updates: the toxic positivity meetings, dramatic responses after not being promoted, 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 do I get out of my office’s toxic positivity meetings? (first update here)

You may remember me from such previous emails as “How Can I Get Out Of My Office’s Toxic Positivity Meetings?” and it’s lacklustre update “Can You Really Call It A Company Picnic If There Are No Chairs or Food Provided?”

Well I have one last update for you and it’s a doozy!

So at the time of writing my last update, I had talked about how our family wanted to move out of the city we were in. We not only managed to find a house we liked in another city, but I managed to negotiate, with the help of my direct boss who was an absolute rock star, going full time remote permanently to make this happen. On the low, I hadn’t had a raise in almost three years at that point, so it was a cheap way to give me something I wanted and keep their bottom line under control, but hey! I truly appreciated the concession and it was a good move for my family, in spite of some of the insane things that happened during the process (family of hoarders, previously unseen damage to the house, many other subsequent yikeses.)

Anyway, at the end of June I took two weeks off for the move, and while it wasn’t relaxing, it was a break from the ongoing stress of my job which focused heavily on supply chain management. However, almost as though they sensed that my frayed nerves were experiencing a reprieve, as soon as I came back from vacation, they hit me with another punch to the gut – the higher ups made the decision to fold the entire company and I was soon to be out of a job!

The good news is, I had been through a layoff before and jumped right into job hunting mode, emailing all my contacts and putting as many feelers out there as I could. As luck would have it, I interviewed four places, did second interviews with three, and got a hard offer from the position I was most interested in two weeks after my layoff.

So not only was I able to get a nice severance package (kudos to my old company – this was actually very generous) but I was able to land a new gig with better advancement opportunities and a close to 20% raise before we really even had to dig into our savings. Plus, I got an actual relaxing week off between job searching and starting my new position which I did this past week!

At end of the day, I am excited for the future and glad things shook out the way they did. Thank you for your time and advice in all of this – your column and the support from readers helped me through!

(Slightly crappy caveat – my fabulous former boss is still with the company and reports that, in the shadow of the company’s closure, the positivity meetings have returned for remaining staff, complete with admonishments for not smiling more! Looks like the powers that be never fully learned on that one!)

2. Dramatic responses after not being promoted (#3 at the link)

Thank you for publishing my question and I appreciate your feedback. I’d like to acknowledge some of the comments made, which were very valid, and provide a little context. I’d tried to keep my email brief to focus on what I viewed to be the key issues, which understandably resulted in some assumptions.

Some seem to the unhappy that I referenced the use of sick days. I’m very pro people taking leave, if they need it. I encourage it. What wasn’t detailed in my letter was that there are comments made in the office similar to, ‘well at least if I don’t get the role, I can take the day off sick’. Where someone is genuinely struggling with their mental health, days should always be used, as needed.

The second aspect I’d like to highlight was lack of progression demoralizing staff. I’ve been with the company a while now and almost every vacancy has been filled with an internal promotion. On my own team, since writing in, two more team members have been promoted. Team member progression is important to me.

Sadly, some of the team are jumping at roles that they are not experienced or qualified in. These team members have been spoken to to offer guidance and support. I link them with the relevant departments to obtain insight and the opportunity to undertake relevant tasks, if they want it.

Those I’ve referred to in my original letter have declined the option of development support, which I really don’t understand. I’ve tried to ask, but the answers seem a little entitled.

Now onto the update. I raised my concerns to the head of department. I chose not to name names, but highlighted the behavioral trends. As a result, further training is going to be offered to see whether there is an impact. Hiring managers will receive training on providing feedback.

Other managers currently don’t offer the progression support my team receive. I’ve been asked to work with those managers to see what we can do to help.

Rather than ignoring the negative behaviour, managers are now expected to talk to those involved, listen and offer support/advice. However, where necessary, the behaviour will be challenged.

Update to the update:

There is actually an update to the update!

Both colleagues were transferred to my team due to poor performance and the hope that I could coach them. Different issues arose with both around how they treated others in their daily role, with bullying claims made against both, and led to performance management actions. They have both taken new roles elsewhere and are no longer in the business. Hopefully, they will use it as a fresh start.

When they joined my team, I approached the hiring managers informally to find out more about why they weren’t being offered roles. Unfortunately, there reputations were what was stopping them from gaining internal promotions.

In another piece of positive news, a further member of my team has just received a promotion. We are very much a feeder team to the rest of the business. Almost everyone seems to have been in it at some point! who have now gained internal promotions! I’m starting to train my new team member and looking forward to a more positive working environment.

3. Are my mentors taking advantage of me? (first update here)

Amazing how things change in just a few years! I wrote originally (and updated) in 2018, that I did not have the political clout at work to reach out to VPs and VIPs on behalf of my alma mater and wasn’t sure if this was weirdness on my part or university mentors trying to “use” me.

Now, I am the liaison between my employer and my alma mater for both a very new scholarship program, and a revamp of a building on campus! These are multi-year, multi-million dollar initiatives beyond my full-time technical role. I not only came up with our strategy and vision for these efforts, but I also presented on both to upper level (great-great-GREAT-grandboss) senior VPs for their buy-in and support. Both of these are long-term recruiting efforts to the company, so it’s not just throwing money at the university, but it is nice to be able to give back in a meaningful way AND get face time with executives without looking like a bull in a China shop.

4. Ask a Manager speed round — the employer who wanted to misclassify an employee as a contractor

I asked, and you graciously answered, a question in your speed round last year on behalf of my son. He’s a recent technical school grad who got his first job at a very small business who said he’d be “responsible for his own taxes.” We thought that might mean misclassifying him as a contractor instead of an employee, and we wanted to know if he could face any individual legal or tax consequences from that misclassification. His decision was to plan/save as if he would be misclassified until he received tax forms from his employer.

No funds of any kind have been withheld from his income. Today, he mentioned to his boss that he did not ever receive a tax document, and also mentioned that his accountant (his aunt) told him he’d been given the wrong form – he should have filled out a W4, not a W9. His boss said he paid someone to do his tax forms, and he’d get her to straighten it out. (Maybe she’s a professional, maybe not, who knows – but with the absence of a 1099, I’m thinking not.) I’m hopeful that this will resolve the issue, and my offspring will only have to pay the employee portion of his tax burden.

I believe that this was just a misunderstanding caused by the small business owner’s lack of knowledge about tax law and procedure. However, even if it was intentional, addressing it this way allowed the owner to “save face” while being put on notice that he can’t save on his tax bill at an employee’s expense, without blowing up the employment relationship. That’s a skill I learned from your blog and passed on to him (neither of us is good at subtext).

I hope you know how important your work is. My son is not without privilege, but he’s young and naive. You are educating the vulnerable so that they have the knowledge to recognize when something is wrong or harmful to them, and you also give them examples of ways to speak up and even scripts. You’re doing great things that benefit many. Thank you so much.

Update to the update:

Last week my offspring received a bonus equivalent to about ten hours of pay for alerting his boss to the “tax issues.” Hurray! Still no sign of the correct forms he needs to file his taxes, though. He’s been keeping a log of his earnings, and I’ve helped him research how to file if he never gets anything from his employer.