For those who do not know me, I’m an architect. I own a small practice in Atlanta, and I teach design studios at Georgia Tech. I love what I do. I love the variety of opportunities and experiences it offers. I love feeling like I’m working towards something I believe in. But architecture can be an incredibly tough industry for many people.
One day last spring, I met with my students one by one to talk about how their semesters had been going. Unsurprisingly, several of the conversations were punctuated with expressions of anxiety, depression, burnout, and general frustration. And I felt it. I felt it for them, and I felt it for me. Thinking of the careers they would go on to have, the offices they would be part of, and the people they would work for, I saw my younger self in so many of them. So I decided that day that I was going to write this.
I suppose I thought I needed to wait until I had some amount of success or influence before I’d be able to share this. I have feared fallout, mourned my reputation, and struggled with an undeserved (albeit very real) shame. But my experience is valid, and so am I, regardless of my status or power. Without visibility, the problem gets perpetuated. It’s about damn time we put an end to that.
What follows is my account of some intimate, vulnerable, and emotional events from three years ago, along with my hopes of bringing positive and compassionate conversations of inclusivity to the architecture community.
The spring of 2018 was tough for me, and I had started seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist. Thankfully things started to improve, and I was able to start making positive steps, both personally and professionally. I completed my architectural registration exams that summer and obtained my license. I was excited and had momentum, so I turned my sights to my next career goal, becoming a project manager. I wanted to be sure I was prepared for any opportunity to step up, so I reached out to my current project managers and my boss to request feedback on my performance. Over the following month, I had one-on-one performance reviews, and while I certainly didn’t walk away from the meetings without criticism, the takeaways were largely positive. I felt confident in my performance and potential, and I began to see the firm as somewhere I could advance my career.
I have generalized anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, both which present similarly to ADD at times. These conditions significantly impact my life, especially on a social level. I often have the sensation that everyone is watching me, so I try to avoid distracting environments that make me feel unsettled. But at work, I sat in the front with three rows of desks behind me. Our office was small and we didn’t experience much turnover, but one of our team members had recently left. I saw an opportunity to improve things for myself without inconveniencing anyone else by relocating to the empty desk in the back. We had a new hire joining our team soon, so I decided to request a minor accommodation to support my mental health and personal wellbeing while I had the chance.
So yes, it all started with a desk. I assure you, I understand how absurd this whole thing is. Never would I have dreamed so much drama could ensue from a seating assignment. I kept receipts from it all, since it quickly became obvious I would need them, and using them here seems like the only fair way to share the story.
[Disclaimer: For length and clarity, portions of the following dialogs have been summarized or edited, but the nature and tone of all conversations have been preserved. The unabridged saga can be viewed here. You can also skip to the end for the TL;DR if you’ve already heard enough about desks.]
Friday, August 3, 2018 at 10:27 AM
Hey [Boss], I wanted to express a desire to change desks once [former coworker] has officially cleared out. I’m a little ADD and the puppies on the Beltline are just too adorable. If not, I understand! I’m sure there’s probably already a waiting list… Just wanted to throw it out there. Thanks! Heather
Wednesday, August 8, 2018 7:57 AM
Subject: Re: Desks
Heather, for simplicity’s sake, and as a tactical practicality, I intend to simply slide [new employee] into [former coworker’s] former seat. Generally, I believe the overall office collective should decide on seating locations if a strategic adjustment is desired. I am less inclined to respond to individual requests simply because it would tend towards an eventual conflict. Thanks, [Boss]
Tuesday, August 14, 2018 11:17 PM
Subject: Re: Desks
Hey [Boss], I wanted to follow up with you on this. I really hope I’m not annoying you by bringing it up again, but as small as it may seem, it’s important to me. I understand your decision about [new employee’s] desk, and I’m not attempting to question that decision at all, nor do I expect the outcome to change. But I’m curious when would be an appropriate time to get the overall office collective to discuss seating locations? Do you think this is something that should happen periodically? I’m only asking because- otherwise- I don’t see a time in the near future where I will have the opportunity to address this again, and I intend to stay with [the firm] for a long time. Also, I think everyone on our team is likely to stick around for a while, and I highly doubt anyone would willingly trade desks with me. While I do understand the difficulty of keeping the whole office happy, sitting on the front row hinders my focus and heightens my anxiety. I’d like to share with you that I do take medication for my anxiety, but certain environments still add a lot of uneasiness. It was important for me to convey that I am a team player when I first started and to roll with what I was given, but after a year, I hope I’ve earned the privilege to speak up and share my request with you. And I hope you’ll keep it in mind for the future and, when you see fit, will allow for a discussion about reevaluating seating locations. Thanks for your understanding and patience. The small (even teeny) things go a long way for workplace happiness, and I appreciate how you’ve always recognized that. Cheers, HP
Monday, August 20, 2018 10:41 PM
Written Statement (Contemporaneous to the events being memorialized)
I received no response from my last email. At work this morning, [Boss] asked me to come to his office to discuss the issue of the desks and asked me to explain my request. The conversation felt dismissive from the start. He told me I had handled it poorly and he was too busy to be dealing with this sort of day-to-day thing. Then he said my second email was stern, and since I had “made it a medical issue,” I was forcing him to deal with it. He told me that I should’ve gone to my peers first instead of involving him. He also said since I didn’t explain the medical reason for my request from the start, I just added it in for emphasis and was changing the story as the situation unfolded.
He told me that no one else in the office makes requests of him, and that I’m the only one who does this. I ask him to clarify when I had made requests of him in the past, to which he responded that he couldn’t think of anything at the moment. He again said I should have worked it out with my coworkers. I said I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone by asking them to trade desks with me. He said that meant I wanted him to do it and be the “bad guy” instead of handling it myself. I didn’t see why anyone had to be the “bad guy” when there was an empty desk.
He then asked me to elaborate on my condition some more. He said I needed to get my doctor’s recommendation because he didn’t think moving me to a different desk would help. He said that there’s no way I could know what’s best and that I need to ask the doctor to tell me what he recommends. At that point, I was rather offended and I said, “So you don’t think that I, a 30-year-old woman, know myself well enough to know what environment I work best in?” He said, “No, you needed the doctor to tell you that you needed medication, so how could you know this?” He told me that maybe I needed to sit upstairs or in another room. I said I didn’t really want to isolate myself from my team or appear like I wasn’t part of the group. He told me that I needed to not worry about what other people thought and just think about what I needed. I told him that I was offended that he didn’t care to address my concerns and that it seemed disrespectful or unappreciative to respond this way for such a small request. Then he chastised me for taking his “no” to be disrespect and said I needed to work on that.
Eventually I ended up crying out of frustration. I ask him what he wanted me to do from here, whether I was to deal with it with my coworkers or bring him something from my doctor. He told me that it was too late to handle it the proper way because I “made it a medical issue,” and he instructed me to ask my doctor where I would be the most comfortable in the studio and how I can do my job the best. I don’t understand how he didn’t realize how harmful his handling of the situation was for my anxiety. I am concerned for my job security and my fair treatment at work, and I fear that the information of my anxiety being brought to light, as well as how poorly this conversation played out, will hinder me from advancing at my office. I experienced a very hostile work environment today, and I hope I will not continue to be punished for my medical history and my willingness to ask for help.
Tuesday, August 21, 2018 8:44:41 AM
Subject: Re: Desks
Heather, Thanks for bringing this up and clarifying the nature of the request. I don’t have any experience with this so I think it’s important to have the advice of your physician regarding what accommodations are appropriate to meet your needs. That way whatever we decide is based on some professional guidance, and we can move forward with confidence that it will indeed mean an improvement in your work environment. Let me know when you have some more information and we’ll put together a plan. Thanks, [Boss]
Wednesday, August 22, 2018, 10:29 PM
Subject: Doctor’s Note for Work
[Psychiatrist], I need to show my boss proof of my doctor’s professional opinion on a matter. The issue started out very small and now seems to have snowballed out of control, which is really upsetting. I actually just want to drop the whole thing at this point, but I feel like I have to follow up on it in order to retain, or rather regain, my boss’s trust and respect. We have a small studio with 8 employees sitting in two rows of four. Our desks face the Beltline with a lot of activity going on. I sit in one of the two seats in the front row- with the Beltline in front of me, the conference room beside me, and the rest of the studio behind me. I’ve always found this seat distracting, but I have never spoken out about it. I’m constantly looking up when I see things in the corner of my eye outside. The worst part, however, is having the entire room of my coworkers behind me. I’m constantly paranoid and I feel like people are looking at me all the time, critiquing me for my every move, fidget, hair twist, bathroom break, seat adjustment, etc. I asked my boss if I could take a seat in the back row that had just become vacant when another employee left the firm. When he declined, I followed up clarifying the nature of my request as it relates to my mental health. After that email exchange, he called me into his office and essentially shamed me for “making this a medical issue” that he now “had to deal with”. He told me that I didn’t have the knowledge to make the decision of where I will work best, and that I need to get my doctor’s opinion. He also suggested putting me in a different room or in the upstairs loft (removed from everyone else at the firm) if I felt like I was so easily distracted. I was never wanting to be isolated from my peers (I actually have a hard enough time socializing and fitting in as it is). I’m asking for a recommendation of what kind of work environment you think is best for me. As I said, it was never worth all this stress. He made it a really big deal when I was just looking to have a conversation that would hopefully improve my quality of life. He is treating me like I played the “anxiety” card in order to get my way- which is fundamentally unacceptable to me. My living with anxiety is a very real and very difficult part of my life, and I feel like I have to stand up and defend myself here. Best, Heather Potts
Saturday, September 8, 2018 12:16 PM
Subject: Doctor’s Note for Work
To Whom It May Concern, I am writing to support Ms. Potts requesting a setting more removed from moving visual distractions such that she can improve her productivity. She has difficulty with distractibility and the constant foot traffic makes it problematic. Furthermore, she tends to be pretty hypervigilant, and so less movement behind her back while working also removes further distractions. It is NOT the same sort of distraction to have working colleagues in one’s view changing position as it would be for a person with attentional difficulty to have the Beltline right in their sightline. She’s been seeing me to address this problem, and I assure you that her request is not some whim voiced without consideration for the flow of the office. She actually values working with and feeling part of the team, but just as a student with such difficulties knows where in a lecture hall they’ll “absorb the most” with fewest distractions, this is something that she’s given a good deal of thought with the goal of further improving her work performance. Please take this into consideration. Respectfully, [Psychiatrist]
Monday, September 10, 2018 3:31 PM
Subject: Re: Desks
Hi [Boss], As requested, I’m forwarding a letter from my doctor describing his thoughts and recommendations. My preference (and hope) would be for this to simply align our thinking and inform future decisions rather than causing disruption in the studio by any immediate action. I’m not wanting to coerce anyone to trade with me, nor do I want to be isolated from the group. I’m just following up as promised, and perhaps at the next opportunity, we can work out some improvement. Thank you, Heather
Wednesday, September 19, 2018 10:47 AM
Subject: Re: Desks
Heather, Thanks for this. If I understand him correctly, it sounds like the best spots would be either next to the accounting workstation or in [coworker’s] current spot. Either relocate is certainly something that we can work with. Before making any changes, I think it would be good for you and I to sit down, revisit some of our conversations from earlier this year, and talk about your roles and responsibilities. Thanks, [Boss]
Friday, September 21, 2018 10:06 AM
[recorded in Georgia, a one-party consent state]
Boss Man: It concerns me that you seem to be a little bit more checked out over the last month and seem to be not as engaged. Do you sense that in yourself?
Heather Potts: I don’t feel important, appreciated, or valued.
BM: And are you trying to do anything about that?
HP: I spent the whole summer trying to do something about that when I met with you and the project managers to make sure that I was taking steps to be as proactive as possible. We’ve had conversations about me wanting to take on more responsibility and wanting to step up. And then I kind of felt a little shut down. And honestly, since our last conversation, I’ve just kind of been trying to not upset you anymore.
BM: So, you felt like you upset me?
BM: Why do you think you upset me?
HP: I don’t think that either of us felt like that conversation went very well in the office.
BM: Well, yeah, but that’s different than thinking I’m upset. We get in disagreements all the time. But being upset is different.
HP: I just felt like I was trying to have a conversation with you, as my boss, as someone I’ve now worked with for over a year, as someone who I thought I had earned the respect of, and I felt shut down and unheard and, challenged, honestly. And that was very offensive to me. It was humiliating, and I don’t particularly want to be addressing this anymore.
BM: What was humiliating about it?
HP: Going into the details of my personal life more than I thought was necessary.
BM: Do you see it from my perspective?
HP: I have tried to. I just think we disagree with how it was handled. But-
BM: How do you think I could have handled it better?
HP: By not making me feel like I had caused a problem by talking to you.
BM: So you think it wasn’t a problem to ask me to make that change for the office?
HP: No, I don’t.
BM: So you think it’s my responsibility?
HP: I think it’s your responsibility to hear the voices of your workers and to consider them with respect and kindness and compassion.
BM: And you feel like I didn’t do that?
HP: …no. Do you?
BM: Yeah, I do.
HP: Well, I’m sorry.
BM: Listen, again, there’s nothing to be sorry about, we’re allowed to disagree. But you understand that I make the decisions, right?
HP: And that’s why I haven’t said anything. The only reason I followed up with a doctor’s note was because I felt like you didn’t even believe me, and if I were to not follow up, then you would think I was just-
BM: So you didn’t follow up because you thought it was appropriate?
HP: I was humiliated. I wanted to drop it. Because I felt like-
BM: Then why didn’t you drop it?
HP: I felt like you didn’t give me much of an option. I felt challenged. I felt like if I didn’t, you would think I was lying to you or being dramatic. And I wanted to earn back whatever trust or respect of yours that I’ve lost over this. You asked me explicitly to do that, and so I did.
BM: So would it surprise you to hear that everybody in the office feels that whenever you get told no, you feel challenged and feel the need to defend it?
HP: Is that the truth?
BM: I just asked would it surprise you to hear that.
HP: I know that I can be straightforward and assertive. And I know that has been perceived as defensiveness in the past. So that wouldn’t be the hugest surprise. But I would not think that that is what my peers would say about me.
BM: What I just heard you say was you didn’t feel like it was appropriate to give more of a medical clarity to what you actually needed. And it’s good to defend yourself and to prove something today. So I think I just heard you say that is the way you respond to disagreement. Because like I said, we disagreed, and I make the decisions.
HP: I absolutely agree that you make the decisions.
BM: So, why is it unreasonable for me to expect you to accept them?
HP: It’s not unreasonable at all-
BM: And for you to continue to do your job to a high level?
HP: It’s not unreasonable at all.
BM: Do you feel like you’re doing your job to a high level right now?
HP: I do feel that way.
BM: I have a sense that you’re not doing your job to the high standard that we need because of this disengagement. It shows up in your demeanor, it shows up in work output, and it shows up in work quality. It’s not something I want to spend time on. Your perception that you are providing the quality and quantity of work that’s needed is not what your team members feel. I wanted to talk to you about finding a way to get engaged and be able to accept decisions that you don’t agree with. And let it go much more quickly than it appears you have. We’re still talking about the desk relocate. Whether you know it or not, I think it’s impacting your work.
HP: I’d like to clarify that I’m not still bring anything up. Yes, it’s on my mind, but I haven’t readdressed the issue since we talked in your office. I only followed up with a request that you made of me, and that’s the last that’s been said of this. I don’t think it’s fair for you to say that I keep bring it back up because that’s not true.
BM: Okay, well, I don’t know why you’re disengaged, but you are. And it’s showing up in your work. And so you need to address it and figure out a way to get engaged and to be able to do your work to a higher level and to focus on the quality and output. I can answer more questions about that if you have them, but something’s going on that is impacting the office in a negative way.
HP: I apologize that my work quality and quantity has not been up to your standards. That’s very disappointing to hear because I try my best to work hard and diligently, so that’s really upsetting to hear. I’m deeply sorry if that’s what’s happening. It wasn’t intentional, it wasn’t vindictive, or anything like that. I just was wanting-
BM: Do believe that’s the case at all? I appreciate your sense that you need to apologize, and I’m sorry if you think that’s what I’m asking for. I’m not asking for an apology.
HP: No, if my work has been subpar, then I owe myself, you, and my coworkers an apology. I know you’re not asking for it, but I prefer to-
BM: Well, I would disagree. You owe it to yourself and your coworkers to be better. I would be more interested in hearing what you think about ways you can do better than an apology, although I appreciate your sense that you need to do it. I don’t want you to dwell on that. I would like you to spend the time to think about what you can do to change the work output, the quality, and the sense of engagement that you’ve got.
HP: I want responsibility and engagement. I’m not at a point in my career where I want to be an intern working on single tasks in a vacuum. I want to be part of the process, but I’m treated as a very expendable person. And I am bothered by that. I don’t feel connected or involved. So I was putting my head down and trying to keep my mouth shut, not rock the boat, and just wait it out until the time comes when I get an opportunity to step up.
BM: So you think keeping your head down, not rocking the boat, and waiting it out is the way you want to be part of the firm?
HP: It was not a long-term plan, no. But I was embarrassed, I felt shamed by you. I didn’t feel like I had the respect in my own firm to speak up about something without getting challenged and humiliated for it. It was clear that my thoughts, my feelings, my opinions were not important. You told me it was a problem that I brought them to you. I felt like I tried to speak up, to pursue advice, guidance, and leadership, and ask for ways to be more connected and involved and successful. So no, that’s not how I want to be involved at my job. I think you know me well enough by now to know that’s not the kind of environment that I want. But I feel like I spoke up and got punished for it, when I just was trying to-
BM: What was the punishment?
HP: I felt like you challenged me. I was pretty clear about not wanting to be separated from my coworkers, yet you kept offering to move me to a different room. It sounded like a punishment. “Oh, you don’t like that seat? Maybe you’ll like this much worse one better.” I had already said I didn’t want to be isolated and it was important for me to be part of the team. It feels like I can’t do anything right. If I speak up and I try to be more involved, I get shut down. And if I don’t speak up and just go with the flow, I get called out for not participating. I’m kind of at a loss here.
BM: Think about the things that I do as I run the firm. The idea of somebody wanting to move desks is a disruption, but when that idea is a medical need, it becomes a completely different thing. So from my standpoint, thinking about not just you but everybody in the office, the way we make a decision about that has to be based upon reality, not just because someone wants it. And to the extent you feel like you when you’re quiet, you’re wrong, and when you speak up, you’re wrong- other people speak up and other people put their heads down sometimes, but it doesn’t always seem like a challenge or judgment. I don’t know what to do, either, I just know it’s not working. And I know that it’s not in every interaction that I have in the office, so I don’t know what I could do to make it any different. It becomes about communication and about offering responsibility. Thinking about what the person you’re working with needs, and not just assuming, but asking them and accepting whatever they say as true and not punitive. Resist the need to defend your position when you get told no. The more you get defensive, the more people will become uninterested in helping you. You have a long road ahead. There has to be a turn of phrase in your head about some of the techniques you’re trying that are not working. Because I agree, they’re not working. I do want to see a change in your demeanor and interactions with the project managers.We’re a small office and in order for us to grow, we’re going to have to get smarter and better at what we’re doing. I know sometimes these conversations come out negatively, but that’s not the intent. The intent is to tell you clearly there’s a big problem. I would love for you to get more connected and become a more valuable part of the office because that makes all of us better. I know it’s hard for you to see this as a positive conversation, but try now to start turning your mind around with some of these interactions. When you get told no or something doesn’t happen the way you want, try not to take it personally and try not to take it with a need to defend. I hope that’s possible.
HP: It’s definitely possible. I hear you, and I will try to make positive improvements.
BM: I also want you to not be afraid to come to me, but I want you to come to me with offers instead of requests. Remember that I have a complicated day, as well, so when a new problem gets put in front of me, it disrupts me and it puts a wrinkle into my day. I want to be the last resort, not the first resort, for problems. I’m happy to be the first resort for positive ideas and positive offers you want to make. I can say it until I’m blue in the face and you’re not going to believe it, but I never want to hear that you feel like you’re going to get beat down because I might say no. The intent is never to discourage or embarrass you. I’m sorry it came across that way. I’m working on how I deliver negative information because I have to deliver negative information a lot. So to the extent that you can take me at my word, I’m never against people coming to me with ideas.
HP: I’m having a hard time figuring out how to participate in this conversation without you thinking I’m being defensive. I have thoughts to offer, but I feel like you’ll only hear me being argumentative. Maybe there’s just something about my tone or my face that conveys something I need to work on because I didn’t mean for this to be a thing. Ever. I just found an opportunity and presented you with an idea of how I could be more effective.
BM: Was it my right to say no?
BM: Apparently it wasn’t my right because you debated it.
HP: I offered you more information about the nature of the request. I did not debate it. The first thing I said was that I understood that you’d made your decision and I wasn’t trying to question it. I just wanted to-
BM: You just wanted me to change it.
HP: No. I said I wanted you to understand so that when another opportunity came, then I could capitalize on it.
BM: My perception was not that. My perception was that you disagreed with the decision and that you misrepresented what the request was about. That was my impression of it. Because of the way you escalated my receiving of information, it shows a disrespect for my decisions. And that escalation required me, frankly, to get the doctor’s opinion. Because you turned it into a medical request, not a personal request. That’s just the reality, and so yeah, it was aggressive of you. It escalated because you escalated it. If it wasn’t a big deal, you would have accepted the no. That was my perspective. And just like I can’t change your perspective, you can’t change mine.
HP: Would you mind revisiting that the email that I sent you where I said I wanted to share a little bit more information? Could you try to read that without assuming I was angry, because I wasn’t-
BM: I didn’t assume you were angry.
HP: And that I-
BM: I didn’t assume you were angry-
HP: I said I hear your decision. I respect it and I’m not trying to change or challenge it. I just wanted to share more information. I feel like that’s very different from what you just said.
BM: I never said you were angry. I said you escalated.
HP: So, I shouldn’t be allowed to talk to you about what’s going on with me?
BM: So, it was a conversation? Was the follow-up email a conversational email? Or was it an escalated request for the movement?
HP: It was a clarifying email. I wasn’t trying to-
BM: It was a defense of your original request.
HP: If you want to call clarification defense, then yes. No wonder you think I’m argumentative if you think I’m defensive when I’m trying to clarify something.
BM: Why did you feel the need to clarify?
HP: Because you responded like it was a flippant thought, and it was more than that. I was just trying to make sure that I had communicated that to you because I knew my first email didn’t get very personal.
BM: Why not? Because it is, it’s a health issue. Why weren’t you just honest?
HP: Not revealing so much personal information and being dishonest are different things-
BM: Then why didn’t you accept the answer? Again, you’re saying that you just wanted to clarify but didn’t want me to make a different decision.
HP: I didn’t think you were going to have a care in the world about this. And I didn’t want to feel like I was being judged for disclosing my anxiety when I was only trying to find a way to work better.
BM: This is legitimate request. What I’m wondering is why you didn’t just say that. Because it’s a completely different request.
HP: Because I-
BM: And I didn’t say no. I said to work it out with your teammates. And you elected to not do that. Instead, you elected to tell me that-
HP: You said no. You said you were going to put [new employee] in that desk.
BM: And that those decisions will be made by the collective. I didn’t say not to talk to anybody about it, or not to talk about a different seating arrangement tomorrow, or the next day.
HP: I asked when was a good time to bring it up.
BM: We can debate this until we’re blue in the face. But I read that email many, many times. I know exactly what I got out of it. And you can clarify it for me now, that’s fine and that’s helpful. But it didn’t come across that way. It came across as defensive. And it came across as, “I don’t agree with your decision, and I think it should change.” You can’t change me, but you can change yourself, and the same goes for me. I can only change myself. I can’t change you. But I know how you perceived the way I respond to this, and I’ll certainly think about it. And I will continue to be considerate about how I respond to these sorts of requests.
HP: It’s a pretty sensitive subject, and I wish you would have handled it with a little more compassion and tact, but I’m sorry I-
BM: Yeah, you don’t need to be sorry-
HP: No. I know you don’t want my apologies, but I am sorry that we disagreed on how this was handled. What’s more, I’m sorry that my performance hasn’t been up to par. That’s not okay with me, and I will try to correct that.
BM: I appreciate that. It would be helpful for you to know how it is perceived. I struggle with that a lot myself. I know I can’t control how that other person will see me, so I’m always trying to work on my communication. I’m trying to work on my communication with you, to moderate levels of success. It’s a constant challenge for all of us. It’s just something that I want you to be aware of. But think about the ways that you can be seen as is hypervaluable, and let’s see if it helps us find a new way to interact without the past disengagement.
Tuesday, September 25, 2018 9:44:10 AM
Subject: Follow up conversation
Heather, I appreciate your willingness to talk with me Friday about your roles and responsibilities. We are a small office so I am invested in doing whatever I can to help make sure we grow both individually and together. I wanted to summarize my expectations resulting from our discussion. I’d also like to revisit them later in October. It is necessary for your quality and quantity of work to improve. Project Managers currently have reduced trust in your ability to meet and exceed expectations for deliverables in a timely fashion. This adds stress to their workday and can create a downward spiral of reduced opportunities for you. I need to hear from the Project Managers that you are providing them with quality work so that client requirements are met with confidence and in a timely fashion. You should expect to engage your PM’s actively about your work quality, quantity and timeliness to achieve this. This will go a long way towards your understanding of what is necessary to become a Project Manager yourself. It’s also critical that your demeanor improve. When your wishes are not met, it shows in your work and in your interactions. That has a negative effect on morale. It is important that you accept circumstances, learn from them, and act positively. Try to understand why a decision is made, offer “yes, and,” and avoid offering counterpoints. This is not “keeping your head down,” this is genuinely seeking to understand why someone else did something regardless of your opinion on it. My experience has been that I grow the most when I do this. This is also something that I would like to hear coming back from the Project Managers — that Heather is a delight to work with, wants to learn what’s going on, and is always willing to help. Let me know if you have any questions about this or want any other advice. We’ll check back in sometime in October. Thanks,[Boss]
Tuesday, September 25, 2018 11:19:39 PM
Subject: Re: Follow up conversation
[Boss,], I understand, and I appreciate your advice. I will do my best to ensure my coworkers are pleased with my performance and feel I am contributing as a valuable part of the team. We can revisit this in October. Best, Heather
Tuesday, September 25, 2018 9:51:22 AM
Subject: Re: Desks
Heather, I spoke with [new employee] about sitting closer to [coworker] and [coworker] who she is working with pretty regularly and she would like that. This would give us a chance to move you to her spot and give you the change of environment recommended by [psychiatrist]. If you agree that this switch would help with your productivity, mindset and comfort, I will ask [office manager] to get with you, [new employee] and IT to make the switch. Let me know your thoughts in the next day or so if you can. Thanks, [Boss]
Tuesday, September 25, 2018 11:22:41 PM
Subject: Re: Desks
[Boss], If you’re comfortable with it and it’s okay with everyone else, then yes, that sounds great to me, and I feel like it would be a wonderful improvement. Thank you for considering this. Best, Heather
Tuesday, October 30, 2018 9:20 AM
Subject: Re: Follow up conversation
Heather, sorry that you are sick today. I hope you can kick the flu before it catches hold. I did want to follow up on our conversation from last month. Let’s sit down this Friday? Thanks, [Boss]
Friday, November 2, 2018
[recorded in Georgia, a one-party consent state]
Boss Man: Well, thanks for coming out to touch base again on what we talked about last month. I’ve seen you working on some of the things that we talked about, but the unfortunate reality is that we’ve decided to let you go. I’m happy to talk to you more about that, but I just think it’s better for the firm and our work for us to part ways. I know this is not a great conversation to have to have, but we decided it was best for us. I think it’s best for you, ultimately.
Heather Potts: If you’ve seen me working on those things, then why is this your decision?
BM: Because I don’t want to spend the additional time trying to see where it’s going. From talking to you and considering what’s best for the firm, I just feel like I don’t want to put any more effort into it. And that’s why I think it’s better for you to be in another environment, as well, since I know that there’s nothing more the firm can do for your growth.
HP: We had a performance review in July, and you seem to be very pleased with everything.
BM: Well, that has changed now. As we discussed last month, your demeanor and work quality and quantity was not where we needed it to be, so that’s just the reality of it.
BM: I know it’s an uncomfortable position, so I think it’s best for you to leave as soon as you’re ready. We’re going to pay you for two weeks to give you a chance to find other employment. But if you’re okay with it, you can take the day off and come in this weekend to get your things. I know it’s disappointing, but I do think, in the end, it’ll be better for you and better for the firm.
HP: Is two weeks the most you can offer?
BM: That’s what I’m going to offer. Two weeks. I think the market is pretty attractive right now, so the job search should be pretty quick. But yeah, two weeks is what I was thinking. So, yeah, sorry it didn’t work out, but I think it’s for the best.
HP: Okay. I’ll come in this weekend to get my stuff.
BM: I’m sorry. I really am. It’s a failure on my part.
HP: I tried.
BM: I know you did. And I did too, and I’m sorry. It’s hard to reconcile, but I think it’s for the best. I’m sorry.
TL;DR- I was terminated from my job shortly after disclosing my mental health conditions to my boss. The whole ordeal reeked of misogyny, gaslighting, and discrimination.
Things have greatly improved for me since getting out of such a toxic work environment (unsurprisingly), but it was a very difficult thing to experience and recover from. I planned to take legal action but ultimately realized that my mental health was not in a place where I could handle that.
To my former colleagues, I am sorry for the days I failed to bring my best self to work. I feel like I disappointed several people whom I valued and respected. I should have resigned as soon as I knew I was no longer able to perform in that office, but that option was not financially available to me.
It’s hard to share all of this, and even harder to accept there will be people who feel I had it coming. Even so, I want to be open about what happened- for my students, my colleagues, my industry peers, and myself.
If you are struggling with the acceptance of mental health issues in the workplace, I encourage you to consult the ADA and know your rights under state and federal laws. Some resources are included below.
The ADA: Your Responsibilities as an Employer