Ask Auntie Pattern: oversharing managers, assholes and guilt

Here’s a fresh batch of advice from Tech Agony Aunt, Auntie Pattern (aka Jessica Rose). Offering infrequent but loving advice in response to your letters on technology, the tech industry or whatever has been on your mind.

1. Oversharing and Overbearing Manager 180

I recently started as a full-time employee at a company where I had been contracting previously. It feels like my manager changed overnight. She acts as if I can do no right but will also provide no direct feedback about ways that I can improve. In fact, despite my best efforts, the 1-2-1 meetings we have regularly always end up being about her personal life. It’s frustrating and demoralizing. I feel like I made a mistake taking this job. It’s only been a few months. Should I start looking for another job or is there something I can do to improve my situation here? -Yours, Disappointed and Fed Up

This sounds like an unpleasant and surprising situation to find yourself in! Instead of trying to decide between trying to fix your current situation or looking for a new job, I might suggest you do both at the same time?

Brush up your CV/resume and start having a look around to see what other opportunities might be out there. How long job searches will take can sometimes be unpredictable. Starting now gives you the best chances of finding someplace that isn’t an oversharing hellscape. Now that your search is underway, we can also start trying to manipulate your manager back into acting like a professional.

There are two (very big) problems you’ll want to help manage your manager through. Her being critical without offering feedback of value and her cringing oversharing. You’ll want to start gently but firmly steering her into appropriate management behaviors through creating a framework for her to give feedback through.

When she’s displeased with this or unhappy with that, make yourself small notes about the exchange. Bring these notes and other issues you need feedback on to your 1:1s with the aim of using them to shape the exchange. Share these with her in advance, in a cheerful non-confrontational tone.

✅ “Looking forward to our one to one next week, I want to cover a lot so wanted to share an agenda in advance. Is there anything I can add to the list?”

❌”Linda, I’m can’t deal with your weird bullshit anymore. Let’s just cover these listed issues in our 1:1 tomorrow and spare me the details about woodworking class.”

When she tries to veer off into personal tangents you can either try to politely steer her back to the working document or can ask her wide-eyed how this relates to what you’ve just asked to address. Regardless of the approach, don’t stop looking for work. If you get an offer someplace less bonkers, escape!

2. Who are the assholes, again?

I’ve been asked twice recently – if you don’t feel you fit into a culture at a work place how far do you to trying to fix it and at what point is it ok to leave? If this happens more than once, is it bad luck or bad expectation? How can you avoid this situation in the future? -Asking for a Friend

There’s a common saying that I think applies here.

“If you run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole. If everyone you meet today is an asshole, maybe you work in an industry rife with toxic workplaces and people”

Or something like that. Trying to singlehandedly change the culture and level of respect found in your workplace is technically possible, though it’s rarely accomplished and often needs to be led from the top down. Trying to make other people treat each other with respect is a hard slog. And one that’s likely to burn out out. You’re not their parent, nor their boss. You need to get out of there.

If this keeps happening, think critically about both your own attitude and the way you’re screening new workplaces. It might be that you’re an asshole and bringing this negativity to each new workplace. But since you’re worried about the possibility that it’s your fault, it’s probably not your fault. Assholes are rarely self doubting. It may be that you’re working in a segment of technology that has an exceptionally high rate of toxicity (I’m looking at you, gamedev) or that you need to better screen workplaces for culture fit.

3. Things are a little -too- good

Last year I joined a new team with a 30% pay rise, I work from home and travel the world around visiting customers. What’s not to love? However, I’m finding that this is the easiest job I’ve ever had and am feeling a little guilty when I can finish my work in half a day and relax the rest of the time. My team all seem to work about the same amount as me, and upper management seem happy enough with me.

Should I be asking for more work or is relaxing and enjoying my time ok? -Guilty

 

Dear Guilty,

I’m so delighted to hear that you’re working someplace that gives you rewarding work, has you travel and gives you an exceptional amount of down time. On behalf of your future self and your coworkers, I beg you not to fuck this up by tipping the higher ups off to the amount of downtime you all enjoy.

I understand that you care about your company and you want to make sure that you’re giving them the best you can as an employee. This is to be lauded. You can offer to contribute more while moving further towards your own personal goals without letting them know about the daytime naps sessions you and your team have access to.

Do you want to move into upper management someday? Let your manager know that you’re interested in taking on board more tasks in this space to contribute to your personal development. Have you been meaning to learn that new JavaScript framework? Spend some of your surplus work time to add skills to your toolkit that will benefit both you and your employer. Don’t let your employer know that your team has a lot of extra time on your hands, instead let them know that you’re happy to try and fit in these new tasks because you’re driven and care about company success.

Also, be careful not to underestimate the amount of work you are currently doing. Travel is time consuming and can be draining. Time you spend in the air, in the car or on a train for your job should be counted as working time. If you still think you’re taking it too easy, start developing new skills in this downtime to help both you and your employer. But for the sake of team unity, try to avoid outing your whole team’s uniformly great work/life balance. You’ve got a great job, with a great team and your management is delighted with you. Work hard, improve yourself and don’t overthink a great thing.

 


Want Auntie Pattern to answer your question? Email her here.

Auntie Pattern is written by Jessica Rose, a technologist obsessed with fostering more equal access to meaningful, less miserable work in tech. You can also listen to her advice on the Pursuit Podcast, find her online at jessica.tech or argue with her on Twitter.

Photo by Tim Gouw from Pexels

Jessica Rose
About Jessica Rose 10 Articles
Jessica Rose is a self taught technologist obsessed with fostering more equal access to technical education and meaningful work in the tech industry. Equipped with an American accent and based in Blighty, she's always excited to hear about the weird projects people are working on.