the lip sync battle, the employee with “expectations” for his boss, and more — Ask a Manager

You 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 keeps telling me his “expectations” of me

There was a development a couple of weeks ago that I would like to share. I had been out for a couple of weeks (minor surgery, all is well) and so had not interacted with this guy for a while. After I returned, there was a minor incident involving a student complaint. I sent an email to him and one other person to let them know that it had been resolved. He showed up in my office and the dialogue went like this.

Him: “My expectation was that in this situation you would do this thing.”
Me: “Why did you expect that?”
Him: “What?”
Me: “You’ve developed a habit of telling me what you think I should be doing. It’s not useful and I need you to stop.”
Him, huffing: “I’m just trying to help!”
Me: “I was hired here because I have a lot of experience in this kind of work. I do actually know what I’m doing.”
Him: “Well, I’m SORRY if I hurt your FEELINGS by TRYING to help you.”
Me: “This isn’t about anyone’s feelings, mine or yours. I treat you as a professional, and I need you to treat me the same way. That’s the best way for both of us to do our jobs and serve the college mission. And that’s what we’re here to do.”
Him, very quietly: “Um, right.”

We’ve had conversations since then and he hasn’t used that phrase again. A couple of times I could see it struggling to come out, but so far he’s held it back. He’s not being bubbly and overflowing with camaraderie, but he’s still speaking to me, not obstructing me, and he’s leaving me alone so I can do my job. And even better, he’s taken himself out of the running for department chair. I overheard something about having to be around ball-busting women all the time…but I’m sure that was just a rumor. 🙂

The advice from the commenters was very useful, and I appreciate that you gave me the opportunity to hear from them!

2. How do I get out of a mandatory lip sync battle?

After declining to participate in several lip sync battle practices, I just simply didn’t show up to the picnic/performance.

My “dance leader” was pretty aggressive in trying to get me to participate. I used your advice in my initial conversation with them. I simply said “I hope you all have fun but I’m simply not comfortable dancing in front of the executive team and being recorded for our peers overseas.”

That didn’t stop the passive aggressive attempts to get me to participate, i.e. group emails mentioning the fact that group participation affects the team’s points.

On the day of the event, I just scheduled as many client calls as possible. There was a PA system in the office and our admin kept announcing that “the lip sync battle has started 5 minutes ago and all staff are REQUIRED to report to the courtyard.” Fortunately none of the donors I spoke with heard what was being said. That would be an uncomfortable conversation. I just let them know that the PA system was being tested.

Things slowly got worse over the next few months as things were done and said behind my back. The final straw occurred a few months after the event took place. My current position was “eliminated” and I was offered a role that worked evenings rather than 9-5.

I left the organization and vowed to never work for an NGO again. Fortunately, I found a new job and things are looking up. I don’t regret the outcome at all. Employers sometimes act as though they’re immune to the effects of the employment market. I do know one thing though – I will never sing and dance for an employer.

3. Coworkers at my new job want to oust the CEO

I previously wrote in about being new at work and all of my coworkers want to oust the CEO. I do thoroughly appreciate your advice and the advice of the everyone that commented wishing me well.

After writing, my coworkers all had individual conversations with him about leadership in the organization and kept me out of it. It worked and he was kinder at work and more respectful, for maybe a week.

In the past month, he has been excessively cruel. I dared to try and do a task at work differently from how he did it, and he told me “you know, like a horse someday I am going to break you in too.” This is just one example in a horrific office culture that he refuses to address.

We have decided as a team that we are going to talk to him as a group and at this point about his behavior and tell him that if we do not see changes within the next 1-2 months that we will be going to the board.

I realize that I am still new to the organization, but at this point our only option is to be united as an entire team and I feel as though I have plenty of perspective on his actions as a leader during just my time.

Sorry if this is a little rant-y, I just had yet another frustrating day at work and he has finally driven me to tears after yelling at me for 15 minutes because I suggested we change our procedure on one of my tasks.

Update to the update:

As an update to the update, we have officially gone to the board and my boss is currently undergoing leadership training for the next six months.

We keep being told to “trust the process” and “things will improve” but thus far things are the same, if not slightly worse. At this point, every single person on staff is looking for a new job and there will likely be a full staff attrition within the next year.

4. Asking for six unpaid weeks off a year

I wrote to you this summer asking about whether I should propose to my boss an unusual arrangement where I would give up 15 days of PTO in exchange for 45 unpaid days off. I considered your advice and the many comments and decided to go a different route. I’m not at all worried about my job security with the company. Fortunately for me there is a shortage of workers with my particular training nationwide, and my manager has high regard for my work, so my job is safe. A concern that some of your commenters brought up was that in a corporate environment a manager might not be willing to entertain unusual proposals. That is definitely the case where I work. The company is growing and is increasingly trying to institute top-down control for the sake of consistency.

I went with the much simpler option of just working part-time. I have the option of structuring my schedule however I want (three 9.3-hour days instead of five 8-hour days). Unfortunately I will lose my current health insurance, but I qualify for a subsidy. So, I decided to quit 30% of my day job to work on my art. It’s a cliche, I know, but I’ve gotten many positive responses to my work and now I will have two more days a week to commit to it.

However, shortly after making this decision, my partner and I decided to move into a condo, and we found the right one a few months later. I delayed changing my schedule to avoid complications with the mortgage. I went part-time the day after our closing in October, which made the moving process so much easier.

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