updates: I insulted my boss’s daughter, and more

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

1. I accidentally insulted my boss’s daughter (first update here)

Professionally, I have little to update. I left that job and the workforce to raise my children. I am no longer a Christian, and strongly disavow my previous actions while recognizing that I still bear responsibility for them. I will never allow my daughters to be treated the way I was.

2. I received an email warning me not to take the job I was just offered

I asked about two things: your thoughts on a slew of negative reviews of a CEO on Glassdoor and an anonymous email warning me not to take the job I was just offered. I took your advice and called the hiring manager (who also conducted the interview) and told him about the email – he sounded surprised and informed the CEO who called me personally. I spoke with the CEO and brought up my concerns with the abundance of negative reviews on Glassdoor and the anonymous email. He explained they recently laid off their sizeable outsourced sales team, and the company was retaliating against him. That explained the negative reviews, but not the email. For that, he said he couldn’t imagine who would send that, but apologized and hoped I would give him a chance to prove that the person sending it was wrong, and that the company was a good place to work. The CEO upped the offer by $10k and included a $5k signing bonus to show how serious he was, and I was really excited about working with the hiring manager, so I decided to accept the offer.

My second month, the head of HR was fired in a tumultuous meeting, and IT found out she was sending a lot of anonymous emails from her computer to potential, current, and former employees trying to get people worked up against the CEO.

My third month, the head of customer success, our graphic designer, and our senior sales rep all left the company. I took over customer success and discovered we had basically no relationship with most of our customers who were waiting for us to reach out and teach them how to use our software and several were threatening to revoke their credit card payments.

My fourth month the CEO cancelled the contract with our sales development rep agency, so I took over sending cold emails (which he wrote).

After two months of completely rebuilding the communication strategy, marketing automation, customer success outreach, and sales cadences, my manager told me he put in his two weeks notice and recommended I take over his role.

On my manager’s last day, at the transition meeting the CEO announced that the company was almost out of money and even if we closed every deal in our sales pipeline, it wouldn’t be enough money to cover our monthly operational costs, so he and the board decided to close the company. So instead of a going away party, we had an out of business party and I walked out of the office that day for the last time with a month’s severance.

That was on a Friday, by Monday I had a job offer from one of my (former) company’s vendors that included a nice salary bump. I was only at that company for six months, but I feel like I got six years’ worth of experience. If the company didn’t close, I probably would have started looking to move on soon – in the end, the Glassdoor reviews were right about the state of the company but for the wrong reasons. That job was my first in tech, though, and it directly lead to meeting some of the smartest, most talented people I know – many of whom are now close friends!

So I guess bottom line, if you see a bunch of negative reviews of a company or CEO on Glassdoor and somebody is motivated enough to send an anonymous email warning you not to take the job, taken together those are probably more likely signs of a troubled organization than a healthy org with the odd bad apple.

3. Using “they” pronouns in a recommendation letter without confusing people (#4 at the link)

I am the high school counselor wrote the letter to you regarding the student who let me know they were non-binary and had selected the he/they pronouns. The new name was generally associated with a female and I needed to write a recommendation letter for college. Most of the advice I got from your readers echoed yours and suggested I ask the student. One of your readers who identified as non-binary was very helpful and indicated what I thought, that they did not think that it was OK to ask if they wanted to change it back to reflect the born gender. I had to write the letter and send it at about the same time I wrote to you because- deadlines -and I have a LOT of letters to write. Calling home was iffy because we were distance learning at that time and the student is really hard to reach, he generally will not answer emails and has other issues that make calling a sketchy proposition depending on his mood. I did not mention this in my original letter but the task was a bit harder because when I write letters I do ask the students for input (community service, awards, clubs, honors, noteworthy things, etc.) and this students big thing was involvement in Girl Scouts of America. Yes, he was still involved in high school to include mentorships with younger GS.

So what I ended up doing was a change in my first sentence that went something like this:

I have known Melody “Susan” Jones (he/they) since his freshman year as his school counselor.

I did it that way for a few reasons. The name change is not a legal name change so I do have to continue to use the legal name that matches the student application but I can refer to the person as “Susan” and use the preferred pronouns and the reader will know who I am talking about. I am not writing a letter about why they are non-binary, but rather about student who happens to identify as non-binary and why I believe they are a good candidate for a recommendation committees consideration.

4. Can I tell interviewers my weakness is that I burn myself out?

Thanks so much for answering my question about talking about weaknesses and burnout in interview , and thank you to all the people that commented. It really helped me reflect and realise how problematic the pattern was, and that I was minimising its impact on myself and others. Many commenters astutely recognised this was more of a life problem than just about working habits and interview answers as I had been looking at it in terms of.

As for my update, things got a lot worse, then a lot better. Though I thought I was trying seriously to address this pattern, I ended up having such a bad ‘bust’ period that I ended up hospitalised for 2 months. It was my lowest ever point, but also the start of things turning around. When I was in hospital I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and suddenly it was like the missing piece of the puzzle had been found and my lifelong patterns that had damaged my work and personal life made more sense. I realised that my issue wasn’t just work stress, and my working habits were both caused by but also perpetuating the disorder. I started on medication which has gone a long way towards reducing the extreme swings, but also I recognise I need to change my behaviour and really take this problem seriously. It also helped in that what was previously a bad personal trait became recognised as a disability, so I have a certain amount of protection in terms of reasonable accommodations, which for me meant being redeployed to a different role that was less conducive to overwork, and where my absences would be less disruptive than in my previous role. I am now more stable and doing better at work than I have ever been, I just wish I’d realised this all and got on top of it years ago!