updates: the office above a bar, the intern with a terrible attitude, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, when I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. I’m in recovery and my office just moved above a bar

I am the person who wrote in about being in recovery and my office moving above a bar. The bar downstairs actually didn’t end up being as big of a problem as I thought it would be. We moved into the new space VERY slowly, so we weren’t doing a lot of client meetings or entertaining there. Once or twice we got lunch downstairs, which I didn’t love but was able to handle okay. Then Covid happened and we’ve all be remotely working since early March. (By the way, being quarantined in recovery is ROUGH, please check on your sober friends during this time!)

However, in anticipation of eventually opening back up, the company asked for my help organizing several team events that would involve drinking (in the office at that, not even downstairs at the bar). I finally decided it was time to have a conversation with my supervisor and I used parts of the script you gave me, along with my own additions. I explained that I was sober and I wanted to stay that way, so I would not be able to physically attend events that focus on drinking even though I would still love to participate in team building activities. I’m pleased to report this went over well, and my boss reached out to discuss my options (for example: holding off on the alcohol until the end of the events so I can leave the office when the drinking starts) and assured me that the company would be very flexible and understanding.

It was a big weight off my shoulders, and I’m glad I can be honest about things like this at work without the fear of stigma. (I live in a state where drinking is a big part of the culture/state identity.)

In even better news, I am excited to celebrate 1 year of being sober next month!

Thank you, Alison for the straightforward, considerate advice, and for everyone in the comments who offered support, ideas, and their own milestones. Stay safe; I cheers to you with flavored seltzer!

2. My intern has a terrible attitude

We did have a couple of sit-down conversations with Alice using your language, which I’m not sure really did much in the moment but may have planted a seed for later (I’ll get to that).

The intervention we made that had the most immediate impact was that we realized that Alice and another good friend/intern in her cohort, Grace, were working on the same day and in the same area, and just by chatting were frequently ending up in a spiral of negativity. The conversations would literally go, “Ugh, this mildly annoying thing happened.” “Yeah, I hate that, and this other thing also sucks!” “It totally does! And also this completely unrelated thing that I find irritating!” The intern schedules get reshuffled every semester, so we asked their academic program to put Alice and Grace in the office on different days. That probably halved the number of complaints right there.

The other thing that helped the most was just time. As predicted, as Alice got more experience, she was more efficient and also much more able to identify whether issues had a reasonable short-term solution or were probably intractable long-term problems. She also grew into her desire to manage as she got to take the lead on some project teams. She was able to serve as a resource for less experienced folks, she got a more nuanced view of leading a project with budget, time, and resource constraints, and also got to do work that was pertinent to her interests. She actually won an award for her mentorship of an undergraduate on a project, and has secured a good job in her main area of interest for after graduation. I expect she will do well and be successful, which is what we want for all of our interns.

During one of the last few times she was with us, I did overhear her say to another intern that she wanted to be a positive presence in our office, especially for the interns in the years behind her, and not a source of negativity. So maybe those conversations we had with her did make a little bit of a difference in the end once she’d had a chance to really internalize them. I can’t say I’m sorry to see Alice go, but I did manage to get through the last couple of years without actively dreading the days when she was in the office.

Thanks for your advice, which gave us a good framework to point out how her efforts to improve our office were actually hindering her performance and relationships with co-workers.

3. Should I work for free to get experience?

I was hesitant to send an update for such a routine question, but I figured you might get some enjoyment from an update on a 10-year-old letter.

The update: I took what I could from the experience and parted ways with my career advisor shortly after my letter was posted. I won’t go into the details, but in my last session we did a practice interview and their feedback confirmed your suspicion that they were indeed full of crap.

I tried to make a few new industry contacts but nothing really came of it. I never volunteered to work for free but kept applying for roles and was hired in the industry that I was targeting a few years later. I was happy about this at the time, but unfortunately the job was a bit of a bait and switch. I ended up in a different role than expected but I made it work and I stayed for over 5 years. I applied for a few department transfers to try to get back into a technical role, and was told that I needed more experience, which I could gain by – wait for it – volunteering after hours in addition to my already demanding role. The culture at this company wasn’t great and eventually I concluded that my growth there was very limited. I couldn’t find a suitable role elsewhere, so I decided to leave without a new job lined up.

My intent was to take a year off to take care of my health and re-assess my goals, and I was 6 months into my job search when COVID-19 hit. I expect I’ll be unemployed for a while to come. Things seem to have come full circle though. I had a therapist who encouraged me to try career counselling again and after a lot of hesitation and time, I recently found someone who is very experienced and is providing good advice and support so far. We’re thinking that I should re-train as an architect or industrial designer, but who knows where I’ll end up in another 10 years!

updates: the office above a bar, the intern with a terrible attitude, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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