Recently I’ve encountered a tricky work issue, and I’m struggling to come up with a solution. I’m a new manager with one direct report. I’m also a recent addition to this team, which I’ve since learned has had a lot of turnover and inconsistent leadership in the past year. My direct report is one of the few people with over a year’s experience working in this group.
So here is the problem: I noticed right away that deadlines are regularly missed and frantic late nights are the norm. The more involved I’ve gotten, the less this has been the case. Not having to stay late personally, however, hasn’t stopped me from occasionally pulling late nights for what I consider “symbolic” reasons. I feel guilty leaving at 5 when my direct report is staring down easily another four hours of work.
At first I tried resolving this problem by taking over part of her workload. This worked for a while, but I was soon fielding angry emails from finance, telling me projects weren’t scoped for this degree of involvement from me. I can only participate in a review capacity. So now I just regularly check in, and I do a lot of “backseat work” over her shoulder. I parse through her work and provide detailed feedback. We’ve avoided coming hard against any deadlines this way, but to be honest, the late nights have not stopped. The more closely I’ve worked with her, the more I feel like it can be attributed to a lack of proactivity and independent problem-solving on her part. It’s like she’ll wait all day for feedback (in the form of very prescriptive instructions), and then spend all night incorporating it.
My perspective on the situation has changed. I now feel like, as long as we aren’t missing deadlines, it’s no longer a problem if she’s regularly working late nights. She may just need more time to complete her work, so that’s going to translate into longer work hours. But I still feel guilty about the situation—particularly when she gives me a report every morning of just how late she stayed the night before. Sometimes she does this in a way that I can tell is more like, “Look how hard I’m working.” But other times, I wonder if she’s framing her frequent late nights as a problem for me to solve. When I head out at normal working hours, she also sometimes makes comments like, “That must be nice.” I suspect she thinks she is working much harder than I am.
The frustrating part is that I don’t know how to say to someone pulling 12-hour days that I think she needs to apply herself more — that, in fact, working harder, instead of just pushing paper around waiting to go home, would allow her finish work and go home much sooner. She also has more experience on this team than I do. I don’t want to undervalue her work or dedication, but I also don’t want to feel guilty every day I leave at a normal time.
What would you do in this situation?
Talk to her! As a general rule, if you as a manager have concerns about an employee that you haven’t shared with the employee, that’s a sign that you need to have a conversation.
I’d frame it this way: “I know you’ve been working long hours and I’ve been trying to work closely with you so I can figure out solutions to that. In doing that, I’ve noticed that the most intensive parts of your work often get done in the evenings rather than during the day. I’d like to shift that. I think if you were doing things like X and Y during the day, there would be far less need for you to work into the evenings. Can we talk about what’s getting in the way of you being able to do that?”
Also: “My sense is that often you’re not moving work forward as quickly during the day because you’re waiting for more detailed instructions from me. I’d like you to be solving problems like X and Y yourself, both because that makes sense for your role and because that will let you keep work moving without having to wait for me.”
You may then need to do some coaching with her about how to problem-solve on her own. (There’s some advice on how to do that here.) But if that’s a reasonable expectation for her job, you do need to explain to her that you expect that and hold her accountable for doing that.
I would not, however, decide that you’re fine with her regularly working late nights as long as she’s not missing deadlines. It’s not really okay for someone to do that as a regular thing, for a whole bunch of reasons. First, it’s not great for her (for obvious reasons). Second, it’s not great for you as her manager — it’s not going to reflect well on you to people who notice it, because it’ll look like you either overwork her or aren’t addressing a problem. Third, it’s not great for others who see this happening and may think regular late nights are part of your office’s culture. If the work should take eight hours a day and it’s taking her 12, that’s something you have to address.
And you need her to know that that shouldn’t be happening, and that the two of you will need to actively work together to stop that need. That’ll also hopefully curtail those “must be nice” comments about your own hours, which are particularly inappropriate given the context.
Also … how’s her work in general? I’m asking because what you’re describing often goes hand-in-hand with lower work quality in general, especially given the lack of independent decision-making. And if that’s the case here, this is just one part of a larger issue that you’ll have to address.
I could really use some advice on managing an inexperienced person. I have an intern this summer who is a loud, nervous talker and who occasionally slips into inappropriate topics of conversation. When discussing her work, she goes on and on, reiterating a question three or four times and explaining why she’s asking … all without taking a break to let me answer, even the most basic questions. For example, I manage our social media for the company, when she asked what our Twitter handle was, she asked “what was the Twitter handle? I just want to write it down so I don’t forget, or I guess I could just look it up. Like, duh, that wouldn’t be that hard. I should probably already know this, but I just haven’t been on twitter much. I mean, I posted those things you asked me about, but I wasn’t like ON Twitter to do it, so I didn’t notice what the company twitter handle was.”
Once or twice I have interrupted her by saying “ok,” and holding up a hand (like a “slow down” gesture), and answered her question. That went fine, but didn’t change anything. She shows no sign of getting comfortable, and I don’t know that she’s aware she’s doing it.
I know it is because she’s nervous. This is her first office job, and she’s pretty young, even for an intern. Other people have noticed and started avoiding her a little bit, and it has only been three weeks.
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I apologise for being so late in getting back to you. I had a family emergency and missed seeing that you had posted my question until after you had closed comments. Then I wanted to take the time to read through all the comments (1300+!) before replying. Please feel free to post as much – or as little – of this as you would like.
If I could clarify a few things: the politician in question is not a Nazi, literal or otherwise. He is a dyed-in-the-wool right-wing conservative with whom I disagree on virtually every issue. He is controversial in part because of his private life, which he has made part of his public persona – otherwise, I would believe that his private life is no one’s business but his. To avoid starting another firestorm, I want to make it clear that as far as I know, he has not been implicated in the #MeToo movement. He has, however, been repeatedly accused of cronyism and nepotism, and embodies the cliche of the “family values” politician who regularly trades in his wife for a younger model.
I find myself in the strange position of sounding like I am defending him, which I certainly am not – as I said, I have protested outside his offices before. But I feel compelled to point out that the wilder speculations about his identity and politics were incorrect, if understandable, given that I was reluctant to give any more details about him.
In part, that’s what surprised me so much about my intern’s response. I’m not trying to police anyone’s feelings, but her vehemence seemed disproportionate. What she actually said to me (as close as I can remember) is “I hate that guy so much. If you forced me to have anything to do with him I would keep punching him and punching him and punching him until he fell over on his stupid smug face.’” So, like many of your commenters imagined, it was a hyperbolic – and inappropriate – comment, but not one I viewed as a serious threat to anyone’s safety.
I also want to point out that there is a difference in our institution between a “private tour’”and a “VIP tour.” Again, a number of your commenters were correct when they suggested that the private tour was done for the convenience of everyone, and not as a statement of support for this politician. It is our policy to try and arrange these private tours (with no press or PR attention) for anyone who is in the public eye. And we do this not because it’s a special treat for them – although you could argue that it is – but because it minimises the disruption to everyone else. As much as it seems reasonable to suggest that this man buy a ticket and wait in line like other visitors, that would actually be a disaster. Having someone at his level of national prominence walking openly around with the public would be an enormous security threat (for which we would be responsible). Not to mention, it would completely destroy the chance for anyone else to enjoy the exhibition.
His office approached us to request the private tour. We would – and have – granted the same to anyone at a similar level, on either side of the political spectrum. We have also done this for local and national celebrities and well-known sports figures who want to see the exhibition. Again, I want to emphasise that these are NOT press or PR events; in this particular case, no one was aware of the visit outside of museum staff and this politician’s employees.
Several of your commenters suggested that I was interested in maintaining appearances over morality. I know those comments were intended as criticisms, but I was grateful for them because they prodded me to think more clearly about a point that I think I articulated very poorly before. Namely, that for me, it is very important to think of a museum as an institution that is open for everyone, even those I strongly disagree with. Being welcoming to everyone *is* a moral standard for me. We are a public institution, funded by the public, and should be open to the public. I’m not naive enough to think that museums will fix the world or that my work will transform every bigot who sees it, but I wouldn’t be doing what I do if I didn’t believe in the potential of art and history to change ideas and minds.
That said, I agree with you that there is a place where everyone must draw a line. I don’t know what I would do if I was asked to give a private tour to someone like David Duke or Nick Griffin. I can’t imagine that my museum would put me into such a situation, honestly. But if something like that were to happen, I would almost certainly politely step aside, and be willing to accept any consequences for doing so.
So here’s what happened with the actual situation I wrote in to you about. In my initial surprise at her response, I told my intern that she could bow out. As I said, the offer to be included in such a tour would be considered a perk by a lot of people starting out – not because of the person being given the tour, but because the interns get a chance to see more behind-the-scenes aspects of museum work. As such, I had a number of volunteers from the intern pool eager to step in and do the logistics work. I did the tour solo (with the exception of security people, of course) and it went smoothly.
But I did speak to my intern about her response and the “punching and punching” comment. I told her that that kind of comment was totally inappropriate in any work context, but especially in ours. She seemed surprised, and responded that she thought I was “cool,” which was why she felt free to say what she did. I told her that it had nothing to do with being cool, but with what is appropriate in a workplace, and that a comment like hers – along with her refusal to do the logistics work – could have ended in her termination. Again, she seemed surprised at this, but also seemed to take it in, and she thanked me for my input. Honestly, *I’m* not surprised at her. I have a lot of experience dealing with interns, and often they reach us at the ages of 27 or 28 towards the end of their graduate studies. Many times these interns have literally never had a job before, and they find it hard to adjust to an actual working environment, where they have to show up on time and do things they don’t want to. I’m not denigrating them at all, please understand that. It’s just that they are learning the “soft skills” of working far later than most people do, and I’m usually pretty patient with that while also setting firm expectations.
Anyway, I wanted to thank you very much for running my question, and for moderating the firestorm that it apparently ignited. I appreciated many of your commenters ideas and opinions, and apologise for missing the post on the day, and not foreseeing that this would be such a loaded question. Thanks again!
1. Is it okay for me to write other people’s cover letters for them?
I do a fair bit of writing and editing for my job, and sometimes friends or family members will ask me for help with their own writing projects — especially cover letters. I am curious about what degree of help is ethical and appropriate for me to provide. For example: I am currently helping a friend who is an engineer with her application for a role does not seem to involve writing at all. She is a great engineer, but not a great cover letter writer, and so the final product is starting to resemble a ghostwriting project I might do at work — she gave me great content to include and I worked to capture her voice, but I feel like I have done most of the work in creating the letter.
Will it reflect badly on her if she gets the job, and doesn’t write this way in emails, memos, and other written communications that are part of a non-writing job? Or do hiring managers understand that candidates may get a lot of help on their cover letters, especially if they are weak writers? And if the former is true, how can a candidate who is good at their profession but bad at writing increase their chances of getting an interview? I kind of feel like I’m helping her cheat, but then I think about what a common practice ghostwriting is for people and organizations with sterling reputations, so I am waffling on this question!
I’m sure some people will disagree with me, but if I found out a candidate had someone else write her cover letter, I wouldn’t think too well of them.
I get that it’s tough for people who aren’t great writers, when they’re in a system that relies on a decent cover letter to get in the door. But if she’s applying for positions that don’t require great writing, then her cover letter doesn’t need to show great writing either. For a non-writing-based job, she just needs to show that she communicates reasonably competently in writing, not that she’s Hemingway.
And yes, if she’s going to need to write emails, memos, etc. on the job, the hiring manager may indeed assume her cover letter reflects the level of skill she’ll bring to doing that. To be clear, a savvy hiring manager would give her a writing exercise to test that as part of the hiring process if that’s something they’re going to put a lot of weight on (because they’d know that there’s no way to know how much help she might have had with the letter) — but meanwhile, she’s still presenting work as her own that isn’t her own, and that’s misleading.
It’s one thing to help someone edit a cover letter that they wrote themselves, or to give feedback and guidance on what the letter should contain. But you shouldn’t be writing it for them.
2. A mysterious fragrance in cubeville
There is someone on my floor who is using some sort of scented product several times through the day (maybe a lotion or air freshener). I’m sensitive to smells in general, but this particular one I can taste in the back of my throat as soon as it’s released, and it has triggered headaches and nausea.
Problem is, I can’t pinpoint who or what is the source. I’ve mentioned it to everyone on my team, and they don’t know where it’s coming from either. Some have also noticed it, but no one else is affected to the extent I am, thankfully. I’m pretty sure they aren’t the source, since I’ve noticed it at times when they’ve all been away from their desks. That leaves another (completely unrelated) department which is also located on our floor. We all have cubes, and there’s nowhere open/away from the smell for me to move my desk to. I’ve taken to just getting up and going away from my desk for a while, and waiting for it to dissipate. I’ve tried chewing gum, but it doesn’t mask the taste.
I feel like I need to let my manager know what’s going on. I have no clue who the source is, let alone the names of most of the people in that department, so I haven’t addressed it with anyone directly. Short of sniffing virtual strangers as they go about their work, I don’t think I’ll be able to locate the offender. I know my manager has noticed the times I’m away from my desk, although it hasn’t impacted my productivity, so I’d like to make sure she knows the reason. I’d also really like it if the smell went away. What should I say?
This isn’t just “I don’t enjoy this scent.” It’s “this scent is giving me headaches and nausea.” You absolutely can go to your manager and say, “I wanted to let you know someone on our floor is using a scented product several times a day that I seem to be sensitive to; it’s been giving me headaches and nausea. I haven’t been able to figure out where it’s coming from, but I’m pretty sure it’s not our team since I’ve noticed it when they’ve been away from their desks. I’ve taken to working away from my desk when it happens, waiting for it to dissipate. At a minimum, I wanted to let you know that so you don’t wonder where I am. But also, I’d love it if we could figure out where it’s coming from and hopefully ask for a change so that I’m not having this daily physical reaction.”
3. My boss laid me off but wants me to work four hours a week without immediate pay
I was laid off last week and I already filed unemployment (I’m in Rhode Island). Today my boss/owner of the company told me that it was due to “lack of work” and we have a return-to-work date of eight weeks from now. However, since there are only three employees working for this company and she laid all of us off, she put herself in a situation in which there is no one to operate her business. Of course her business needs to function, so she asked us if we can continue working four hours a week without pay. We would receive compensation for our services upon our return-to-work date, eight weeks from now.
Can I tell her no, I don’t want to work at all while I am collecting unemployment? Does she have the right to make me work those hours? And to wait to receive pay? If she does force me to work those hours, does that mean I need to report it to unemployment? I believe that my situation is case of a boss taking advantage of loyal, hardworking employees, but I don’t want to lose my job over four hours.
She can require you to work those hours in order to have a job later, but she can’t require you to wait to be paid. In fact, Rhode Island requires that you be paid on your regularly scheduled paydays, and within nine days of the end of the pay period.
So one possibility is for you to say, “I can do the four hours a week if we’re able to stick to our regular paydays during this period, but state law says that we would need to be paid within nine days of the end of the pay period. If that’s not feasible to do, we’d need to hold off any work until can be paid, so that we don’t run afoul of the law.” You could add, “Since I’m collecting unemployment, I think they’ll be scrutinizing how this works, so I need to be really careful about doing this legally.”
Also, you should be actively job searching in the interim. She may intend to bring you back in eight weeks, but there’s no guarantee that will definitely happen (and even if it does, this is a pretty big danger sign about the long-term stability of your job there).
4. How can I back out of an interview with a staffing agency?
I recently applied for an office management position at a local staffing firm — at one, not through one, at a posting that I found on their website and LinkedIn page. It became clear in the initial phone interview that they were looking to shop me out as a candidate to some of their clients. I quickly clarified their intentions, and let them know that while this changes the tone of the interview for me, I was willing to discuss the job opportunity they had in mind. But truthfully, I’m not interested in using a staffing agency to find work, and I’m feeling rather naive and a little tricked! Needless to say, they could not produce a job description for me to review; instead they asked to set up an in-person meeting, which I agreed to, because I was so surprised in the moment that I didn’t know what else to say.
This company has a good reputation in my city, and I don’t want to burn bridges. How do I back out of this professionally?
There’s a very good chance that the position you applied for doesn’t actually exist. Staffing firms are notorious for advertising fake positions in order to get candidates who they can then shop to other employers.
You can back out by saying something like, “Thanks so much for talking with me the other day. After thinking over our conversation, I’m going to withdraw my application from consideration, and thus need to cancel our interview on Friday, but wish you the best of luck in your search.” If they question you, it’s fine to say, “I had the impression from the ad I responded to that I was applying for an in-house position. I understand now that that’s not the case, and I prefer to apply to employers directly.”
5. Should I conduct exit interviews?
My assistant is leaving at the end of the month. I’ve always heard you should lead an exit interview with anyone who quits. Is an exit interview still the norm if the employee was part-time? He was at our organization 20 hours a week for one year. If I should lead an exit interview, can you please let me know what types of questions should be included?
It’s really up to you. Some employers do them, and some don’t. There’s no point in doing them unless you’re genuinely interested in the information you’ll receive and open to acting on it in some way; don’t do it just to go through the motions because that will create cynicism in your other employees. And of course, exit interviews shouldn’t take the place of checking in with people regularly while they’re still employees (and if you’re only going to do one or the other, do that!), but sometimes you get more candor from people when they’re leaving.
Rather than doing it yourself, it can make sense to have your own boss or HR do it, since people might not feel as comfortable sharing feedback directly with you (especially if the feedback is about you).
Good questions to ask: What could we do to make this job work even better? What should your manager do differently? How comfortable were you approaching your manager with a concern? What do you wish you knew when you first started working here? What do you wish you could tell the next person in this role? What could we have done to convince you to stay?
I have been applying for other jobs and have had some success (thanks to your helpful tips for cover letters!)
I had a phone interview with a company last week and we are trying to schedule a time for me to come in to meet with several members of the hiring team in person.
My question is how much do I have to maneuver my own schedule to meet their needs? I am excited about the role and would like to get in for an interview as soon as I can. But the availability I gave (five full days over about a week and a half) didn’t work for most of the people I’d need to meet with. They asked me for my availability the following week, which is just not good at all. It’s a very busy time at my current job. I have several meetings with some higher-ups that are just very difficult to reschedule
I’m unsure about what to do here. If I give open availability to the interviewers, I risk needing to reschedule these meetings which would definitely raise a red flag to my current manager. But if I only give availability that works around my schedule, it leaves the new company with few options to meet the needs of their hiring team. I certainly don’t want to risk them rescinding the interview because I’m too difficult to schedule with! But I also think my current position is the one that’s paying me and the interview is no guarantee of a job, so why should I risk alerting my manager to my job search? Maybe I’m overthinking all this too and it’s not a huge deal one way or the other. Any advice would be helpful!
Ideally, interviewing scheduling allows for some back and forth. You say “I’m open on XYZ days,” they say “those won’t work for us, could you do ABC instead,” you say “I’m scheduled to teach an uncancellable class those days, are there any other options that would work,” and somehow in there you find a time that works for everyone.
The reality, though, is that sometimes schedules just don’t match up and someone will have to compromise. Sometimes that’s just because everyone involved has a packed calendar, sometimes it’s because the employer is being overly rigid about dates (like only offering one or two and refusing to consider others), and sometimes it’s because there’s a reason for that rigidity (like some interviewers are coming in from out of town and so all interviews have to be done in a three-day period).
A good employer will try to be flexible for a really strong candidate, but they’re going to be subject to the kind of restrictions I just mentioned.
A bad employer won’t even try to be flexible and will just announce a single date they expect you to show up, take it or leave it.
A good employer may get a little frustrated if they throw out a bunch of options and you don’t seem like you’re trying to make any of them work. They’ll reasonably expect that if it’s proving tough to get schedules to line up, you’ll give a little on your side to try to help that (just as they should on their side if they can).
So what does that mean for your situation? In your shoes, I’d give them a list of dates over the next three weeks that you absolutely cannot do and offer to make yourself available for anything outside of those, even if it means having to move things around. (And be judicious in composing that list; if you say you’re unavailable 75% of that time, you’re making it pretty hard for them.) And it’s fine to give some context, saying something like, “It’s an unusually busy time at my current job and I’m locked into quite a few commitments there, but as long as we can avoid these dates, I can find a way to make it work.”
If they come back and say, “sorry, we can only do (date you can’t do),” then at that point you have to decide if you’re willing to agree to that or not. But with a decent employer, it’s reasonable to explain your restrictions and ask if there’s a way to work around them.
I’ve worked in development at a significant cultural institution for over a decade. I’m frequently told I’m an essential member of the team and that things would fall apart without me. Two years in a row now I’ve been told to expect a promotion, and then asked to wait until the following year for both a promotion and a raise. This past fiscal year, I was told to pass on the promotion for budgeting reasons; they said I should push it off a year in order to get a raise commensurate with what I deserve. Recently, I was told the same thing is true for this coming fiscal year– that I should wait until next year for my promotion and raise.
I assist in creating our budget, and I know that we’re having a rough couple of years and significant difficulties trying to hit the goals given to us. We’ll likely come in under our goals by about 10% this year, and everyone has had to tighten up our spending across the board. They’re even talking about not giving raises this year.
But I feel like I’m being taken advantage of right now, that they think that because I’ve been in the department longer than almost anyone else, that they can count on me to continue working here indefinitely.
I believe that if I had a job offer somewhere else, they’d find the money to keep me in our multimillion dollar budget. I feel like the fact that I haven’t gone out and found another job offer is allowing them to take advantage of me.
A job just opened up across town in a significant cultural institution whose mission I agree with, within walking distance of my house, but also at an organization I know can be more dysfunctional than the organization I work for. I think I could get that job, but what I really want is for my interest in that job to give my current organization the incentive to fight for me and not take advantage of me anymore. I don’t know if this is even a valid hope.
I recently started a new job in an office. Overall the work environment is great — everyone is expected to work hard, but we are treated like adults and our individual methods and moment-to-moment doings aren’t policed much at all.
I share a work-space with a coworker, V, which also houses the printer and the mailboxes for the department. Thus, many other employees pass through our space, often stopping to say hello or chat for a minute. This is mostly fine, and doesn’t impede my concentration.
However, there is one coworker, M, who comes in about 8-12 times a day and usually stays several minutes to chat with V. They engage in venting which is clearly therapeutic for them, and while the negativity can be exhausting to listen to at times, usually I can tune it out. The chats never go on too terribly long, just a bit longer than the office norm.
However, fairly often lately the thing V wants to vent about is receiving baby shower invites from relatives, and that always segues into both of them just talking really poisonous vitriol about people with children and about children themselves, how annoying it is when they cry at restaurants, etc. They are both committedly child-free dog parents and seem to have a lot of resentment about how society relegates their relationships with their pets to second class status, and on a basic level I very much agree: as someone who worked closely with parents and children in a previous incarnation of my career, I feel very strongly that the way parenthood is pushed on people as The Only Way To Experience Real Fulfillment is major bullshit and hurts children as well as adults. Nobody should be pressured into having kids if they don’t really, really want to. Having a dog is a much saner and more eco-friendly choice! The office is full of Pet People, and overall I love that.
That being said … as well as being a Pet Person myself, I do really, really want to have kids, and a big factor in my choice of employer and leaving my old field was this particular company’s parent-friendly benefits policy. Hearing them speak so scathingly of “breeders” and “brats” makes me quite uncomfortable, as it’s easy to then imagine what they’ll think of me when I (eventually) have a child (although I’m hoping not to still be in my same position by then as it’s quite entry level, I’d be happy to stay in this department as I really like my boss, who is child-free too but would NEVER say things like this, so it’s entirely possible that I’ll still be working with both of them).
However much their scorn of parenthood irks me, though, what really makes me go all cold and shaky is their scorn of children themselves. They really say some nasty things, and while I realize many adults don’t, I remember my own childhood and what it was like to BE a child extremely vividly. As I said, I support 100% people’s right to choose not to have children, but when people actively HATE children, I just want to scream “HOW CAN YOU, A FORMER KID, THINK KIDS AREN’T PEOPLE??!” When they say nasty things about children, they’re saying them about me, and about themselves, and it’s very hard for me to understand how they don’t realize how messed up that is. Do they think they sprang fully formed from the head of Zeus? How can I engage with this without accusing them of being delusional?
On principle, I am glad our office culture permits the level of socializing they’re engaging in, and I don’t want to ruin what they clearly experience as a safe space to vent about their experiences, especially since I’m a newcomer. But listening to them spew this kind of hate about parents and children makes me just so uncomfortable, and I can’t just put in headphones as I need to be able to hear the phone. I’d rather address this directly with them than involve anyone higher up, as I don’t want to rock the boat and end up causing some sort of ban on non-work-related conversations.
Is there a way to ask them not to say these horrible things without making them hate me, either as a future producer of “brats” or as That Bitch who took away their only joy in life by stopping them from venting at work? Or should I just wait it out, hope that V’s friends will soon get the hint about her wish to attend baby showers, and cross the “will I become a pariah when I have a child” bridge when I come to it?
There’s no way to guarantee that they won’t hate you if you ask them to stop, but unless they’re truly ridiculous and unreasonable, your chances are pretty good.
I know you might be thinking “well, clearly they’re ridiculous and unreasonable, as evidenced by this line of conversation” … but sometimes people get caught in a weird echo chamber about things like this but still do realize that they should rein it in around others once it’s politely pointed out to them, and do realize that plenty of people they like don’t share their views.
I’d try saying this: “Hey, I agree that it’s BS the way parenthood is pushed on people, but there are kids and parents in my life who I love. Can you lay off the anti-kid talk around me?” Hell, you could add, “I’m going to have kids at some point, so I’m definitely not the right audience here.”
I’m torn on whether you should say this to V by herself, or to both V and M the next time it’s happening. I’m leaning toward saying it to both of them in the moment next time, because that way they’ll both hear it and V won’t need to have a separate conversation to relay it to M, which could easily turn into snarking about it in a way that isn’t quite as likely if you just deliver the message to both of them on the spot.
They may still snark about it because they’re apparently snarky people, but so be it. I don’t think it will be hateful outrage, though, because the message you’re delivering just isn’t that inflammatory. If it is hateful outrage, then they’re truly unreasonable and you were going to trigger that response from them over something else sooner or later anyway … but your chances are good that this will take care of it.
1. Coworker wants a bigger retirement send-off than we’re willing to fund
I work for a state government organization, which means we have no budget for anything extra or perks. When people retire, their office generally comes together to do something for them. It’s very usual to have cake and punch in a conference room open to the entire organization. We are a smaller office; there are eight of us working right now. The last person who retired got an engraved vase and a dinner out, which cost about $20 per person. We now have another person retiring (who is not a great coworker and has a very difficulty personality) who wants a lunch out, and a reception in the afternoon, and a gift. When it is up to us to fund our coworkers parties, what is reasonable? How do we manage her expectations when we can’t, or aren’t willing, to do a full-day retirement extravaganza?
It’s not great to treat people significantly differently with stuff like this, even when you’re funding it yourselves. If you know you won’t want to do a big hurrah for everyone, that’s an argument for keeping it relatively low-key for everyone. Sometimes people think “but if we’re funding it ourselves, why shouldn’t we be able to do something fancy for the good coworker and something smaller for the difficult coworker?” But this is work, and it’s unkind to do that, even if theoretically you have the right to.
Luckily, it sounds like that fancier retirement send-off was an aberration, and your usual mode is cake and punch. I think you can lean on that with this latest retiree. Say something like, “We realized after Jane’s send-off that we couldn’t sustain that because of the cost per person, and that the money involved meant people really wanted to stick to our traditional cake and punch like we’d always done before. Will you let Bob know what kind of cake you’d like to have, or if there’s another dessert you’d prefer?”
(But then you really do need to stick to cake and punch for future retirees, too, to keep it relatively consistent. That’s not to say, though, that people’s close work friends can’t take them out to lunch too, but that would something they do on their own, not the official send-off.)
2. What’s up with really intense job listings?
I’m job searching at the moment and have come across more than a handful of listings that are rather aggressive in tone. For example, they say things along the lines of, “Be prepared to work harder AND smarter than anyone else to get this position” or “This will be the hardest job you’ll ever have” or “You absolutely MUST have a lot of grit and a willingness to do WHATEVER is needed” (caps and all). I’m switching fields, so I’m not sure if this normal. These positions are all full-time in-office marketing positions and I’m unsure as to why the listings are so intense.
I consider myself to be a hard worker, but this kind of language leads me to believe that they’re one of those places where everyone is expected to be incredibly competitive and work themselves to death and … I’m just not interested in that environment. I’ve talked to some friends currently in the industry and they’ve got mixed opinions. Some agree with me and think I should continue to rule them out and others say I’m being too sensitive. I’d love any thoughts or insights!
Yeah, it’s fair to assume that a company that uses decidedly not-neutral language in their job postings is doing it because they want to create a certain image / attract a certain audience. And it’s reasonable for you to take what they’re saying about themselves at face value, and be turned off by it.
Since you’re switching fields, it might be interesting to interview for one or two of these positions so that you can check or confirm your assumptions. But you’re not alone in being turned off by this kind of language.
3. I’m still working at the job that fired me
I’ve worked for a company for seven years, and they recently let me know that I didn’t have a future there. Rather than firing me, they told me to resign. (I’m still eligible for unemployment, since it’s known that’s how my company fires people.) What puzzles me is that the company told me to resign within three months.
On the one hand, this seems generous since it gives me a chance to continue to receive a paycheck while I search for a new job and try to learn skills that will make me employable at other companies. On the other hand, it is exhausting to do an intense job search on top of a 40-hour work week, and it has been very difficult emotionally to continue to come to work everyday for a company that already fired me. I offered to help train my replacement to ensure a smooth transition, but my manager told me that wouldn’t take long and we could do that in the last week (ouch).
In the meantime, I’m in a weird limbo. I’m expected to continue meeting weekly with the manager who fired me to receive assignments, attend meetings about things the company will do in the future and welcome new team members. On the other hand, my manager can’t assign me large projects (since I won’t be there to complete them) or time-sensitive tasks (since I’ve been taking off so many half-days for interviews). Also, it’s not a good idea to assign me anything important, since in my job losing track of details or putting in less than maximum effort will affect safety, and I’m currently pretty distracted and unmotivated. (My team has cautionary tales about previously-reliable workers who did the bare minimum during their last months and caused huge problems.) I don’t even have the incentive to continue working to receive a good referral, since by company policy all my manager can do is confirm the dates I worked.
What’s your opinion on “delayed firings” like this? I appreciate the salary, but it seems like giving me a severance instead would have put me under a lot less stress and protected the company from risk.
It depends. Sometimes this can benefit both employee and employer. It can be a reasonable way to go if the person just isn’t the right fit for the job but isn’t terrible, and if they’re trustworthy enough that they’re not going to deliberately sabotage things on their way out, and if they’re mature enough that they’re not going to make those final weeks toxic for people around them. The advantage to the employer is that they get more time to transition the work and search for a replacement while the work is still being covered, and the advantage to the employee is that they have time to job search, can say they’re still employed, and often receive more in salary than they would have in severance. And when both parties are open to it, it can be a pretty fair and transparent way to handle it — saying, essentially, “let’s recognize this isn’t working out and set an ending date, but things aren’t so bad that you need to leave immediately, and as long as you keep up with the basics of the job, we’ll give you time to job search and accommodate you in going to interviews.”
But a lot of the time it plays out the way your situation is — with the employee feeling so demoralized and disengaged that it negates the benefits. So it really depends on the specific details of the situation.
4. My coworker is angry that I poached someone from her team
I’m new to management and want to know the best practice for recruiting staff on other teams. I had an opening on my team and before the job posted, my boss suggested I ask someone on another team to apply. When she did so, she closed her door and indicated that this could get awkward with his current supervisor (who also reports to my boss). I had limited interactions with this employee but knew he had some valuable skills and seemed to have a great work ethic, so I did approach him. We had to change the job posting to make it possible for him to apply, which my boss signed off on.
It was not until he was the final candidate that my boss told us that the employee would have to let his current supervisor know what was happening. This seemed reasonable. Once he had accepted the offer, I tried to work out a transition plan (offering a full month to make him available for training the new person) but was met with hostility. This was not a surprise because the supervisor is not known for being a nice person. What was unexpected is in our recent supervisor meeting, several of the other managers lashed out at me and told me that I had poached the employee. They demanded that moving forward, if someone was interested in another employee, we should reach out to the supervisor and let them know. My boss not only agreed this sounded like a good idea but failed to own up to her part. (I later had a very good discussion with her and she genuinely forgot that she had suggested him. She has agreed to have a meeting to make this known.)
Please weigh in on this. Was I out of line to not reach out to the supervisor before I approached the employee?
Nope. Different companies have different policies and practices on this. Some do require the current manager to be in the loop from very early on, and others only require a heads-up once things progress to a particular stage (generally because letting your boss know you’re thinking of leaving your job can have repercussions). But you were following your boss’s lead on this.
It’s true that when you’re a manager, learning that someone else who’s on the management team with you has been trying to lure away one of your people can be frustrating (because of the impact it can have on your team’s work and the increased work it can cause you in having to find and train a new person, who may not be as good as the first person) — but sensible managers understand that they’re not feudal lords and their employees are free agents, and that it’s better to keep someone really good within the company than to lose them to an outside employer (which is what will happen if managers block internal transfers).
Your boss definitely needs to get people better aligned on how she wants them to approach this kind of thing.
5. Employer is legally obligated to disclose their salary range — but won’t
In California, a recent law requires companies to inform job candidates of the salary range of that position upon “reasonable request.” I’m interviewing for a position at a California-based company. The manager I interviewed with refused to give me the salary range. The internal recruiter I spoke to similarly refused. I would think saying something like, “by the way, you’re legally obligated to give me that information” would not endear me to the manager. What are my good options here, if any?
Yeah, the key is to note that the law requires it without sounding adversarial. I’d say it like this: “Oh, I’m not sure if you know that California now requires the salary range to be disclosed!” Say it in an upbeat and cheerful way, like you’re assuming they don’t know and that they’ll appreciate being tipped off. If they have a problem with you politely mentioning a legal requirement, that is a huge red flag about them as an employer.
I work for a large company that has a large common break and dining area, which has dining tables and booths like a restaurant, along with many televisions along the walls showing various network and cable shows. They also serve food and beverages. This area is an employees-only area and isn’t accessible or viewable by our customers.
I typically arrive to work early to cover myself in case of traffic or other issues, and on days with no problems typically arrive 15-30 minutes early. For the past couple months, I’ve sat in one of the booths with some coffee, and while sitting upright, relaxed and closed my eyes until it was time to head to my work area. I typically don’t fall asleep due to the coffee and the fact that I’m not tired, but someone seeing me might think so. Well, someone did and told my boss and my boss told me not to take naps during my breaks.
That doesn’t seem right. I’m allowed to eat and use the restrooms, but I can’t take a nap? Even if I’m not sleeping, does that mean I’m not allowed to close my eyes and not move for long periods of time? My work is hard but being able to rest and relax beforehand is really helpful to my day’s productivity. How much pushback should I give on this or should I just let it go?
In theory, you should be able to nap on your breaks or before work. That is, by definition, time that you’re not working and thus your employer should give you wide leeway in how you use it.
That said, in practice, “don’t fall asleep at work” is a very common office expectation. Some of that is about perception — people don’t know that you’re on a break or not officially on the clock yet and it can look like you’re sleeping when you should be working. That can look really bad for you, and even for your boss (who appears to have an employee who’s openly slacking off). It would be nice if people assumed that if they spot you sleeping (or appearing to sleep), it’s because you’re not on the clock … but the reality is, people don’t always default to that assumption.
Some of it, too, is just convention. We’re not generally used to encountering sleeping colleagues at work, and it can be jarring.
All that said, though, there might be some room her for you to give some context to your boss and see if that changes anything. You could say, “I haven’t been sleeping in the dining area, but I do sometimes sit with my eyes closed before work because I find it makes me more productive once the day starts. I’d like to be able to keep doing that — is that okay with you, since I’m not actually sleeping?” (Hell, you might even be meditating during that time. Who’s to say? And your boss might be more open to that.)
But if the answer is still no, I’d leave it there. The perception stuff is real, and if your boss is opposed, this isn’t a battle worth fighting. You could, however, do this in your car rather than in the dining area, and might have more privacy there. (Or you could go all-out and pitch your office on napping pods! But at that point you might look overly invested in naps and resting your eyes.)
I’m currently job searching and when I learn about an opening, I’ll often reach out directly to department heads as opposed to HR. However, sometimes after these directors/VP’s email me back saying they’ve forwarded along my resume to HR, it goes no further.
I like being proactive and cutting out the middleman seemed to make sense to me. However, I don’t want to offend anyone or burn bridges with these companies. Should I re-think my approach? Is it wrong to reach out to department heads regarding a position instead of HR?
I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.