updates: the employee who needs to figure some things out himself, the coworker working a second job, 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. How to tell an employee he needs to figure some things out himself

I have a quick, albeit possibly underwhelming, update to this. Carl’s questions continued, but I was much better equipped to handle them 🙂 and then a whole lot of other things happened. Shortly after this, Carl was offered a plum international trip to New York (to address one of my substantive policy areas). I reacted … not well to this. I wrote about it in a Friday open thread, and some commenters replied that I seemed to be a bit burned out. They were very correct!

I spoke to my manager, who was really apologetic about the whole situation. It turned out that she was slightly zoned out because she had just accepted a position in another organisation. When she left, I was given many of her programmatic responsibilities for a three-month acting-up period, with budget responsibilities taken up by her manager (based in another part of the world, and overloaded with a million other things). And… chaos ensued.We were heading into a spectacularly busy period program-wise, and taking on managerial and operational responsibilities on top of this (and not being able to control our budget) was not easy, and I did not excel by any stretch of the imagination.

I applied for another job at a much bigger, more prestigious organisation, working in a team with people whom I already worked with as external partners – and was offered it almost immediately after interview! I’ve been in that role now for a month and half, and I really like it. It doesn’t have managerial responsibility, which I was not ready for or good at – in fact, the role in the team is comparatively more junior than I was before – but it has deeper substantive work and better pay. I spent a few weeks in the new job still feeling burned out by the former, but it has been a relatively quiet time of year for our industry, so I’ve spent the time planning, and getting to know my new substantive areas and colleagues, and now I am just about at the point of very much looking forward to next year. So win-win. Apart from Carl, who is feeling isolated and abandoned by the wider organisation since my manager and I left (which is true – the organisation decided to not hire for my manager’s job, and have not yet recruited for my former role). I take him out for lunch now and again and am gently encouraging him to look elsewhere at places with more structure which could be a better fit.

Thank you so much for your advice (and all that you do!!), and commenters for their take!

2. How can I fix my company’s dysfunctional culture? (#2 at the link)

Thanks so much for publishing my letter, and all the sage advice you dispense!

I did end up leaving that job and am much happier for it. Entirely coincidentally, I gave my notice on the same day as multiple other coworkers. All of us were women, with similar levels of experience, and the only people capable of doing an important set of tasks. Our manager, when asked by another colleague, said he “didn’t see a pattern” in our departures. Right.

Some context that I had left out of the first letter was that I am a woman of color, and our management is all white male. Definitely some of the morale issues stemmed from ingrained biases, and attempts to address DEI topics were often met with the “I don’t know, what would you do” response, which is pretty classic I’ve now realized. Not only do women and people of color bear the brunt of these issues, we’re also made to feel responsible for fixing them, even and junior staff. And still somehow do our day job as well. So glad I’m no longer around those kinds of attitudes.

Since I left, I started therapy and eventually realized a great deal of my burnout came from the fact that my manager had been gaslighting and emotionally abusing me for years. In the meantime at the old company, there continues to be wave after wave of departures and at this point, there is hardly anyone I used to work with still there, with the exception of management. From what I’ve heard there has been no effort to change any part of the culture, so I expect more staff turnover will happen.

My new job is wonderful- supportive colleagues, interesting work, and a very collaborative culture. It’s not without its stresses but it is a world of difference from the truly toxic environment of the old job. I am now building in social equity as part of my research and fully supported by my organization in doing so. Thanks to all the commenters for sharing their experiences trying to change cultures, it definitely helped me focus my energy on job searching to end up where I am now.

3. Should I tell my boss my coworker is working a second job?

I never ended up turned Bella in. Maybe I should have but I just didn’t know if she needed the money, and I didn’t want to be a cause of her job loss if it came to that.

Alice got promoted and no longer manages Bella and myself. Bella and I actually bonded a good amount and we had figured out how to work together really well. She did come clean about the second job but they decided it wasn’t a big deal since they weren’t related.

The culture has had a drastic change since Alice’s promotion. Our new manager, Jasper, leaves a bit to be desired. He can come off as condescending and has very old school ideas on how we should do our work. We’ve added more people to our team but no one on the team seems happy anymore.

Crazy update is that Bella was let go last week. My guess was more of a personality conflict than anything as he seemed extra hard on her. I am also looking to leave due to Jasper’s poor leadership and not feeling like I want to be a part of this new culture. I won’t call it toxic, but the joy I had about my job is dwindling. I just heard from a company I interviewed with that they are working on an offer for me and I should have one by tomorrow!

4. My coworker says our company is toxic — but is she the problem?

Jane quit after I’d been there less than a year, shortly after she was promoted. She was one of five people (out of 11) who quit that year. In this time, I’d worked mostly alone on my shift. I worked through some of the hardest times our agency had ever seen (including the pandemic). But all I got from my managers was non-constructive criticism. They’d only praise me was when they wanted me to cover an undesirable shift. They ignored my emails asking for help and told me I rely on my supervisors too much. They wrote us up for minor, reversible mistakes, and seem to come down harder on people who question them (including myself). Once I was written up after coming to them to ask for help on a mistake I’d made – while I was overwhelmed and working alone.

Finally, my managers uncovered a misguided decision I’d made in good faith a year prior; I hadn’t attempted to hide it, but given how ignored I felt I didn’t think anyone would care. I was accused of going beyond my expertise (though I’ve been peripherally trained in the subject matter … and they have zero expertise in the subject matter at all). They also cited “20 incidents of inappropriate behavior” (?!) that they had never addressed to me before. (Beyond seeing me crying at work due to stress and a big breakup, only to tell me “you can’t have a bad day in this job”….a very emotionally challenging job in emergency services.) I explained myself, accepted responsibility, and pointed out other gaps in the project that others had left that should be addressed with equal scrutiny. I cared about what happened and wanted to make sure the process as a whole could be improved. I even had a union rep advocating for me. None of that mattered, and they recommended termination, “allowing” me to resign. The coworkers I was closest to were shocked and appalled and rallied around me. A month after I left, one of the managers took my work friend into his office and told her not to be friends with me because I’m too negative.

It’s been six months since I left, and I still feel humiliated and heartbroken. I was able to get another job right away through a close connection who had also worked there and knew the terrible dynamics, but I’m panicking over how to address this in future applications. So many ask if you’ve ever been asked to resign. I have no confidence in my abilities. I’m still beyond devastated and extremely depressed, and I can see myself having regular panic attacks at a new job, because what could I get fired for next time?

In the end, it looks like Jane was right about a lot of it. I had thought my work ethic and skillset would protect me from all that. They didn’t. I take some solace knowing that these managers don’t have the greatest reputation among others in our field, but I am so new that I worry what this will do to *my* reputation. All I can hope is that I can maybe better recognize red flags in the future.

Anyway, thank you so much for providing me with an outlet for this. It’s been a tumultuous few years for me, professionally and personally, even aside from the pandemic. I’ve revisited the original letter a few times since you posted it. Your and others’ responses have helped take some of the sting off this situation since it was somewhat predictable.