the balls adjuster, the daily affirmation, and more — Ask a Manager

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 five updates from past letter-writers.

1. My employee keeps adjusting himself while we’re talking

The advice helped greatly, I’m so glad I wrote into you for advice. Thank you very much.

I ended up maintaining eye contact and asking him if he was okay every time he did it, or needed a minute. I then continued on with the conversation once he stopped. He looked at me strangely the first few times like he wasn’t sure why I was asking him: I honestly don’t think he consciously realized he was doing it. The behavior has mostly stopped, perhaps he became aware it was happening.

2. My coworker sucks at her job and my manager won’t address it

You answered my question on your podcast about my coworker “Artemis” who sucks at her job and a manager who won’t do anything about it. Management never addressed the situation, but still a lot has changed since then. It started when Artemis’ office mate, Sally, quit. Sally’s motto was “it’s ok, everyone makes mistakes,” and I think this attitude was a factor in Artemis not realizing she was not good at this job. Also, after Sally left, it became even more clear how little Artemis was able to do. She would come to me with the most basic questions (“How do I save a file from my email to my desktop?”) which leads me to believe that Sally had been pretty much doing Artemis’ work on top of her own. We hired a new employee to replace Sally, and within a few weeks, Artemis was asking the new employee questions about how to do things. Finally, FINALLY, Artemis realized she wasn’t a good fit, and quit abruptly on a Thursday, saying Friday would be her last day. So, what needed to happen finally happened- Artemis is gone. But, if management had addressed the situation months ago, it would have saved a lot of stress, tension, and hostility among our department.

3. My colleague is allergic to me because of my cats

I’m happy to say that the use of a web conferencing client really helped with communication! Even though it felt a little awkward at first, we settled into a regular rhythm for our meetings. I think he appreciated the time away from his open cubicle behind the service desk!

I’ve since moved on to a similar role at another institution, but still have regular opportunities for collaboration with folks from my previous workplace. We were all at a meeting together this spring, and I shared with him that I’d asked you about this problem. We had a good laugh, because it is funny while being totally serious! Thank you for answering my question, and to my fellow readers for offering additional thoughtful suggestions to support a strong working relationship.

4. My coworker whispers a daily affirmation to me

Thank you for your advice, and much of your readers’ advice as well. Apologies it ended up being triggering for some, and thank you Alison for stepping into the comments a few times to moderate. Please feel free to edit this for brevity 🙂

He still often tells me that I am amazing – probably 2 or 3 days per week. We either have a quick work chat or I just move it on quickly if I don’t have time.

1. Apparently he does do it to some others as well, just none near me. So I was inaccurate there.
2. He’s lovely. A positive, funny optimistic colleague who works hard at building connections.
3. I tried some of the advice but nothing too direct, and he has seen how busy I am in general which has helped.

I re-read the comment thread today, and realized that many perhaps misunderstood what this whispering looks like. He always stands on the far side of my cubicle wall: I think some readers presumed he was leaning in close to whisper in my ear, which I would have shut down right quick.

He will still often stop by, tell me that I’m amazing, and if we have time we turn it into a bit of a chat. He respects my time though: I think if I don’t engage he doesn’t hang around waiting. He also has a bit of a quiet voice, so while it is a whisper, it isn’t much quieter than his regular voice. It’s a joke now too: I stopped by when he was visiting another colleague to give them a quick update, and as I left he called out ‘You’re amazing!’

So I think we just know each other better now. Thanks for all that you do!

5. What kind of non-monetary perks can I ask for? (#3 at the link)

The news is all good. Like you and the commenters, my boss pointed out that they could easily provide me with an extra monitor, and I was able to find/create a workspace in my home, so I’ve been working from home on Fridays (unless I’m needed on-site, such as for our recent conference). I’ve also been more proactive taking my vacation, though part of me still gets nervous when it dips below a certain balance—I’m working on letting go of that! Professional development was always part of our package (and is a required part of our annual goals), but I’ve gotten more involved in choosing what I want to take vs. just saying ‘sure’ to whatever my boss recommended.

Even better, they announced at a recent staff meeting that we’re back on track with funding and the raise freeze has been lifted for 2020, so I’m on track for a raise again. And in the last year they’ve added several agency-wide perks such as paid volunteer days!

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