the unavailable lactation room, the “unapproachable” manager, and more — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. Random people use our lactation room for breaks and lunch (#3 at the link)

I really appreciated seeing your response and those of the commenters. It helped me feel validated and affirmed for me that I was not being overly entitled or too demanding in my attempts to resolve the issue. I did eventually take the matter to HR. Starting this week, the room is to be closed and locked by default. The other lactating mother and I were given keys (as was suggested by several commenters). And as for the concern for walking in on each other, the room has a highly sensitive motion sensor light and a window over the door, so it’s pretty easy to tell that if the light is on it’s occupied.

2. My boss says I’m an “unapproachable” manager

Thank you for answering my letter, and thank you to everyone who commented. Your answer and peoples’ descriptions of their own unapproachable managers helped me realize that I was actually pretty approachable! If I was in an office, the door would be open unless I was on the phone. When staff came to me, I would welcome them with a smile and give them my full attention. Sometimes I might say “let me just finish this sentence so I don’t lose my train of thought” and finish typing, but I always smiled and made eye contact while saying that. I’m an active listener, valued my staff’s feedback, and was responsive when others needed action from me.

I sat on your answer and what I read in the comments for a few weeks, trying to objectively assess my behaviour with everything I’d read in mind, then returned to my boss and asked her to elaborate on what she meant by unapproachable. I also asked whether the feedback had come from a direct report or one of my peers. She seemed confused and played it off like she couldn’t remember. By then, it had been several months, but I’m still bewildered by this response, because we had turned it into a bit of an inside joke. At the time of our initial conversation, I had suggested that maybe my struggle with small talk had contributed to that feedback, and joked that my natural reaction to seeing acquaintances in the grocery store is to duck behind a display. We laughed about it and started joking about my social awkwardness regularly. She’d say something like “drive safe, it’s icy out there,” and I’d reply, robotically, “I am uncomfortable with this excessive display of concern for my well-being” and we’d laugh. I wonder if maybe I interpreted an offhand comment as criticism, and built it up in my mind as a much bigger deal than it was.

I’m no longer at that job. The nature of the work meant that my days were very long and the hours were often unpredictable. Now that I have two young children, I just could not reconcile my work obligations with school and daycare drop-offs and pick-ups. I’m in a different line of work and no longer in a management position, and I am very happy. The letter I wrote to you was a catalyst for me realizing that I do not like being a manager. Hiring, firing, performance reviews, PIPs, and tough conversations — I hated all of that, but people management was the only option for upward mobility and increased salary in my woefully low-paying previous field.

Your blog was invaluable to me during my job search. Thank you for running this site, and thank you to your commenters for taking the time to provide feedback of their own. I read every one.

3. My coworker berates me all day long (first update here)

Not long after my first update, I accepted a temporary records management position at a university I’d long been interested in working for. I really enjoyed my coworkers and my time there helped me regain some of my confidence after leaving my prior firm and subsequent layoff. I’d hoped after the temp position ended, I’d be able to move into something full-time either in that same department or elsewhere within the university. Although I did good work and was well-regarded by my managers and the team, in the end there wasn’t an opportunity to move into a full-time position.

After we parted ways, I applied for a handful of positions within the university and had a few interviews, but also kept my eyes peeled elsewhere just in case. Almost on a whim, I applied for a records management position at a local bank, went through a few rounds of interviews, and accepted my current position. While I was sad the university didn’t work out, this new role had generous pay, great benefits, and good work/life balance, and they seemed very happy to bring me in. I have been there a little over a year and am so glad I took it. There are no Helens, I can take PTO and not walk into piles of work that no one who was supposed to cover for me bothered to do, I don’t get snapped at when I need something or ask a question, and when I’m asked to correct something, I’m not berated endlessly over and over. I like my colleagues, the workload keeps me busy but it’s not overwhelming and I can get help when I need it. And I’m pleased to say I haven’t needed a PITA folder in my inbox in quite some time. It’s taken a while but my mental health has improved immensely since I left my old job. I didn’t realize how much Helen and the broader culture there were harming my self-worth and how depressed and anxious I’d become over my time there. I know I was good at my job — otherwise I wouldn’t have lasted as long as I did — but towards the end I really started to think there was something wrong with me for not being able to keep up with endless demands and nonstop workload. It took getting away to realize how bad it was, but I’m happy to report I’m doing much better now. Thanks again to everyone who commented and offered suggestions and encouragement!

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