good employee is angry about bad employee, avoiding cooing over coworkers’ kids, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My good employee is angry about my bad employee

I have two employees who have both worked here for over 20 years. One works days, the other works evenings. The employee on evenings has had many, many, many years of disciplinary issues and is on action plans over and over and over again. He owns his own business during the day and only works our evening shift, so he makes it very clear this is not his primary concern. He is extremely reliable but is not good at his job and has many inconsistencies in his performance and responsibilities. HR is not willing/able to terminate his employment. I can’t exactly tell you why, but there is obviously some reason they won’t. We are asked to continue his action plans and keep great documentation.

I have only been with this organization for 1½ years and he has been on an ongoing action plan with me since January. The daytime employee is a model employee and works hard, is reliable, goes above and beyond, and has not had one bad mark on her file since she began working here. She is fed up with all that the evening employee gets away with. It is eating her up inside. I know she understands that I am doing everything I can to work with the evening employee, but she has seen this for 20 years and cannot get past it any more (can’t say I blame her). What can I do to help her through her anger over the situation? This has become increasingly worse for her and I just don’t know how to channel those feelings into something productive or worthwhile to her.

Her anger is a reasonable reaction! I understand that it would be better for the organization if you could find a way to make her okay with the situation, but would it be better for her? I’d argue that she should be pissed off and disillusioned with her employer — not with you, because this isn’t your fault, but certainly with the broader organization. There are consequences to employers who won’t address performance problems, and one of them is that good employees get frustrated and eventually leave.

The most important things you can do here are to push to be allowed to fire the bad employee, to insist on knowing why — with years of action plans and documentation that hasn’t happened (you’re his manager; you have standing to know that) — and to make sure that whoever is standing in the way of firing your night shift employees knows that you’re likely to lose your good employee over it if they won’t act.

Beyond that, the kindest thing you can do for your good employee is to be honest with her about will and won’t change so that she has all the info she needs to make good decisions for herself: “I understand why you’re frustrated. I would be too. You’re right to think that there’s a disparity between your performance and his. I wish I could tell you that was going to change, but I haven’t seen any signs that it will. I support you in whatever you decide to do.” Don’t try to talk her into being okay with something that isn’t okay.

2. Can I avoid cooing over coworkers’ kids without looking like a jerk?

I don’t dislike children, but I’m also not gaga over them either. It always feels so awkward whenever people parade their very young children around the office to show off. Everyone, and I mean everyone, but me (in my department) stops what they’re doing and coos and plays with the baby for half an hour. I feel so out of place when I don’t join them and yet, it is so forced and unnatural for me to do so. I can’t fake it. Is there a way to not join everyone and not look like an ogre at the same time?

This last time I was so determined to ignore and keep on working, but this coworker from a different department was subtly trying to force me to pay attention and say something. This ended up with the baby on top of my cabinets and a stinky diaper filling the room around me. Sigh. Please help me navigate the politics of this situation.

You’re probably better off saying something even if it feels unnatural and fake than saying nothing at all. But it doesn’t have to be a lengthy interaction and it doesn’t need to involve cooing or baby talk. It can be “she’s adorable” (said while smiling, not grimacing) or “he’s really cute” or “hello! nice to meet you!” and in many cases, that’s probably going to be enough. If anyone gives you crap about not playing for half an hour, you can say, “She’s really cute but I’ve got my hands full over here with trying to get (work project) done. Thanks for introducing me though!” In other words, say something kind because that is basic politeness when it comes to acknowledging someone’s young offspring and that will prevent you from looking strangely chilly, but then — in functional offices, at least — you’re allowed to go back to work.

If someone pushes you to hold a baby or otherwise interact with them, saying that you’re getting over a cold and are afraid of spreading germs is a really good way to get babies whisked away from you.

3. My boss calls out people publicly for making mistakes

I’m two months into a new job at a company that’s currently in the midst of some major growth. The owner/boss is very much a “broad ideas” kind of speaker. We have an open floor plan, and about twice a week he’ll stop everything for an unannounced meeting/speech to talk about broad office matters or problems without diving into any specific directives for how to go about tackling those problems.

Lately, these unannounced pep talks have turned fairly critical. The company’s growing, so new systems for inter-office communication and general workflow and the occasional mistake is made as we all adjust to these new system. Boss has taken to addressing the entire office about errors in work, and then proceeds to call out specific people in the office for recent mistakes they’ve.

I’m all for quality control, but it seems to me like the message he’s trying to get across would be better served in one-on-one conversations with the employees in question. Publicly shaming a colleague, without offering any helpful ideas on how to improve, seems kind of out of line. Am I just being too sensitive in thinking this? Or does this speak to a deeper management problem?

Nope, you’re not being overly sensitive. It’s true that sometimes there can be benefit in discussing mistakes as a team, if there’s a concern that otherwise they’re likely to be repeated or if there’s a need to change procedures or shore up some process. But calling out specific people is rarely necessary (and on the rare occasions where mentioning a name is unavoidable, it should be done with a lot of sensitivity so it doesn’t seem like anyone is being shamed — more like “Jane recently ran into this situation and it made us realize we should clarify how to handle this it if up comes up again”). And it sounds like your boss is doing this in a critical way, not a constructive way, which is indeed crappy management.

And really, if there are so many errors happening that he’s regularly addressing the whole office about them, then the root cause is a higher-level problem — bad training, unclear expectations, impossible tasks, bad hires, or so forth.

4. Is this holiday plan fair?

My office is shortening hours on multiple days that we would typically be open (Black Friday, day after Christmas, New Years Eve, etc.). On all of those days when we would typically be open for nine hours, we will now only open for three hours.

I understand that hourly employees would only receive pay for the hours worked, but I am an exempt salaried employee.

My manager says that if I would like to take any of those days off, I will be charged for a full day of PTO (eight hours), as opposed to just the three hours that I would be required to be here had I not taken the day off. Does that sound like a fair or standard practice to you? I’ve never been in this situation before, so I’m not sure!

It’s not particularly fair, no. Sometimes when an office decides at the last minute to close early (for example, announcing in the morning that everyone can leave at 1 p.m. that day), they still charge people who were on vacation that day for a full day of PTO. The thinking is that if you were on vacation, you had the benefit of planning for the full day off, whereas people who came to work had to plan to be at work the whole day. But your situation is different, because everyone can plan ahead of time for those hours off. I wouldn’t be surprised if their reason is that they want to incentivize people to work on those days, since they’re days that otherwise a lot of people would want to take off.

5. How much notice should I give when I have a lot of flexibility?

I’ve worked with my employer for eight years now. I have an excellent relationship with my boss. There have been a lot of changes underway in our office – both workflow and staff. I’ve decided the time has come to leave the workforce to be a stay-at-home mom. I definitely want to give more than two weeks as a gesture of loyalty and to avoid putting my boss in a lurch, but I also don’t want to give so long of a notice that things get awkward. How long is appropriate in this instance?

It’s up to you! There are some offices and dynamics where you could say, “Hey, I’m planning to do this in a year” and it would be totally fine and the massive amount of notice would be appreciated. There are others where anything more than two weeks will end up being awkward and weird. So it depends on what you know of your boss and your coworkers and your office generally. But if you don’t feel like you have strong indicators in either direction — but know that your boss won’t handle a month or two badly — you could sit down with her and talk it through, framing it as, “I’m planning to do this, ideally by the end of the year, but I’m flexible on the timing. Could we talk about what ending date would make the most sense?” (Keep in mind, of course, that making that offer doesn’t bind you to staying longer than you want to. You can say, “January is too far out, but how about December 1?” or so forth.)

my employee keeps adjusting himself while we’re talking

A reader writes:

I have a male employee who will adjust his balls (over top of his pants) during most conversations I have with him. It’s distracting, a bit uncomfortable, and I have no idea if I should have this conversation with him or if so, how I would approach this issue in a respectful way. Does he even know he is doing it? Am I being unreasonable in pointing it out as a habit that needs to change? Is this common and I only notice with him? I’m too embarrassed to even bring this up at work to ask anyone else how they could approach it. Thank you for some practical guidance and honest feedback on if this is worth the energy to discuss.

Well, this is incredibly awkward. You shouldn’t have to tell him that regularly touching his own genitalia during a work meeting is not okay, and I’m annoyed on your behalf that you need to.

I do think you should, though, because he should not be touching his balls while talking to people at work. I mean, most people aren’t going to take issue with one quick, discreet adjustment — but this does not sound like that.

After reading your letter, I had a good solid five minutes of not being able to come up with language for you to use, but I’ve come up with three options.

You could pointedly say, “Do you need a minute to yourself?”

Or you could be more direct: “Could you do that adjusting in the bathroom?”

Or: “I would feel more comfortable if you could do that in private.” And you could follow that up with, “Assume your coworkers might feel the same way.”

It’s going to be awkward, no matter what you say! Because referring to an employee’s balls is awkward AF. But he’s the one causing the awkwardness, not you, and you should be perfectly comfortable letting him shoulder all of that burden himself.

one of our coworkers isn’t flushing the toilet

  • Someone’s not flushing the toilet
  • Using personality tests in hiring
  • My manager keeps me late with no notice
  • How do you do layoffs the right way?
  • Did I make a mistake in leaving my last job?

 

I’m the smelly coworker

A reader writes:

You’ve had several letters about how to tell a coworker or subordinate that they have noticeable odor. Well, yesterday I was on the receiving end of that conversation. My manager told me that multiple people have mentioned it to her, and she has noticed it as well.

I’m mortified. I shower every day, wear deodorant and clean clothes every day, and I don’t think I sweat more than the average person. But obviously, that’s not enough. I immediately went home and bought new clinical strength antiperspirant/deodorant, new scented body wash (I’d been using unscented), and those scented beads you put in your washing machine. I have a doctor’s appointment coming up, and will ask about possible medical conditions then.

While I’m working on fixing the issue, I have no idea how to behave at work. I don’t know which of my coworkers noticed the smell, or which ones talked to my manager about it. I feel so embarassed and ashamed, and I can’t stop thinking about how grossed out my coworkers must be by me. I have multiple standing meetings with my team and others each week, plus a lot of impromptu meetings; my coworkers and I often are in each others’ offices to problem-solve. But how am I supposed to face them all now, knowing that they think I smell? Knowing that I inflicted this on them for months? I want to just hide in my office and only interact through email from now on.

I also don’t know how to deal with this with my manager. If it were any other work issue, I’d check in with her in a few weeks to address the steps I’d taken to resolve it, and ask if she still had concerns. But with this, I’m not sure — do I ask her in a few weeks if I still smell bad? How do I know if I’ve fixed the problem? If it turns out the smell is caused by a medical issue, do I tell her that? Do I tell my coworkers? I’m stuck in this shame spiral and can’t think clearly; please, I need advice from you and the readers.

I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this!

Here’s what I would want if I were your manager: an indication that you were taking the conversation seriously and taking steps to fix the problem, and an indication that you weren’t paralyzed by embarrassment.

If your manager is at all a decent person, she probably felt terrible having to have the conversation, and she’s worried about how you’re feeling now. She would probably be tremendously relieved if you checked in with her and told her that you were on it. (Not that you need to manage her emotions for her — you don’t. This is more about relaying that you heard the message, are dealing with it, and are not flipping out with mortification/awkwardness.)

You could say something like this: “I wanted to follow up on our conversation from the other day and let you know that I’m taking every step I can to fix it. I’ve purchased a clinical strength deodorant and other products that I hope will help, and I’ve made an appointment with a doctor to rule out any medical issue. I know that must have been an awkward conversation to initiate, and I appreciate you doing it.”

If you want to, you could ask her if the smell is more like body odor or if it’s something else — because there’s a chance that it’s not body odor and is actually something else, in which case you’d be targeting the wrong problem. For example, it could be something like using not-fresh-enough towels after you shower (which could transfer a mildew-y smell to you), or a dryer that’s not fully drying your clothes (again, mildew), or … I don’t know, your roommate’s terribly scented incense clinging to your clothes or that container of fermenting kimchi you once stored in your tote bag. So if she didn’t specify body odor, it could be worth finding out.

Which I know is just inviting further embarrassing conversation! But, counterintuitively, this might be easier to deal with if you just try to own it and are matter-of-fact about it — “Something on me stinks! I’m trying to figure out what it is.”

If it does turn out it’s caused by a medical issue, you don’t need to share that with your boss unless you want to (although it will make sense to if it’s something that won’t be easily or quickly fixed). It’s also fine to say something like, “I think I’ve taken steps to fix this. Please let me know if you continue to notice it, since it can be hard to judge about yourself.”

As for your coworkers … When people encounter a coworker who smells, I don’t think most people think, “Ugh, what a disgusting person!” They usually think, “Oh, she doesn’t realize she needs to do laundry more often” or “Oh, she doesn’t realize her deodorant isn’t working well.” Some particularly self-aware people think, “There but for the grace of god go I” … because honestly, we all stink some point or another. I get that it’s different when it’s happened enough that people are talking to your manager about it … but this really isn’t “you are a terrible stinky person and no one else is”; it’s “whoops, the defenses we all have in place against our own odors aren’t working and you’re going to figure out what adjustments to make.”

You aren’t a gross person or unclean. (Evidence, if you need it: You shower every day!) You haven’t done anything shameful. Something just isn’t working the way you wanted it to, and you’re taking the right steps to find out what it is.

former coworkers crashed my networking party, using a fake voice in an interview, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My former coworkers crashed my networking party

I can’t believe I am asking this, but is it okay to crash a networking event if you’re friendly with the host? After the first day of a large conference (1,000+ people) put on by a former employer, I held a small networking reception with a hosted bar for my largest client and was in charge of all details, including the guest list. We had physical invitations and people were greeted at the door where the invites were exchanged for drink tickets.

Three of my former colleagues arrived uninvited, and I let them in anyway, because I didn’t want to be rude and the vibe of the event was casual enough that it wouldn’t matter too much. When I went to make the rounds later though, I saw they had brought in four more uninvited guests from my former company who I had never met, had taken over a central part of the venue, and were loudly talking and drinking among themselves and ignoring the rest of the guests. I admit, I reacted with shock at the time and asked what they thought they were doing and said to the people I knew that they were taking advantage of our friendship. They just laughed and said they were fine so I walked away. The next day at the conference, one of them told my employee that they were upset and that I owed them an apology!

For some added context, they knew they weren’t invited and had borderline bullied one of my employees all day about getting an invite. I just set up my own consulting company, and this event was the first one I held for this client. The people who crashed are in very low-level, but visible positions in my industry and I will have to engage with them repeatedly over the years. So, do I owe them an apology? Or do I give one anyway to keep the peace? What I want to do is call their director (my old boss) so he can let them know it isn’t cool for half his department to crash my event simply because I used to work there. But maybe I’m in the wrong and should apologize?

Is it possible they didn’t realize the event was truly invitation-only? It’s common for receptions like that to be open to whoever shows up. The fact that they were angling for an invitation earlier that days makes that unlikely, but they still may have assumed it wouldn’t be a big deal since you knew them, it was for networking, etc. Plus, once they showed up and you let them in, that probably reinforced their thinking that it wasn’t a big deal.

They were rude, but I think you’ve just got to figure that if you really wanted the event to be rigidly invitation-only, you needed to turn them away — or at least to explicitly tell them that you couldn’t permit any additional uninvited guests. Once they and their four additional guests were already in there, you probably would have been better off letting it go — or, if you really found it unacceptable, to ask them to leave. It sounds like your outrage may have made it into a bigger deal than it needed to be.

I would not call your old director about this; that’s going to add to the drama and prolong it. If you have a professional need to have good relationships with the crashers, then yeah, I think you probably do need to at least attempt to smooth it over with them. That doesn’t necessarily mean apologizing, but it might help to at least say, “I realize I sent you mixed messages about the event — I had intended it to be invitation-only and primarily for my client, and I should have been clearer about that rather than getting frustrated when you brought in additional people.”

2. Should I use a fake voice during an interview?

I work in corporate training and instructional design. Over the past few months, job descriptions in my field have increasingly mentioned that the job includes recording videos and voice-overs for training materials.

I don’t mind doing this, but frankly my reedy baby voice is unpleasant. I have done some community theater over the years, so I have experience smoothing and lowering my voice, but it takes concentration, and I couldn’t sustain it permanently. Doing it long enough to record a video would be no problem.

Would it be wrong to interview for this sort of job in my “theater voice”? I could be setting myself up for a comedy of errors if I get the job and show up speaking differently, but I don’t want to be passed over for jobs because they are imagining my mousy squeaking on their videos. I also can’t visualize a way to demonstrate multiple voices in an interview without coming off as unhinged.

(The “theater voice” isn’t comically different, but the difference is noticeable. It’s lower pitched, and more gravelly/less breathy. Friends have joked that my performing voice sounds like me after 20 years of whiskey and cigarettes.)

I don’t think it would be wrong to interview using your theater voice. Lots of people have a more formal voice or a “professional persona” voice. It’s still your voice, just a different version of it. And I doubt anyone is going to be that weirded out by it when you don’t use that voice during normal to day to work. They may not even remember it was different in the interview, and if they do … well, they’ll assume you put a different energy into your voice when you’re trying to make the sort of impression one tries to make in an interview. (That said, my own voice has like three different versions depending on my level of formality and whatever my energy happens to be, so I tend to just not think it’s that weird.)

3. Halloween Christmas card

The photo for our annual Christmas card is being taken on Halloween, prior to our office Halloween potluck, while people will be in costumes! (We are an medical software company, and our recipients include hospitals, clinicians, and universities.) Ugh. I feel that this is unprofessional, tacky, and weird — I don’t understand why we would use a clearly dated photo for our Christmas card. How, if at all, do I raise this concern to our higher-ups?

If you want to raise it, you can be direct about it: “I think it will look really out of place for the season if we send a Christmas card where people are obviously in Halloween costumes. What about taking the photo next week instead?”

But I wouldn’t worry terribly much about it. It’ll be a weird Christmas card! That’s okay.

4. Callers keep getting my name wrong

My name is Christina and I work a receptionist job and I get a lot of calls daily. Sometimes when speaking to callers, they decide to call me “Chris” instead of Christina. I have an extreme dislike for being called Chris, I don’t even allow close friends or family to call me by that name. It doesn’t seem to be helped by the fact that there are many others at work who do go by Chris.

I’ve tried overly pronouncing my name but it doesn’t always work. Is there a way I could politely tell callers that my name is Christina and not Chris? Or is this just something I need to learn to accept?

If it’s a caller you’re going to speak to regularly: “Oh, it’s Christina, not Chris.” Don’t make a big thing of it — just a matter-of-fact correction and continue on with whatever’s being discussed. And if they repeatedly get it wrong after that and it’s bugging you: “Just so you’re getting my name right — it’s Christina.” After that, you have to decide how much you care — but you want to err on the side of not being this person.

If it’s a caller you’re not likely to speak to again, I would let it go. They’re only going to be in your life for a couple of minutes, and you’ll probably be happier if you decide not to care rather than try to correct it every time.

I know there are people who come down very strongly on the side of “your name is your name and you should never accept being called anything else” … and I agree with that when it’s family, friends, or people you interact with daily, but at work sometimes the path of least resistance is the happier one.

5. How can I prove I was employed at a company that’s been sold or closed?

For many years following college, I worked as a newspaper reporter for a company in Pennsylvania (1994-1999). I left the company in 1999 when I moved south. It was five years of employment experience where I won a few awards and gained good professional experience. The company was sold, sold again, and is now owned by another company. The office I worked at is closed. At least I think it is. When I googled it, it looks like it’s used for storage or printing or something like that. My supervisor died a few years ago.

How can this experience (which I consider valuable) be confirmed on my resume? I have many many clippings of news stories I wrote during this time. But other than that, I don’t know how to confirm I worked for a company that doesn’t exist anymore at an office that doesn’t exist anymore for a person who died, Eddy. There were many others who worked in the office. But I reported directly to Eddy.

Also following that job, I was the marketing director for a company for eight years (from 2001-2009) which has been sold, sold again, and is now a completely different company. How can future employers verify my employment? I’m not even sure how to go about doing it other than show samples of my work from that time period.

Most employers actually aren’t going to be that interested in verifying employment from 1999. If they want to, you have published clippings you can use, but it’s very unlikely it’ll even come up as something they want to check into.

They may not care about verifying the 2001-2009 job either, but if they do, you can explain the situation and offer to put them in touch with former colleagues who worked there. (If you haven’t kept in touch with anyone from that job, try tracking them down on LinkedIn.)

This is a thing that happens! It’s unlikely to be an issue, assuming you have more recent work history and more recent references.

weekend free-for-all – October 20-21, 2018

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand. (This one is truly no work and no school.)

Book recommendation of the week: All You Can Ever Know, Nicole Chung’s memoir of growing up Korean in a white family and later finding her biological family. It’s about race and identity and belonging and it is moving and beautifully written.

here is your happy ending for the week

Something nice to end the week with. A reader writes:

This is not to ask a question but simply to thank you for giving me guidance and context to get out of a job that was terrible for me.

There was a letter I came across about a new boss who was trying to get her employee to stop apologizing for things, like a board member calling at the last minute and getting upset that she wasn’t at her desk. This, along with other things, started to set off warning bells for me. I WAS an employee like that and my first instinct when reading was, “Well, it was her fault for not anticipating that he might call in….” (I’ve been in that exact situation.)

My old job was the one I’d been in for the majority of my time post-college, and now that I’m in a new one I realize that everything you say about bad jobs warping your sense of normalcy is TRUE. My new boss comes into my office to chat kindly with me and ask how I am (not burst through the front doors in the morning demanding to know my progress on things and yelling at me when he feels I’ve mishandled things). We talk about a project we’re working on and then he tells me I’m doing good work and he appreciates me. I realize in typing this that it sounds….normal? But I’m young, and after spending four years in a stressful environment, this basic courtesy is new and amazing to me.

But without your blog and reading the comments, I suspect my sense of what’s normal would have been totally miscalibrated for a lot longer than it was. I’m so happy to have come to the realization that I needed to leave and have been easily able to find a new job. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your wisdom and the supportive community you’ve created.

open thread – October 19-20, 2018

It’s the Friday open thread! The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on anything work-related that you want to talk about. If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet*, but this is a chance to talk to other readers.

* If you submitted a question to me recently, please don’t repost it here, as it may be in the to-be-answered queue.

CFO shoots rubber bands at people, putting “MBA” after your name, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Our CFO is obsessed with shooting rubber bands at people

I am a CPA at a public accounting firm. There is a bunch of cubicles outside of the CFO’s office where about eight of us sit. The CFO is obsessed with shooting rubber bands at everybody. And when I say rubber band, I mean the giant ones that go over large stacks of paper. He shoots them at people’s heads and faces, he tries to shoot inanimate objects, or even papers that people are holding in their hands. It is so very annoying to be constantly dodging rubber bands whizzing through the air at high speeds. Once I even heard him say, “Hey, Hannah, put your glasses on so I can shoot a rubber band at you.”

However, he is the CFO, so everybody just plays along and pretends like they are super into it to be on his good side. Behind his back, there are massive (Anderson Cooper level) eye rolls. One time he hit someone IN THE EYE! Their eye started gushing fluid and their nose bled, BLED!! Their eye was red and half closed for the next week.

How do you tell your super annoying boss to stop doing something that he should be old enough to know not to do? We currently don’t have an HR director and even when we did, they don’t do much HR:/.

Your CFO is a child.

A rude child.

It’s outrageous that he didn’t stop after injuring someone’s eye. It’s outrageous that no one in your company thought to tell him that he needs to stop.

On the other hand, it’s also ridiculous that people are playing along with it out of fear of offending him. The people acting like this is good fun are enabling this and making it easier for him to avoid seeing how not okay it is.

Try this: “Can you stop with the rubber bands? I am not willing to risk a serious eye injury like Jane got, or worse. This is going to lead to workers comp claims or worse. Someone has already been injured. It’s distracting and it’s dangerous and I don’t want to be around it.”

If you know he’s too immature for that to work, then go over his head. If you’re small enough not to have HR, you’re probably small enough that you can talk to his boss (presumably the CEO or a second-in-command) directly. Say something similar to them.

But you’ll have more sway if you convince your coworkers to speak up with you. People might be more willing to stop playing along if you couch it in terms of being sick of living in fear of being injured and that you’re asking for their help in getting this under control.

2. Putting “MBA” after your name

I am the EA for the president and CEO, and we are in the process of searching for a national sales manager. It is my job to collect the resumes and my boss will sometimes ask my opinion on a particular applicant.

My question is, is having MBA after one’s name necessary? I understand the abbreviations such as MD, DO, even DVM and I’m sure that Ph.D. is warranted in certain circumstances, but MBA? I’ve had people sign their emails with that particular suffix, and it just seems odd. Is this something I should take seriously, especially for a sales position, or is this just advertising, or is it a combination of both? This comes across as pretentious to me as it is already on one’s resume, but in a sales position it doesn’t seem to ever be a deciding factor between two applicants.

If there is something I am not understanding, please let me know. I would hate to be missing something I should take into consideration with these applicants.

Nope, you’re not missing anything. It’s just their attempt to advertise a credential.

Mainly it signals that they’re putting way too much weight on the degree and it’s pretty eye-rolly, but some people do it. You see it with a whole bunch of different degrees and certifications when it really doesn’t need to be there, and I am mystified about why people do it (with the exception of fields where it’s truly the convention). You sometimes even see people do it with bachelors degrees, which is particularly odd.

3. Should I explain why I’ve been exhausted at work in the last month?

I recently discovered that the reason I have been absolutely exhausted at work is because I’ve been suffering from iron deficiency. It took me about a month to figure this out, because the symptoms were very similar to my depression.

The thing is, my work for that month obviously suffered. I was consistently about five to ten minutes late, and my productivity was halved. I know that this has been noted by my manager, because she’s taken to “checking in” with me throughout the day to see where I’m up to with work, and once when I was on time said it was “good to see [me] here.”

I haven’t been formally told off or even had anything explicitly said to me that I need to work faster or be more punctual, but now that I am treating my deficiency I have bounced back to my usual work ethic and feel terrible about my month of dawdling.

Should I apologize and explain, or should I just put my head down and regain my reputation through action?

Say something to your manager! It’s not about apologizing, just giving her context — because it’s useful for her to understand that what she noticed was caused by a health issue that you now have under control, rather than potentially speculating and getting it wrong (for example, thinking that you’re checked out and disengaged, or that you’ve become careless, or so forth).

You could say something like, “I wanted to let you know that I haven’t felt like myself the last month or so and have been totally exhausted. It turns out it was a medical issue that’s easily treatable, and I’ve now got it under control. I wanted to mention it in case you noticed that I seemed off, so that you have context for it.”

(I went with the vague “medical issue” because you’re not obligated to share details … but actually this is a case where there might be benefit to being specific. Explaining it was an iron deficiency may convey that it’s not anything serious that she should worry about.)

4. No one is opening my application emails

I finished my graduate program in May and just relocated to a new city. I have been here a month and sent out 10+ applications to firms that are hiring entry-level positions that I am probably qualified for (on paper anyway!). These are the all the jobs currently available in my field. However, no one seems to be even opening my emails. I have a read receipt program through my university that tracks when a sent email has been opened, and none of these have been. All of the job listings say to apply via email. Would it be too pushy to also submit a resume through their LinkedIn job listing, just so someone might see my application? Is there anything else I can be doing? Not having a job is driving me crazy and I’m not sure what else to do!

If they explicitly say they’re accepting applications through LinkedIn, you can apply through that … but it’s generally more effectively to apply directly with the company (through email or their website) if that’s an option, which it is here.

I wouldn’t trust your program that tells you none of your emails have been opened. I’ve had candidates email me with great concern to ask if their applications weren’t received since they hadn’t received a read receipt — and they’ve always been wrong. Not everyone chooses to allow their mail to send read receipts (and some people are highly annoyed by them), and some email programs don’t even give the option. You’re putting too much weight on them; they’re not fully reliable. Plus, tracking that kind of thing is a good way to lose your mind.

There are other things you should be doing to help in your job search though. If there are really only 10 openings in your field that you’re qualified for, you should be leaning very heavily on networking and building connections (and possibly thinking about whether to expand the scope of jobs you’ll apply for).

5. Sending a LinkedIn message to an HR rep about my excitement about a job opening

I recently applied for a job with a company and industry I’d be thrilled to work for/in. I applied immediately and talked about my excitement regarding the position in my cover letter.

The HR rep’s LinkedIn was connected to the job posting, but I resisted the temptation to reach out, thinking it would seem cocky or overeager. This morning, I received a connection request from the HR rep and, of course, accepted quickly. I’m wondering now whether it would be appropriate to send him a short message reiterating my interest/excitement in the position, as he was the one to initiate the connection.

You can, but there’s not a ton of point and it won’t give you any real boost. They already know that you’re interested because you applied for the job. The ball is in their court now.

can we make hot-desking work in our office?

Before we get into this letter, a definition. Hot desking = an office design that eliminates assigned desks, instead having people find a new work space each day. It’s sometimes used in offices where people are frequently out (on the road, working from home, or at another site), rather than having lots of desks sitting vacant.

A reader writes:

I have a query for you regarding hot desking, and if there is a way to make it actually work that is suitable for everyone.

I work in a large department of a large civil service. We have a department of 130 employees and occupy one of the most densely occupied buildings in our branch. It is open plan and we are crammed in like battery hens. We have no funding for more office space and nowhere else to expand into, and any office move would be at least two years in the future (if at all).

We currently have the issue that we only have 110 desks but 130 staff, which will likely rise to 150 in the next few months. We had a survey of desk usage done, and on any given day we have about 35% of our available desks empty (due to annual leave, sickness, training, etc.). Currently a handful of people hot desk already, but there has been a suggestion that if the majority of teams began to hot desk it would solve our space issues. A few teams would still need to have assigned seats due to their roles (which is likely to cause tension and resentment from those who have to hot desk). If the plan did go ahead, we’d be standardizing the equipment with docking units/dual monitors.

I can see a couple of big road blocks, first with equipment. We have several employees who need special chairs and keyboards. We could potential replace all the “standard” chairs with the “special chairs,” but one user of a specific chair said it’s taken them 30 minutes a day to adjust their chair correctly. It becomes trickier with users of special keyboards or “handshake” mice – is it reasonable to ask these users to carry them in their bag and swap them out for the standard one?

Secondly, I can see this being a big hit to morale and I know some people feel very strongly about hot desking being terrible. It’ll limit users on how much they can personalize desks, and they might not be able to sit next to who they would like. We have staggered start times, so those starting later would get a limited pick of desks. I also think we’re likely to have issues with people coming in early to snag up the “best” desks, who won’t do work till their start time (our culture is you work you paid for hours and nothing more). I say
“best,” as none of them are great.

At the end of the day, we have too many people and not enough desks, and we have lots of empty desks on a daily basis. I’m very pragmatic and while hot desking wouldn’t be my first choice, I’d understand. However, I know a lot of my coworkers would feel differently. Any advice on how to carry out this change with minimal disruption and as much sensitivity as possible would be massively appreciated!

I am no fan of hot desking in most cases, and particularly when it’s done just to save money, because it means you can’t store things at your desk or personalize your workspace in any meaningful way, and it can feel like you don’t have a real “home” at your office.

But in some cases it does make sense, and certainly your situation — with a third of your staff out on any given day, limited space, and no hope in the near future for changing that — sounds like one of them.

I think there are a few things you can do to ease the burden on people:

* Hot desking offices usually have lockers or rolling storage cabinets so that people have somewhere to store their materials overnight. People who have special keyboards or mice could store their equipment in there.

* Consider letting people whose jobs rarely take them out of the office have permanent space. Hot desking is usually an easier sell for staff who know they’re out of the office much of the time anyway. (That may not be doable with the math you’re working with, but it’s worth looking at your numbers. And it might become more doable if you decide the trade-off for someone having permanent space is that they’ve got to be okay with someone else sitting there when they’re out.)

* Consider whether it makes sense to limit people from coming in early to snag the best desks, unless they’re going to start working then. (I am somewhat skeptical that this will turn out to be a huge problem, unless we are talking about truly magnificent desks … or the other desks being truly terrible … but who knows.)

* You’ve stumped me on your chair issue, but I bet that if you ask your group for input, you’ll get ideas specific to your particular space. For example, maybe there are only three special chair users and it would be easiest to just give them permanent desks (although you’d have to watch out for the number of special chair users suddenly increasing once people realize that gets you a permanent desk).

* Most importantly, make sure you communicate really well about the reason for the change. You’re likely to have less discontent if people understand the facts of the situation, and the other options you’ve considered and why you rejected them — and if they have the opportunity to give input about exactly how the change will be implemented. And ultimately you do have a pretty logical case here for doing it, which I suspect people will recognize, even if only begrudgingly.