updates: the bigoted university, the catfishing, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

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

1. My manager attends a notoriously bigoted university (#2 at the link)

I feel okay with writing in with an update now, along with further details, because this supervisor has resigned from my firm.

The people who guessed Liberty University were correct. Unfortunately the advice given wasn’t actionable, because the entity paying for the degree was the U.S. military (my former supervisor is a veteran). Readers, if it angers you that your tax dollars get funneled to places like Liberty via the GI Bill, contact your Senator, I guess?

I am polyamorous. This is a big part of my life that also affects my work life — e.g. when my non-marital partner got Covid, I was his sole source for Paxlovid and emergency supplies, and I had to take off work to tend to those issues. Whether or not poly is considered queer/queer-adjacent, poly people are subject to a lot of discrimination that is perfectly legal. Coming out is extremely fraught.

In my year of working for her, I never got a sense from my former supervisor about her personal views on the people Liberty hates. Regardless, I’ve stayed wholly closeted at work. Call me a coward; you’re not wrong. America hasn’t reached a place where I can expect any reaction other than revulsion, and it scares me to death. Much love to everyone who has the courage to live in their full authenticity, and happy holidays to all.

2. What do I do once I retire?

I wrote in asking about what to do in retirement. The most useful comment was from someone who said, basically, think about what you most value at work. I realized that being a professor was a part of my identity I didn’t want to lose. I didn’t want to work (not the research and teaching – I was ready to stop), but being a professor was still part of me. At a party I heard someone refer to themselves as a retired librarian. And I thought, I can do that! I can be a *retired* professor. Other comments were less helpful (the number of people who suggested quilting, or the people who suggested ways I could keep teaching and research after retirement, well if I wanted to do that I would just keep working).

So I retired last summer. And in a pretty satisfying way. I and another professor took a small group of students to Germany for ten days at the end of the term. Then I and my family (kids, husband) met in Finland (where my daughter is getting an MA) for a vacation. That was great! But life happens. Amidst all this my husband was diagnosed with two serious illnesses, one progressive, incurable, and ultimately terminal. So, the silver lining is I am here to go to hospitals and doctors’ appointments with him. He is stable, for now. And I am doing different things: another trip back to Europe last summer, auditing a class, exercising more, going out more with people (while trying not to catch anything). So, my advice would be to give some thought to retirement before you jump in, be aware that any plan can be derailed, and if partnered learn to do everything your partner does because divisions of labor emerge subtly over the years and one day one of you will have to do it all.

3. I’m managing the mom of the ex-friend who catfished me

I would have certainly taken your advice, and I appreciated your words of support.

The day after I wrote in, “Michelle” told me she remembered who I was. I told her I had remembered too, it just took me a second. We expressed how great it was to see each other again after all these years. She’d show me pics of her grandchildren and talk about her kids like any other proud Mom/Grandmother would show their coworkers. There was never any weirdness.

Michelle recently retired and sadly, she suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. I went to her funeral services and obviously saw her daughter (my former friend). We hugged and I told her how sorry I was and how nice it had been to see her Mom again. She said she appreciated that I came to the service. Some of her extended family members remembered me and it was nice to see them, too (although not under happy circumstances).

Someone on my team who was close to Michelle said that she did tell her that I “basically lived at her house,” but she didn’t say that Michelle had said anything about why I had stopped going over. Like many of the comments said, she probably didn’t even know. I think my team member was trying to get some dirt out of me and asked if something had happened to make us stop being friends, and I just said no and kind of blew it off.

Certainly a sad ending to this story, but I did get some closure to an old wound.

4. My friend says we’re not supportive enough of their business idea

My friend and I who are on the same page resolved to take your advice and that from readers of being supportive but not initiating anything. However, I forgot the next time our friend spoke about opening a B&B and asked if they thought about all the things involved that would have to be done and so wasn’t as noncommittal as I should have been. In any case, our friend hasn’t made any further movements in making it a reality, so maybe there’ll be no need for concern going forward.

updates: boss wants me to be upbeat all the time, the bathroom monitor, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

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

1. My boss wants me to be positive and upbeat all the time … we work in disaster relief

I really appreciated your response and those of the site readers, and especially those who have also worked in emergency response and mental health fields and understood what I was going through.

After I wrote in, Sam backed off asking about my mental health. It appears that the conversation he had with Gillian had the desired effect, so I didn’t need to address it with him further. For those readers who thought it might be related to me being female, it appears that wasn’t the case. Sam did make one more comment about mental health in a team conference call just after I wrote in, but this time about a male colleague. After the usual round of greetings, Sam said something like “And Jim sounds particularly down today,” to which Jim replied, “I’ve got Covid!” Since then there have been no more mentions of mental health.

With regard to my own health, I continued to struggle with fatigue for several weeks and then sought medical advice. It turns out that I had a couple of physical health issues that were contributing to my feelings of exhaustion and my shorter fuse. Those have been taken care of now and I’m feeling much better, but I think it is a good further illustration of why managers shouldn’t diagnose their employees as having mental health issues, as they aren’t qualified and don’t know what else may be going on in peoples’ lives.

An additional possible contributor to my feeling burnt out was that in spite of being seconded to emergency response, I still handled three times the number of files last year as my nearest colleagues (who were not working on emergency response). Sam is aware of this as he is the one who ran the stats. Several weeks ago, he and Gillian asked me to take the lead on an interesting side project. I agreed, but asked that they assist with shifting some of my regular workload so that I could have time to focus on it. They promised that they would do this, but so far it hasn’t happened. Although I’ve enjoyed my job to date, the regular workload and expectations around emergency response have become untenable for me. I’ve been looking for another position, and just this week I interviewed for a job with another organization. I have a former colleague who left to join this organization who told me that it is a good place to work with really good managers, and I’m hopeful that I’ll receive a job offer in the next couple of weeks.

Thank you for your response. It was very helpful and a big relief to have the validation that what I was experiencing from my manager was not right.

2. My remote boss wants to know every time I go to the bathroom

I ended up just kind of forming my own boundaries without a conversation. I think my foot was halfway out the door anyways. It seemed that my boss wanted the utmost communication from me without having to reciprocate that in the slightest. It felt so uneven, especially given his bathroom comments!

I am also dealing with a dying family member. Not having the trust and flexibility in my job was brutal. I sought out new positions and turned some down based on how similar they sounded to what I was doing. I finally found one that a) pays double b) offers flexibility whenever I need it and c) I don’t need to tell anyone when I’m peeing.

I know my previous boss was probably just freaked out about control and stuff. But being on the receiving end was demeaning. Don’t treat your employees like they’re criminals!

3. Should I tell my coworker she’ll never get the promotion she deserves?

I told her. I sent her a message on Facebook so it wasn’t on any work related accounts or devices. It actually worked out well as she kind of already knew and was already looking for something else. She not only landed a better position with better pay, but her leaving actually forced a somewhat painful restructuring that pushed a few under performers out the door. Including the one that was promoted over her. I don’t mind the restructuring and I found it ultimately improved everything once the first few months were completed.

4. Manager came to work with Covid and infected high-risk people

I don’t have a fantastic update, unfortunately. Partner was resistant to bringing up any issues with HR because they’d recently been bought over by new management and he didn’t want to rock the boat, so no real consequences. The good news is that there were fake consequences! The manager who exposed everyone without disclosing did get fired not long after, just for completely different reasons. No structural changes, so while employees are required to report covid exposure it’s possible the same issue could happen again without consequences. So far her replacement hasn’t done anything as blatant as knowingly exposing high risk employees to covid or failing to disclose exposing employees to Covid so I’m taking the win.

Bonus update in case anyone was concerned about health consequences for the at-risk people who got exposed: coworker and partner are both okay, I have some mild consequences but luckily immediate danger is all ruled out.

update: my new coworker keeps staring at my breasts

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

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

Remember the letter-writer whose new coworker kept staring at her breasts? Here’s the update.

Thank you again for publishing my letter and for your advice. It was especially great to see just how exhausted you and the commentariat were with having to even consider any of that crap, again, for the thousands time. Feeling that collective exasperated sigh behind my back made it much easier to act.

I did at first try to ask the staring coworker rather pointedly, was there something wrong with my badge? He gave me a surprised, uncomprehending look in response and said no, no, nothing was wrong. That encounter seemed to help briefly, but in a couple of days the effect disappeared.

I next tried pointedly crossing arms across my chest and, separately, asking what it was he kept looking at. Both attempts elicited the same exact reaction as the badge try.

A day or two after my last attempt to save him the face, I finally had enough. I said, “Name, you can’t keep staring at me like this. This area (and I showed the area with my hands) is completely off limits when you talk to women.” I was tired and not feeling well that day, so it came out in a pretty harsh tone. The guy was very taken aback, he just sat there staring at me (at my face this time hah), frozen and speechless. After a minute or so of him not saying anything at all, I left the room.

He approached me later that day, in a couple hours after my outburst, very cautiously. He said he hoped I understood he never meant to stare “like that,” that it was just how his eyes were, whether he looked at men or women. He said it was considered impolite in his country of origin to look people in the eyes for long stretches, which is why he made it a habit to rest his eyes elsewhere.

Now some of that I felt was true, as I said in my original post, I had a feeling all the way through that he didn’t REALLY mean to stare at the chest. However, the part about looking at men the same way was not true at all, with them he would look at their ears, the wall behind them, that sort of things, instead of their chests (yes I had studied this aspect carefully before acting, sigh). Still, I told him that I believed him and even soothed his ego a bit by saying how much I valued his contribution to the lab. But stressed that he still had to change his eye habits, however innocently meant, around women.

The guy was very, very careful where he looked the rest of the time I worked with him, which was about 3-4 more months, so the lesson did stick. Unfortunately our relationship never recovered – he started avoiding talking with me in general, and when he did have to talk to me, his attitude reminded me of a snake charmer approaching a particularly dangerous reptile. If I stayed at that lab, this would be a very difficult thing to work through. Fortunately, for reasons completely unrelated to the staring guy, I am now happily at a great new job across the globe.

Thank you again Alison, and thank you all who commented, it is so great to have this amazing place to talk through even the hairiest of issues.

my Twitter account has been hacked

FYI, my Twitter account has been hacked and I’ve been locked out of it. I’ve reported it to Twitter but their auto-message says it may take a few days for them to fix it. So far nothing weird has been tweeted from my account, but I assume spam links, etc. are coming so be warned if you follow me there. Hopefully it’ll be back in my hands soon.

employee quit and deleted all his files

A reader writes:

One of our employees just quit without notice and left us in a bind. He is part of a team that works collaboratively, but recently took on a new project and hadn’t gotten to cross-train any of his colleagues before he left.

He came in after a vacation, turned in his badge and key, and resigned on the spot. He didn’t give any reason for quitting. Recently there were concerns of him possibly bullying a new colleague he was training, and he was skipping supervisions and making rude comments to his supervisor (which we addressed with direct feedback). It’s probably for the best that he decided to move on.

Here’s the problem — he was the lead on implementing a new company-wide data tracking system. He attended training, which we paid for, and was responsible for learning how to use all of the system’s features and problem solving issues that came up. The training was expensive, which is why we only sent one employee. We just went live with this new system a few months ago.

This employee was supposed to cross-train his colleagues on the back end features of the system in the next few weeks. After he resigned, we discovered he had taken all of his training notes and deleted all of his files on his computer. We gave the computer to our IT consultant, but nothing can be recovered.

We want the employee to return copies of any notes or files he might still have. I’m not sure how much I can push back if he refuses, or even what to say. Obviously he doesn’t care about a reference from anyone here, and it’s not like we can hold his last paycheck or enforce any real consequences. Any advice?

I answer this question — and two others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My employee’s coworkers are sniping at her for being a few minutes late
  • Dealing with a separation when I’m close to my coworkers

update: how should we respond to complaints about a non-binary guest in the bathrooms?

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

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

Remember the resort manager asking how their staff should respond to complaints about a non-binary guest in the bathrooms? Here’s the update.

Based on your and your readers’ advice, we reframed our thinking regarding possible future complaints. We made a conscious effort to train our staff who may possibly be receiving or investigating any complaints to ask the right questions and enable them to distinguish complaints about what someone was doing from any that may be about who they were. By doing this, the potential problem and our staff’s concerns about handling it became a much smaller deal than we originally thought. It sounds simple when you put it like that and, truthfully, it was.

We included a statement in our check-in literature which read “Everyone welcome! Teapot Resorts does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, ability, veteran status, or citizenship. We welcome guests to use the restroom that is consistent with their gender identity. Taking pictures, filming, or otherwise putting other guests’ privacy at risk in the restrooms and/or private areas is strictly prohibited.” This was included with other information on resort policy as if it were as non-controversial a statement as the office hours or pet leash rules.

Of the five resorts I manage, including the one where our non-binary guest is staying, I had next to no pushback from any of our staff. One person questioned the necessity of publishing the statement wondering if it were “poking the bear,” and one other older gentleman reportedly told his coworker that he didn’t personally agree with it, but in the course of his official duties has followed it to the letter.

We had an extremely busy summer, with a higher than average number of guests and received exactly zero complaints about anyone in the bathrooms, and I truly believe the statement acted preventatively. We literally had a single negative response, a guest who didn’t say anything during his stay, but sent a long, angry rambling email after the fact complaining about the policy on behalf of his wife and all other “real” women. Interestingly, he never referred to her by name, only as his Wife, as if that were her identity, and we did not hear from her at all. By contrast, we had a handful of guests who positively commented on the policy, both those who were directly impacted by the policy and those who were not but generally approved of it. By far the most common reaction was no reaction at all, which was a very pleasant surprise.

It is easy to see that having a non-discrimination policy, ensuring all of our staff knew how to talk about the issue, and making our guests aware of it neutralized not only our staff’s concerns over dealing with complaints but also made the majority of our guests (regardless of their own gender identity) feel more comfortable and safe in our facilities. Overall this experience definitely resulted in a net positive for our company in a lot of ways, including public perception and staff retention.

My sincere thanks to you and all of your amazing readers who took the time to comment and share their own experiences and things that worked for them. Through the advice received we were able to turn this potential mountain into a molehill.

my boss is infesting our office with fruit flies, my work funds the office BBQs, and more

I’m on vacation. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. My boss is infesting our office with fruit flies

I work for a corporation with locations in 63 different cities in the U.S., but I am part of a two-person department. My office and my boss’s office are next to each other, with a door between them, but we do each have our own entrance door.

Our offices have become ground zero for a fruit fly infestation! He likes to have apples, grapes, bananas, etc. at his desk for snacks … which means there are usually a few apples or bananas on a shelf in his office. And remnants in his trash can.

I believe these are the source of the fruit flies, especially since they seem to appear nowhere else aside from our offices. It is 8:30 a.m., I have been at work for only an hour, and have so far killed 7 fruit flies. While I do keep snacks in my storage area, I do not keep fresh fruit or juices.

How can I handle this situation with a boss who is already an avid over sharer with a history of becoming defensive whenever I have tried to politely remove myself from his personal stories (such as health issues for himself or his wife, family tales, whining and griping about tasks assigned from above) and general negativity towards learning new skills or tasks?

Step one is always to politely point the problem out to the other person.

In this case, that would sound like this: “Bob, I’ve noticed we’re getting an infestation of fruit flies. I think they’re being attracted by the fruit on your desk and in the trash.”

Then, if your boss isn’t the type to figure out how to resolve problems of his own making, you can add a suggestion of what to do: “I think it would help to keep the fruit locked in a drawer and to throw away any leftovers down the hall.”

That’s really the only way to handle this. I understand the hope that there’s some easier option than just being straightforward, particularly with someone with a track record of defensiveness. But with any annoying behavior that you want someone to stop — whether it’s loud gum-chewing, radio blasting, or taking all calls on speaker phone — you’ve got to just say it. Say it nicely, of course — you don’t need to accuse him of being a filthy slob — but you do need to say it if you want the problem to go away.


Read an update to this letter here.

2. My boss is advertising my job because I got sick before some pre-approved vacation time

A few months ago, I decided to make a big career move and change industries. I have been at my new job as an administrative assistant for just over two months. When I was offered this position, I made sure to notify my new boss of two upcoming trips that would require time off. When I officially accepted the job, my new boss had me write the two sets of dates on the calendar and wrote “approved” next to them. The Friday before my two days off (I was taking off Monday/Tuesday for an out-of-town wedding) I came down with a bad bug. I came into work feeling a little off, and slowly got worse as the morning went on. Due to my coughing and sneezing, my colleagues requested that I go home to ensure they did not catch my bug. After speaking with my boss, I was released for the day to go get well. Before I left, I reminded my boss that I would be out Monday and Tuesday and looked forward to seeing him Wednesday.

When I returned to work on Wednesday, I found a sent email (everyone in my office shares one email account) from my boss to our advertising partner asking to place an ad in the paper for an office admin (my job). I asked my colleagues if we were expanding the size of the staff and they said that due to my being sick and then taking two days of for my vacation, my boss didn’t feel like I was dedicated and was going to start looking “just in case.” I haven’t spoken to my boss because he is now out of town for the week. I have no idea how to address this situation when he returns. I am a good employee, I don’t have attendance issues, I didn’t ask to be sent home sick and he approved my vacation time almost three months ago when I was initially offered the position. My other already approved trip is for two weeks next month and I am worried for my job security. What is the best course of action here?

That is … not normal. Your boss decided to start looking “just in case” because you got sick and also had pre-scheduled vacation time? The only way this makes even a little sense is if you had already been out a lot in these first two months, which could give him reason to worry about your reliability. But since you noted that’s not the case, have there been any other signs that your boss is unreasonable or prone to leaping to wrong conclusions?

In any case, yes, talk to your boss as soon as he returns. Say something like this: “Do you have concerns about my reliability or commitment to the job? I hope I’ve shown a strong work ethic since I started, and I was alarmed to hear you’re advertising my position in case I don’t work out. Did I do something to cause that?” If he implies it’s a lot of time to miss when you’re new to the job, you can say, “When you offered me the job, I had two trips already scheduled, and I made sure to confirm with you that those would be okay before accepting the offer. And of course I couldn’t control the timing of when I got ill — and it was coworkers who asked me to go home so they didn’t get sick. Other than that, I haven’t missed any days. I take reliability very seriously. But I also have the two weeks off next month that you okayed when you offered me the position. I don’t want that to cause you to start looking for someone else to do my job.”

It’s hard to know how this is going to go — did he just forget that time was pre-approved? Is this a misunderstanding of some sort? Or is he wildly unfair and unreasonable? But having this conversation will get you a lot more data so you can figure out how to proceed.


3. My coworkers rely on my work to fund our barbecues

I work for a smallish company, but we have two office locations. My office location also has a warehouse, which I run. Two years ago, the boss of my office came up with the idea of an office barbecue in the summer for everyone, which my boss paid for with the company card. He said it was for office morale.

The first year was great, and we had several that summer. Last year, not so much: we only had two barbecues. The first was because a coworker was leaving, and the boss once again paid for it. After several weeks, the boss approached me and said that the next barbecue won’t happen until I scrap the old batteries in the warehouse for money. He said that the money from the scrapped batteries would go towards the cost of the barbecue. Which I did, but I was only able to get up enough money for one barbecue last summer.

My concern is that he will have the same expectation of me this year too. It takes me a year to get up enough batteries to scrap for money and this is a minuscule portion of my overall job.

Several of my coworkers know that this was the case last year and are already hinting. It is causing a great deal of worry and stress for me because whether or not all my coworkers get this summertime treat depends on how well I recover these batteries. I am also worried about how to this will impact my relationship with coworkers because they could begrudge me not working harder. I have toyed with the idea of putting my own money towards the barbecues but I really cannot afford to. I would like to speak to my boss, but he is rarely available or present. Is this an unfair expectation to put on me or am I being silly?

It’s not inherently unreasonable to say “we’ll use the money from scrapping batteries to fund summer barbecues, so how many we do depends on how much money that produces.” But yeah, it’s not really fair to frame it as “whether or not we have barbecues hinges on how well Jane handles the batteries.”

Don’t put your own money toward the barbecues in an attempt to relieve the pressure! Just be straightforward with your coworkers: “I only have a limited amount of time to spend on scrapping the batteries and I have a bunch of higher priorities I need to deal with first, so I can’t make any promises.”

You should also say a version of that to your boss: “I only have a limited amount of time to spend on scrapping the batteries and most of my time needs to go to X and Y, so I want to make sure you know that the batteries might not be a good solution for funding the barbecues. Last year I barely scraped together enough for one so if we want more than that, we’ll need a different solution.”


4. Will I be judged for using two spaces after a period?

I have always used two spaces after sentence ending punctuation. I know the norm is now to use only one, but habits are hard to break. I have read several articles recently that say this can make you look old and outdated, like a relic from the typewriter era.

What is your take? Personally, I am in my late 20s and am otherwise extremely confident with my work/email writing style. Do you think anyone is judging this minute detail? I would be interested to hear what your readers have to say about it.

No one is judging you on it because so many people still do it, but it’s outdated and if you’re someone who cares about such details, you should train yourself out of it.

(And because I’m bracing for an outcry: It’s true that lots of us, including me, were taught to put two spaces after a period in our seventh grade typing classes. But the practice came from typewriters, which used monospaced type, meaning that each letter took up the same amount of space. Double spaces after a period were used to give a visual pause so you could see that the sentence had ended. Now that we have computers with proportional fonts, a single space after a period is the rule and has been for a while. Change with the times! More here.)


5. Behind the scenes of Ask a Manager

As an IT professional, I’ve been supremely impressed with how well your site seems to be organized. You frequently link to previous advice in the context of answering a question, keep up with updates from previous questions, and recommend relevant other answers at the end of some posts. Could you pull back the curtain a little bit about how you keep things organized? Do you have staff/editors who do some of this for you? Do you have algorithms built into your site that help out? It’s all fascinating to me, and I think other readers would appreciate knowing more about how much work goes into producing the amount of content that you publish every week.

(This is a new question, not one from the archives, just because I felt like including it.)

I have the help of an excellent tech person for keeping everything working, fixing things when they break, and building new technical features (all of which has become increasingly complicated as the site has grown and traffic has increased), which involves MySQL, PHP, nginx, Apache, and other things I don’t understand. The “you may also like” list of related posts at the end of every column is automatically generated by WordPress, although I have the ability to choose what appears there if I want.

Beyond that, it’s just me. I used to have an encyclopedic memory for every post I’d ever written, which made it easy to link to previous relevant stuff, but that abandoned me several thousand posts ago (there are now 13,000+ posts in the archives and I regularly find things I forgot I wrote).

Talking about how the site functions behind the scenes is endlessly interesting to me, so if there’s interest in a Q&A on it, I’d be glad to do one soon — let me know in the comments if so!

updates: the terrible uniform policy, the acne, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. Our uniform policy is ludicrous and pisses me off constantly

After I went to Bob and explained that the stipend is insufficient, there are very few options for women and even fewer for large women, I went through the options on the uniform website myself and sent the admin links to several shirts that were available but not offered at our company. She added them to our offerings. I tried to order them and they were out of stock, not in my size…all kinds of issues. So I finally just decided that I won’t be following the uniform policy, or enforcing it with my direct reports, until the issues are truly corrected. Other female managers, for their own reasons, have done the same. Bob isn’t the best at follow-through, so no one is saying anything at the moment. Just yesterday, though, someone told me that our new director is keen to force us into not only uniforms, but shirts that are all the same color, every day. This depresses me more than I can say. But it seems like it is a ways off, so I plan to fight that battle when it gets here.

When my original post was published, I got several comments saying I was being classist or a snob. I’m truly sorry I came across that way. I sat down to write my letter just after another failed attempt to fix the problem, and I was angry. Being told what to wear is extremely triggering for me for personal reasons, but I also felt like no one was listening to the very real concerns about the unfairness and weirdness of the policy. I admit it was a rant, and I wish I would have handled myself better. I really appreciate the many supportive comments and Alison’s advice! They empowered me to know this is worth pushing back on, and I’m going to keep doing that.

2. Should I tell my boss about a personal situation that might affect my work?

I’m happy to say my situation turned out really well! I did talk to my boss, and he was as supportive and sympathetic as I could have hoped. We agreed on no new projects for awhile while I was dealing with the home situation, and to keep him in the loop if things escalated in a scary way or I felt like I needed more resources from the company. He’d check in periodically, although never in an overbearing way, but otherwise treated me normally.

I’m glad I was honest with my boss and HR, in part because, as it happened, the *solution* to the personal drama (I know some folks were wondering, so: it was a set of really, REALLY toxic roommates; going into detail would be wildly off-topic, but it was baaaaaaaad) was also its own source of stress for a few months even once they were on their way out the door (literally)—I bought the house I’d been renting for several years! It’s a happy outcome, but anybody who’s been through that process anytime recently probably has an idea how stressful and time-consuming it is, even without the house-hunting aspect. Anyway, it’s all over now, my mental health has DRAMATICALLY improved, and while, per my boss and co-workers, they didn’t see a dip in my performance, knowing that they were aware I had big things happened in my personal life made me feel like I’d have grace there if I needed it. My company is a great place to work, and I’m grateful for it. This past year would have been so much harder if I was working somewhere with a less supportive culture.

(I’m also glad I shared with my boss, because the first time we happened to talk after closing, he asked me how I was enjoying being a land baron now.)

3. Could my acne be keeping me from getting a job? (first update here; second update here; third update here)

I no longer work in either education or the completely different field I was shifting to with my update in 2018. Interestingly enough, I ended up working for a dermatologist for two years, and the treatment I got while working there knocked out the root cause of my acne. Now it’s just maintenance care to keep it from returning, and my face is no longer in physical pain from breakouts. Covid kicked me around career-wise for a while, but I think the dust has finally settled and I’ve found myself a good place to be.

You took my question seriously all those years ago, acknowledging that the acne could be making me look younger but also giving me other ways to make sure I read as my age, and I’ve always appreciated it. So many people in my life minimized how awful it made me feel by saying it was just a cosmetic thing, but the AAM community all had nothing but kind things to say to a young 25 year old who was ashamed of her face. I’ll never forget the commenter who actually reached out to me to send me money for medication that I couldn’t afford back then. (I’m keeping them anonymous in case they wished for it to be, but I’ve never forgotten their name.) So many of you wanted to help out too – I was blown away by the generosity and I still am, five years later! I’ve always loved the AAM community, and I will forever treasure how kind everyone was to me during what was a pretty rough period of my career. Thank you, all of you!

updates: my coworker’s a jerk to me because she’s pregnant, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

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

1. Should my coworker be allowed to be a jerk to me because she’s pregnant?

Maria ended up going on leave a day after the article came out. My manager told Maria that I was busy on the floor and would not be able to respond to her emails. I never forwarded the email to my boss but I do have them saved if it starts happening again.

The months that Maria was gone were bliss. I was not afraid to check my email anymore, and things could be done without a micromanager off site. I ended up really flourishing while she was gone. I got compliments on how I was handling things from my manager, the person covering for Maria, and more importantly our boss. In that time, I decided when Maria came back I was only going to include her things that she needed to know, instead of before where she wanted to be included in everything.

Maria is back, and I have even gotten a simple thank you email, which I had never received from her before. Maria even gave me compliments through my manager. Unfortunately, Maria is now picking on a different coworker so I do not think she has changed too much.

2. When I ask for a raise, my company asks what more I’m willing to take on to justify it (#2 at the link)

I actually went to talk to my boss about a different issue and during that talk, my boss told me I was getting a promotion, a new title, made salaried instead of hourly, and getting about a 50% pay raise! I’m also supposed to talk to them about salary every other year going forward as they “didn’t realize” I hadn’t gotten a raise in so long. I’ve actually scheduled that salary talk as reminder on my calendar so I don’t forget and feel much more confident about approaching them now for a raise.

I haven’t gotten all the details on the new job yet but we’re supposed to meet to go over the full description “soon.” The pay increase is already in effect. I’m a little nervous because I haven’t heard what’s coming off my desk from my current job, if we’re blending the old and new or what. I’m already working 9-11 hours a day trying to keep up with my current job. We’ll see how the meeting goes, but a HUGE financial worry is off my shoulders!

3. Moving to a post-science career (#6 at the link)

It’s been a full decade and I thought readers might enjoy an update from a long-ago submission.

Long story short: I did end up leaving science. It did take me longer than anticipated to make a full pivot into my new field – one of the riskier things I’ve ever done. However, now my only regret is that I didn’t leave sooner. I read my letter to you and was saddened at the state I was in when writing it. Best to avoid being driven to despair.

My new field is a lot more volatile nowadays, but I’m also a whole lot happier. I’m grateful I was able to find a completely different path for myself.

Thanks for publishing my letter ten years ago and the good resource you’ve been to the AAM community since.

update: how do I write a peer review for my horrible coworker?

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

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

Remember the letter-writer wondering how to write a peer review for a horrible coworker? The coworker, Mike, was yelling at customers and colleagues, sulked when asked to stop shouting, was angry with 20% of customers, left work in the middle of the day without saying anything, and refused to work with returning patients who he doesn’t like. Their manager, Chad, was doing very little. The first update was here, and here’s the latest.

After my coworker was napping at his desk again, I took a photo of it and sent it to my boss. (Note from Alison: I also received this photo.) I mentioned that I didn’t say anything like, “Wake up, Mike!” because we had a patient in the shop, but I had enough time to get up from my desk, go to the area where purses are kept, sit back down, pull out my phone, and take a photo, all without waking him. I asked for Chad’s advice on how to deal with Mike sleeping on the floor, while the rest of us were helping patients. I did include a photo to Chad, because I knew he wouldn’t believe me about Mike sleeping at his desk unless I had photographic proof.

My manager Chad wrote to Lana and me:


I talked with Mike regarding his dozing at work. I know that he has ongoing struggles with mental health and sleep apnea. I asked him what would be a respectful way to approach him or acknowledge that he needs to either take a walk or go splash some water in his face to wake up. I suggested a playful code word to prompt for him to take an action.

Just say “Jedi Mike”

I know it seems silly, but it’s a way to engage him without calling him out in front of patients and staff. I hope that this will be helpful in supporting the three of you working together.

Thank you,

I wish I was making this up. Sometimes I laugh out loud that my manager thinks this is a real solution.

That was on September 30. In the 5 weeks since then, there have been three times where I should have said, “Jedi Mike,” because Mike was sleeping at his desk, but I couldn’t bring myself to say that out loud at work.

I haven’t yet figured out a way to say, “Jedi Mike” in casual conversation while working with a patient. “I think you will love the taste of our new oatmeal blend. Jedi Mike.” “In my experience, this new teapot lid fits Jedi Mike perfectly.”

I usually roll with the punches (when an old man asks me to marry him in front of his adult daughter; when a child vomits in the middle of the floor; when the drawer of my desk falls off while working with a patient) but I haven’t figured out a professional way to say “Jedi” at work. If anyone else knows how to say “Jedi Mike” in conversation and you don’t work at Disney, please let me know.

I have really taken advantage of the health benefits here at my job. But I am also actively looking for a new job. Today I had my second interview with someone else.

I will update either after I’m happily at a new job, or I become a Sith Lord.

Update to the update:

I wrote you in the meantime because I found out I was being paid $4-8 less/hour than my peers. Multiple talks with both Chad and HR were frustratingly ineffective and demoralizing. I had 5 interviews over a 7 week period. One of the jobs offers a state pension and a guaranteed 5% raise each year. (Remember that my 3.5% raise was dependent on Mike liking me?) The hiring manager reached out almost 2 months after I applied and asked if I was still interested.

I had read all your advice about negotiating salary, and I listed to your podcast. I practiced saying out loud to my dog, “Any chance you could go up to X+5%?” And when the HR person for StateJob offered me the job (which is $4.50/hour more than I am currently making), I asked, “Would you be willing to pay $6 more?” I also calmly stated that even though they wanted me to start on December 19, I had dental work scheduled for January 13, and my current dental plan paid more than new StateJob dental did. So with your advice, I negotiated $1.50 more an hour (a 23% raise from what I am making now! and 7% more than the original offer) and a later start date that allows me to maximize my dental coverage. New StateJob will be hard, rewarding work, and I’m excited about my new professional competent coworker, and I know I can make a difference. I never would have negotiated for myself without your invaluable website, and even though you personally did not get that raise for me, I felt the encouragement of the entire commentariat and knew that you and all your readers would be supporting me in advocating for myself.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.