updates: my employee’s clothes accentuate her chest, turning a contact into a friend, 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.

1. My employee’s clothes accentuate her chest — how do I talk to her about it?

Lot of people in the comments from the post correctly guessed that our clients were disabled and as such, we couldn’t really fire them or deny them services. Our nonprofit is often the last option for them, so we try not to do so unless they commit something truly egregious.

But honestly, it turned out the greatest reason for my struggle wasn’t really the dress code or the behaviour of my subordinate. It was mostly the fact I didn’t want to be a manager and I really didn’t fare well in the position. I grasped at straws like the chest thing to try to deal with the enormous pressure I felt.

In the end, I was forced to fire my subordinate by higher management — not for dress code stuff, but because she didnt do her assigned work. After that, I told them I refuse to do managerial work anymore and strongly considered quitting.

However, it turned out for the better. I was just “demoted” and a new, much more experienced manager was hired. Demotion might seem like bad news, but I am much happier back at my post working directly with clients and not doing management. My pay is lower but its worth it for my mental wellbeing.

As for my subordinate, she truly had the dress code badly calibrated – to share a occurence, she once wore a t-shirt printed with cute kitties and shorts to a meeting with state officials. Who then called me, because they didnt believe she was from our organization but just a random passerby who wandered in. (while our dress code was relaxed for work in the office, it was expected to dress formally for such meetings and she saw me dress as such when I did them) I tried to work with her, but it truly was not to be, both from her side and from mine.

2. I want to turn a professional contact into a friend

I can’t believe it’s been half a year since I wrote in! Shortly after I wrote the letter, I contacted Covid while traveling and was stuck across the country. Thankfully I recovered and made it home, and not too long afterwards I started a new job in a different industry that I’m enjoying a lot. I want to thank you for your excellent advice—while I didn’t end up taking it, I think you were absolutely right that when there’s a clear overture it’s okay to respond and see what happens! Your call for updates definitely made me pause and realize how hard it’s been for me to reach out to old friends or try to make new ones—I know I’m not alone in that, given the past few years, but it’s definitely something I want to work on as I settle into my new job. Thanks again, Alison!

3. Should I tell my boss I’m thinking of leaving? (#3 at the link)

When I reached out to you earlier this year, I was just “ghosted” by an employer after completing 3 rounds of interviews and having all my professional references checked by their HR person. I was pretty upset at that time. However, now that I had a chance to reflect on the things said by that hiring manager and her team, I’m convinced that they weren’t sure about the type of people they were looking for. I wish they would at least send me a short e-mail letting me know their decision. On the other hand, I had another hiring manager who personally called me and apologized that she decided to hire an internal candidate but thought that I gave a kickass interview. We need some universal standard rules of engagement in this hiring process!

Shortly before I sent you the email, I received a LinkedIn message about an opportunity with a medium-sized agency as a consultant. I had 3 rounds of interviews and met with the HR person, my future boss, my future boss’s boss, a VP with whom I would have a very close working relationship, and a member of the team I was going to join (I would never accept an offer again if I could only talk to the HR person and the hiring manager prior to the acceptance). I’m happy to report that I received an offer from the agency at a compensation level that I had never reached in my entire career before. Besides that the work is more interesting here (and absolutely no sales!), I have my 2-day weekend back.

I also wanted to reply to some of the comments left in the original post. Specifically, some of you said that they would never accept a sales job. During the last 8 or 9 months, I talked to a lot of people (recruiters, friends and former coworkers) to get a sense of what my next career move should be. My conclusion is that if you want a career in sales, it’s better that you could be your own boss (i.e., you own your practice/you could do your work your way). If you work for a big corporation like I did, you will eventually be caught up with corporate policies and procedures, and more importantly, office politics. Unfortunately, I worked with a group of people who cared more about their scorecards and sales numbers than our clients’ wishes and well-being. My old employer makes some of the best “teapots” in the business, which attracted me to this employer. However, how does that matter if the customer service level is not up to par, or I’m told to sell the “teapots” to those who couldn’t understand and/or shouldn’t have the products? I hope that my old co-workers’ attitudes don’t represent what my old employer is about at large and that the problem is confined to the territory where I was unfortunately placed.

And Alison’s advice not to let my old boss know was spot on! My old boss was pushing me into getting her the sales number right to the end of my tenure to a point of suggesting I should do something that, in my opinion, was borderline unethical. When I told her about my resignation, I felt that she wanted us to end that conversation as soon as possible. In the past when I left my previous employers, I always could reach out to my old bosses for HR-related issues. This particular old boss gave me a 1-800 number to call and would not offer her support for anything else. I felt that I was basically dropped dead in the face of her earth. If I had told her earlier my wish to leave, I probably would be pushed out before I was ready.

My old boss would be the first person I met throughout my career that I wish I won’t have to cross paths with in the future.

4. Declining to travel for a work event that feels unsafe (#4 at the link)

I did take your advice and was open and honest with my manager about being reluctant to attend the in-person meet-up and why. He was very understanding and said it wouldn’t be an issue. There wasn’t really a way to participate remotely, though, so I ended up just being the only one “in office” and being the contact person for the rest of the company for any issues that came up.

My immediate impression was that it was fine that I stayed home; however, shortly after everyone got back, my manager’s attitude towards me started to shift. Before the meet-up, he’d had nothing but positive feedback for me. After the meet-up, though, the feedback became much more negative. He started questioning my competence and whether I was a “team player.” I was ultimately fired in July, with one of the primary reasons given being my unwillingness to communicate and be a team player. The whole experience left a really sour taste in my mouth, and left me thinking that, even though this was a remote role, the expectation of meeting in-person wasn’t as optional as I would have liked it to be. That said, I’m not sad to not have the job anymore. Any remote role that would require in-person meet-ups like that isn’t really for me anyway, and my family member’s safety is definitely worth more to me than that job.