance evaluation before she left. Wasn’t sure if you might have it?” New Boss responds “It turns out Former Boss didn’t do performance reviews for ANY of her employees!”

I was relieved, perplexed, and annoyed, all in equal measure. Reviews are tied to our annual raises, tied to advancing in the company, etc. Turns out there was an upside and a downside. New Boss made sure supervisees got the base raise, thereby immediately gaining our good will. But she told us we won’t have a performance review for another year because New Boss hasn’t supervised us until now. For some that had outstanding years, this was not great because it kind of makes it as if that outstanding work never happened.

Your advice and that of readers was of great value in terms of possible routes of action I could take, as well as providing general affirmation that the situation I found myself in was not cool.

With appreciation,
Loyal Reader, Who Now Has A New Boss Who Is Not A Cartoon Villain

ice-breakers don’t have to suck

In response to the recent post about excessive ice-breakers at work, Sarah Lichtenstein Walter shared the guide she created for her team about how to design good ice-breakers and what to avoid. I love it and am sharing it here with her permission.

Lots of icebreaker questions can feel overly personal, put people on the spot, feel irrelevant to working together, or unintentionally feel exclusionary if someone doesn’t relate to the topic. A great icebreaker question: -Helps people get more comfortable with each other -Reveals something useful about someone’s personality -Relates to working together -Doesn’t require sharing outside of the bounds of work Work-related ice breaker ideas: – Who is your favorite person at company who is not on this team? – What are your favorite and least favorite work activities (e.g., making pivot tables in excel, updating the database, giving presentations, writing grants)? – What is the best piece of company advice you’ve ever received? – What is your go-to (productive?) procrastination move? (Think: organizing your desk rather than starting a project.) – What do you like about working from home? What do you miss about being in the office? – What’s your favorite standing meeting?

Sarah says, “My favorite of these is the favorite/least favorite work activities — it legitimately helped my team work together better. I hate longer form writing and love doing data matching in Excel. I have a teammate who is the exact opposite. She edited/rewrote a grant proposal I was working on and I created a template for her to manage a process she’d been struggling with!

The favorite person at the company who isn’t on the team was actually really nice too, and our VP shared the nice things that had been said about people with them and their bosses.”