updates: the nosy coworker, not oversharing as a manager, 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. My colleague won’t leave me alone after my former employee died

I want to start with a huge thank you to the AAM community. The messages of support and advice were very helpful in reframing things for myself moving forward.

Myrtle has not texted me at all since I wrote to you, but she did try to bring up my former employee’s death in our next meeting. When she asked if I had heard anything else, I responded “I am upset about [employee’s] death. Out of respect for her and her family, I think it’s important not to contribute to the rumor mill. Now what do you need from me for the X project?” Myrtle seemed a bit flustered, but did refocus and has not brought it up again.

Alison, you were right about their being a much larger pattern of boundary-crossing behavior from Myrtle. In the past, she has brought her children to work events and left them for me to babysit (ignoring my shocked “No! I cannot watch them!”). There’s more, but other details would be too specific for anonymity. Unfortunately, Flitwick and several key managers in my organization also ignore boundaries. The more time I spend in this and similar roles, the more I get the sense that overly-personal work relationships are not abnormal for my current industry and are a fact of life in my geographical area. Hopefully I can use some free resources in the next few months to train for an entirely new career, leave my current organization for good, and move somewhere else in 3-5 years.

In the meantime, I have politely declined any one-on-one meetings with Myrtle without a clear work purpose, thus severing the mentor relationship. We are having to work closely on a special project Flitwick assigned us, but as it is new for both of us it has been easier to maintain an assumption of equal footing. Flitwick and Myrtle are both on information diets – I have been practicing using your past scripts when asking for leave (sick and annual) without providing details that could be used to question my health/state of mind/need for time off. Some of the comments helped me realize that I am not nearly as good at setting (and maintaining) boundaries as I want to be, so I am going to do some self-improvement reading and see if I can find a new therapist to assist me.

2. Not over-sharing as a manager while trying to de-stigmatize mental health

I wanted to write with a very quick update, first to thank everyone for the thoughtful comments and feedback, and also to say that my anxiety level about these issues went down about 5000% when I formally changed my first name and pronouns to reflect my nonbinary gender identity. 🙂

I realize the gender stuff wasn’t really the focus of my question, but since coming out and changing my name, everything just feels, oof, so much easier. It’s honestly hard to explain, but it’s like a lot of things I used to really intellectualize – “how do I be exactly the right amount of honest/authentic but not uhhhh so much so that it causes problems??” – just don’t require strategizing about anymore. I just am myself and it’s out there and everything else follows from that.

(That’s not to say navigating manager-employee boundaries for the first time isn’t a challenge! It just doesn’t feel like this totally intractable mess anymore.)

Sending all my love and encouragement to any other readers who are on a gender-nonconforming-in-the-workplace journey. I believe you, and believe in you!

3. My employee gets their work done but has a terrible attitude (#2 at the link)

After reading the response and comments, I took the course of action most people had recommended: laying out the specific behaviors I’d like to see changed. I met with Jan, discussed the behaviors that were causing challenges, and shared a very brief, straightforward list of the specific actions I wanted to see as follow up. As many of the commenters suggested would happen, Jan begrudgingly agreed to it and almost immediately failed to meet the actions laid out in it.

Unfortunately, while I had initially received encouragement on developing this plan, my boss did not back me up when I went to him with this update. Instead, he directed me to pull back the plan. Going back to Jan with that had the effect of undermining whatever respect they had for me in the first place, so the situation has just gotten worse. Since it’s now clear there will be no consequences, Jan pretty much does whatever they want, including ignoring asks from me unless my boss is involved somehow. At this point, it feels like my boss should take over managing Jan, but he isn’t willing to (despite Jan asking).

Although I like my job outside of this, I am starting to explore other opportunities. I feel defeated and alone trying to navigate this situation, and I can’t see any positive outcome. I appreciate all the advice from the AAM community. Wish I had a happier update for everyone!

4. Friday good news (#1 at the link)

This is a good (but chaotic) update to the good news that I sent in in August 2020. I was the OP whose organization (Organization A) gave me a 30% raise because 1) I was extremely underpaid for my industry and 2) the need for my role (professional support staff at a nonprofit-type organization …. think IT) expanded greatly due to the pandemic. My plan after that raise had been to quit my contractor role (in a related area, but more specialized) at another organization (Organization B) so that I would have more time in my life. Well, a few months after my raise, two things happened at essentially the same time:

• Organization A drastically cut their benefits to all employees. They had “paused” employer-sponsored retirement contributions back in May 2020, but still have not outlined a plan for putting them back in place… I should note that although this organization has had to make large investments to accommodate the pandemic, they have NOT lost revenue, and I know that they got a large PPP loan. So morale in that department was already a little low, and then they rolled out a plan to eliminate the employer-provided group health insurance (during a PANDEMIC!) and instead provide “individualized health benefits counseling” where they contracted with these consultants to advise employees about joining their spouses plan, getting an ACA plan, or… and this was the real problem … getting a Christian health-sharing plan. Organization A is ecumenically Christian, but employees come from a broad spectrum of beliefs and many were not on board with the idea of having something that is explicitly not health insurance and requires signing a conservative statement of faith. During the rollout of this plan, HR and the higher ups kept emphasizing that the goal was for each employee to have equivalent or better coverage for less money, and the idea was that employees would choose an “individualized” plan, and then Organization A would pay a certain percentage of the premium. However, it eventually became clear that Organization A would only contribute to the cost of health insurance if the employee chose the plan that was recommended to them by the consultant. And, of course, many employees were recommended to get the (very inexpensive, very limited coverage) Christian health-sharing plan (including me). So, the organization effectively eliminated employer-sponsored coverage.

• One of the directors that I worked closely with at Organization B left their job somewhat unexpectedly. Knowing this, I reached out and essentially said that if they were interested in having me continue my role there, I would be interested in a full-time role. I have worked as a contractor with this organization for 2 years, and have great relationships with colleagues there. It took a few months, but eventually they offered me a full-time role with an additional 10% increase in compensation! Alison, this offer is AMAZING. I have never had good benefits before. I will be able to meaningfully save for retirement in the first time in my life.

So, here I am in 2021, soon to be making almost 40% more than I was a year ago and with 1 job for the first time since I was 16. Hopefully there are no more professional changes in my immediate future. I’ve given my two-weeks notice at Organization A and my immediate supervisor is upset, because he will be very overwhelmed when I leave, but he understands where I’m coming from. Every day I hear more complaints from other employees there about how there will be a lot of turnover (at a historically low-turnover organization) in the coming year.