our remote staff want the same perks we have at the office, crappy LinkedIn tips, and more

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

1. Our remote staff want the same perks we give in-office staff

I work for a company that has both in-office employees and work-from-home employees. When we plan events in the office such as chair massages and catered lunches, we offer work-from-home employees the opportunity to work in the office and participate in whatever event we are having, though they rarely come in for them.

More often then not, I get a lot of emails from work-from-home staff complaining that we do lots of events for the office staff but we don’t have events that work-from-home staff can do remotely.

I feel that is part of working remotely. I personally can’t come into the office in a tank and knickers, yet they can answer calls in whatever they want to wear at home. That is part of working in the office. They are given the opportunity to come in and work in the office if they want to participate.

When asked, they suggest the company just offer them gift cards to restaurants when we cater lunch and gift cards to massage locations. Do I need to cater to them if they don’t come into the office?

No.

As you point out, they get many benefits from working from home that in-office staff don’t get — but yes, sometimes there might be something going on at the office that they’ll miss out on if they don’t choose to come in for it. This is part of the deal with working from home versus in the office.

I’d say, “It’s true that we sometimes do events at the office, and if you’d like to participate in them, you’re welcome to work from the office during those days. But working from home full-time is a significant benefit that offers a lot of perks that our in-office staff don’t have access to, and our goal isn’t to try to make each set-up perfectly mirror the other.” I’d be tempted to add, “Should we talk about whether you’d prefer to work from the office rather than remotely?” but that would be snarky, so I would repress the urge.

2. Are these LinkedIn tips crap?

I’m an intern at a pretty prestigious laboratory this summer, and today we had a seminar titled “Winning at LinkedIn” where the presenter gave us tips on how to curate our personal brand and become a thought leader in our professions. That’s the exact wording he used. However, I’m not sure how much of his advice relates to what hiring managers actually look for — he highly recommended we use the endorsements feature, which I know you’ve spoken out against in the past. He also told us to post two blog posts each month, share an update on our or our colleagues’ careers each week, and to possibly post a video to make ourselves stand out. He said that all of this was necessary to differentiate ourselves from the other thousands of people in our professions. What do you think about all of this? It feels like a little too much to me, but I’m also just an intern.

Ignore everything he told you, because sadly this advice is so awful that it means none of what he told you can be trusted. Endorsements carry zero weight with hiring managers (you can endorse anyone for anything, whether you’ve ever worked with them or not; it’s a ridiculous feature), very few hiring managers will bother watching videos or reading a bunch of updates on your or your colleagues’ (?!) careers (and even if they did, that’s not what’s going to make you a strong candidate), and blogs rarely make compelling reading when you’re just doing them to be attractive to employers. Your presenter seems to have a profound misunderstanding of what makes a strong candidate.

You stand out by being a highly qualified candidate with a track record of accomplishment and writing a strong cover letter that doesn’t simply regurgitate your resume. No gimmicks involved.

3. Should we tell a client their employee has applied for a job with us?

An employee of a client has inquired about a position that is open with us and has interviewed for it, but cannot commit until they resign from their current job. But they have requested that the current employer not be informed about their search and possible move for fear of being terminated immediately before they decide to move or stay or just retire.

Should we inform the client anyway? We want to preserve the privacy of this employee however, as a vendor of this client, do we owe a fiduciary obligation to break a privacy rule with this employee who might lose their job before they make a final decision?

No, you do not have a fiduciary obligation to violate this candidate’s privacy and inform your client, possibly putting the person’s job at risk. And under no circumstances should you put someone’s job at risk that way — that would be an unforgivable breach of trust.

If you decide that you don’t want to risk upsetting the client if they feel you hired away their employee, that’s your prerogative, but in that case, you should let the candidate know that you can’t proceed with them without their employer’s okay — and leave it up to them to decide if that’s something they want to pursue or not.

4. Can I ask interviewers if they value loyalty over competence?

I’m job searching right now, partially because my current employer seems to value loyalty to the point where people who are terribly incompetent in their positions are kept on and encouraged due to their (perceived) loyalty to the company, and I am Over It.

My thought is to ask the following: “As a manager, which do you value more: loyalty, or competence?” However, that doesn’t seem to quite get at the heart of what I want to know. Any thoughts on how to word this?

I wouldn’t ask that, because I don’t think you’re likely to get a truly honest answer — not because interviewers want to lie to you, but because people are really bad at self-assessing this kind of thing. Also, few managers are likely to come out and tell you they value loyalty over competence; you’re more likely to hear that both are important or some other kind of pablum that won’t help you avoid what you want to avoid.

Instead, the way to learn about this thing is do due diligence that I talk about here — especially, if possible, talking to people in your network or in your network’s network who know the inside scoop on the company and manager. That’s much more likely to get you the lowdown.

can I go barefoot at work?

A reader writes:

I work in a legal office. I am the assistant but I sit in an open area outside my boss’s office. I wear business casual clothing and shoes. However, my feet get uncomfortable in the shoes. I often take my shoes off and go barefoot. They’re under the desk for the most part, but occasionally people will have to look at my computer. Is it improper to take your shoes off in the office? I’d like to walk from my desk to the copier with no shoes on.

I sympathize because I prefer to live my entire life barefoot.

But in most offices — not all, but the majority — walking around barefoot will come across as way too casual and unprofessional. Also, a lot of people find it gross. (I went looking for data on this and came across a reference to a 2012 survey that found that more than 40% of people feel offended when colleagues take off their shoes at work.)

But under your desk? If no one can see your feet under there, go for it. If someone comes over to look at your computer, though, it’s more polite to slip your shoes back on.

Basically, if anyone is likely to see you at work, stay fully clothed and shod.

updates: the soda policer, the person who slept through a day of work, and more

Here are three updates from people who had their letters answered here in the past.

1. My coworker keeps nagging me about drinking diet soda (#2 at the link)

First of all, a huge thanks to you and the commenters for the support and confirmation that I wasn’t thinking that my coworker was overstepping his bounds with the comments about my diet soda habit. Unfortunately, there are a lot of politics in play in my office and I couldn’t be as direct with my responses as what was listed, but I was able to adapt some of them successfully! I didn’t state it in my letter, but I am a contractor and half of my job is to provide administrative support for the department, so I do have to tread lightly with a lot of things (especially upper management).

After my letter was published, things actually calmed down with the coworker and he didn’t make any comments or statements for several weeks. I was surprised, but it did eventually come back around. Once he did, I didn’t engage. I mostly ignored his comments with pointed silence, but If I did respond, it was with a simple and stern “yes” to his “still drinking diet soda?” It didn’t leave any room for conversation and it only took a few rounds of this before he stopped entirely with the nagging about my drink choice.

There was one additional comment that came several weeks later that surprised me… At our year-end party in January, he peeked over my shoulder while I was eating my lunch and said, “That doesn’t look gluten free!” For context, at the time he was eating gluten-free and I believe he practices veganism with his family, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that he said something. Instead of laughing it off like I would have done before, I turned to him and responded “Nope, it’s not. I don’t eat a gluten-free diet.” and I continued eating. He didn’t say anything after that, and it’s been five months since! I think he’s finally realized that I don’t want or appreciate his advice on my food or drink choices.

Now that it’s stopped, I realized that his comments before were making me dread interactions with him and I would actively avoid any conversations where he was involved. Our work relationship is much better now and working with him has gotten a thousand times easier since I’m not always on the defense around him. Thanks again for all the advice and support!

2. I slept through an entire day of work

Two months ago I wrote to you in a panic after sleeping through a day of work

After months of doctor’s visits, it turns out I have been suffering from Crohn’s disease and fibromyalgia. I just wanted to say thank you, because the advice from you and your readers was the first step in normalizing what felt like a shameful experience. Rather than view myself as a slacker or screw up, I felt encouraged to address my fatigue as a real issue.

Things are still tough, trying to manage chronic illnesses with a new and demanding job, but I’m really grateful that you chose to answer my question.

3. My boss has phone sex with his girlfriend with his office door open

I was determined not to send in an update until I had a happy one. And the only happy one would be me getting the hell out of there….I’m happy to say I am finally gone after a very, very, very long job search.

I’m still in shock my boss was nominated for worst boss of the year in 2015. It’s such an honor that other’s recognized his craziness and also deflating that I was stuck with him for what seemed like forever.

After I wrote to you the multiple times a day calls from the girlfriend stopped completely. I was starting to wonder if either he found out I wrote into AAM or he and his girlfriend broke up. Turns out they didn’t break up, I think she just got a new job and didn’t have time to call him all day. He on the other hand still had plenty of time to make other loud personal calls all day and do no work. But that’s a whole other issue. I could write a novel on him and that place.

Shortly before I quit we were at our company picnic. He came solo and drank heavily. Someone asked him where his girlfriend was. He replied that she was waiting at home for him. The person said something like, “oh yeah, sure.” He said, “she really is, look!” That is when he pulled out his cell phone and began showing everyone indecent pictures of his girlfriend.

I really wanted to call his girlfriend and let her know what her man was really like. But I’ve read AAM enough to know my time would be better spent job hunting. I’m happy to say so far at my new job I have not heard anyone have phone sex, already a step up!

how do you deal with freelancer terror?

I meant to make this an “ask the readers” question as per my new Thursday tradition, but I started writing just a short response to it and then it got longer and longer. So it’s not quite that anymore, but hopefully readers will weigh in as well.

I’m an avid reader of your blog, even though I haven’t had a standard office job in about a decade. I’ve been a freelancer/independent contractor all that time, in a competitive, creative industry. My work is fascinating and fulfilling; working at home on my own time maximizes my strengths while minimizing my professional weaknesses; and I’m happier doing this than any other kind of work I’ve ever tried. I’m nearly 50 and have worked in four different professions, so I’m glad to have found the right track for me.

But the one big downside is the uncertainty. I hate not knowing when work will come, or precisely what money will be coming in at any given time. (My quarterly taxes are an exercise in amateur soothsaying.) This means that when I have multiple offers, I take them all and work myself ragged. Then I tell myself I won’t do that again—and I hit a brief dry spell, which fills me with financial terror. Sometimes it feels easier to be a workaholic than to deal with the anxiety. Budgeting only gets me so far, as my income varies widely, and quarterly taxes therefore become a huge variable. (In my best year I made mid-six-figures; in my lowest year, mid-five-figures. At the start of each year, I have only a rough idea where I’ll be on that continuum.) I bought a house I can make payments on even at the lower end of my range—but it’s the not knowing that drives me batty. I can’t stop thinking that this is the year it all falls apart. Sometimes I think of getting a day job again, but I never did any better at that than my lowest earning freelance year, and I genuinely love the work I do.

I would love to hear your advice (of the other readers’) for dealing with freelancer job anxiety, particularly in creative fields. Unless it’s just “Xanax.”

Yes to Xanax.

For years, I dealt with this by taking on as much work as I could humanly do, which meant that I was often working nearly all of my waking hours and rarely seeing friends and family — and was still living in fear that it could all change in an instant and I could be penniless and homeless. It sucks to live that way! (Your line “Sometimes it feels easier to be a workaholic than to deal with the anxiety” captures exactly how I felt.)

I eventually decided that there’s a certain point where one has been successful enough at one’s chosen work that it’s reasonable to trust that you’ll continue getting work and it’s okay to turn things down and make room in your life for non-work things, and it’s so much better … but I still always have that fear in the back of my head, and maybe all freelancers always do.

The best thing to soothe that fear that I’ve found: savings. In your good years, pile all that extra money into savings. Then you can look at your finances and tell yourself things like, “If I stopped getting any work tomorrow, I could still live just fine for X years/months, and that would be plenty of time to find a regular job if I needed to.”

That doesn’t mean that you have to live at the income level of your worst year, but I’d look at what you make most years, and then live around that level (while keeping things like your mortgage payment affordable for your worst years too, as you’ve done).

Also: Have a plan! You keep thinking that maybe this will be the year it will all fall apart. It probably won’t, but who knows, maybe it will be. What would you do if that happened? Gaming that out and knowing that you have a plan in case that happens will probably help you feel more comfortable.

I also think one of the hardest things about working for yourself is that there’s no ceiling on what you can make. You could potentially earn way more than you ever could at a normal job. So even if you’re making enough, you have to wonder if you should spending more time working so that you earn even more (to safeguard yourself against future leaner times, or just because you love money, or whatever). But that’s how people end up working around the clock — so at some point you have to decide what else you want from your life, and how you want to balance that against the money piece.

Readers who work for yourselves (or have in the past), what’s your advice?

my friend might get fired, coworker spoke for the group without checking with us, and more

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

1. My friend might get fired — can I help?

A couple months ago I referred a friend for a job in my department and he was hired. I was recently told by my boss (his boss’s boss) that things weren’t working out great so far — friend is very hard-working, etc., but has been making mistakes. I think my boss told me because he hopes I might be able to somehow help (I’m in the same department but the work is quite different). Friend knows about the mistakes and has tried very hard to correct them when they occur but doesn’t seem to be aware that the situation is quite as bad as apparently it is. I’m worried that termination is a possible option, and what that would mean for his career and finances generally. Anything I can do to help?

Maybe, but it might just be that this is the wrong fit. But if your sense is that he hasn’t been clearly told that the problems are serious and that he would be better able to correct them if he understood that, you could potentially point that out to your boss. (And really, that’s just good practice anyway — someone who’s in danger of getting fired deserves to know they’re in danger of getting fired.) It’s not really your job to have that conversation, although you might decide that your friendship obligates you to. Ideally, though, it would come from his boss.

Beyond that, if you realize your friend hasn’t asked for reasonable help that he needs, such as better training or clearer expectations or more specific feedback, you could urge him to clearly ask for those things, or you could discreetly mention to your boss that your sense is those things would help. But ultimately, this may not be a great fit for your friend (in which case, while getting fired sucks, it might be better long-term than lingering in a job he’s never going to do well at).

2. A coworker spoke for the group without checking with us first

I read your article on how to speak up as a group, but I wonder — what happens when one speaks on behalf of the group without checking in with us?

A small group of us are having some difficulty in this newly created position for the department and a lot of the stress comes from not knowing what our role is (our direct supervisor isn’t being too clear to begin with) and some hostility from the other members in the department. Within the group, we discussed some of our frustrations and whatnot. Some have sent lengthy emails to our direct supervisor for support and have had no response.

Understandably, we’re in quite a frustrating situation. One coworker decided to check in with our union rep. However, the language in that email suggests that the coworker is speaking on our behalf (a lot of “we feel… we have experienced…”). I don’t disagree entirely with what was written, but I am not comfortable that they spoke for me without checking in first.

How do I tactfully ask the coworker not to do that in the future? Do I say anything in response to the union rep?

“Hey, Jane, I don’t disagree with much of what you’ve written, but I’m not comfortable that you spoke for me without checking with me first. In the future, before you speak for the group of us, will you check with each of us individually and make sure we’re okay with that, or change your wording so that it doesn’t sound like you’re speaking for all of us?”

Jane might be frustrated to hear this, because it can be frustrating to feel like everyone agrees with you but no one is willing to back you up when you try to get something done about it, but you still have the right to sign off on communications made in your name.

3. Special treatment for senior execs’ life events

What are your thoughts on special treatment (not gifts) for those at the very top of an organization? I was just given a card to sign for our VP, whose father recently suffered a heart attack. He survived and seems to be doing okay, but my grandboss is having our department sign a card for the VP saying we are sorry about her dad (I think that’s the sentiment?) and best wishes for a speedy recovery. It’s a nice gesture of course, but I know that if my own father were to have a heart attack (and survive), I certainly wouldn’t be getting a card like this, as a run-of-the-mill employee. I had another instance in a different department where it was the birthday of a member of the C-suite. My grandboss in that department announced it at a staff meeting (the birthday celebrant was not present) and told us we should all email the executive or stop by her office and wish her a happy birthday. This exec doesn’t know any lower-level staff members’ birthdays, nor would she be told to seek us out and wish us a happy birthday.

I like and respect both of the executives in these stories, but this special treatment makes me feel weird. Of course acknowledging the death of a parent, or a wedding or a new baby all seem appropriate but the two examples above seem a bit excessive. It feels as though my grandbosses have used their own positions of authority to compel their staff into putting on a show for the C-suite. But perhaps this is just a perk of the job for the execs?

Nah, it’s weird and they shouldn’t do it. It comes across as your grandboss being a little obsequious/currying favor with the C-suite, and it’s a fairly rude message to send to the rest of you. If you’re going to do group acknowledgements of life events, you’ve got to do them for everyone or for no one. (Or do them only for very unusual, extreme situations — like it would be fine to rarely do them, but decide to when someone loses everything in a fire, or so forth — but even then you need to be careful you don’t then ignore the person with a different but equally horrible crisis six months later. Which is one reason why it sometimes makes sense to limit these to immediate coworkers only.)

4. Will getting relocation assistance affect my salary offer?

I am interviewing for an out-of-state position with a Fortune 500 company. I’ve gone through a few rounds of phone interviews and they are flying me in for an in-person interview and will cover the cost of airfare, hotel, and rental car. During the course of our discussions, they have mentioned that they also provide small relocation assistance. A salary range has already been discussed (I asked them the range on the initial phone interview and they provided one), but I’m curious if I should expect the lower end of the range. Should I get offered the position, do you think being an out-of-state candidate impacts the salary offer and do I have less negotiation power because of those factors?

No, typically that shouldn’t be a factor. They should make a salary offer based on what your work will be worth to the company, taking into account market rates, and not on relocation assistance — in part because that salary needs to keep you happy (and retained) 10 months from now, and because your future raises will likely be based on whatever salary is set now.

If you were interviewing with a smaller company, it might be more of a factor (in part because budgets can be tighter and all of this can be less formal), but Fortune 500s that do relocation are typically set up to look at relocation as a separate thing from salary negotiations.

when I asked for a raise, my boss said I was ungrateful and threw a tantrum

A reader writes:

I am technically an independent contractor who gets paid an hourly rate, but I work exclusively at one company on full-time hours. I am one of the most prominent staff members, and am the only person that works this many hours here.

I recently had a contract signing meeting with my boss, which each employee has at the end of our year. It is the norm at our company to get a raise every year. I’ve worked there for 10 years now, and I’ve always received a $2 raise. Last year I received a $5 raise, which I was very grateful for. It was a year that I had been given extra responsibility and done well with it. This year, my boss had very little feedback for me and expressed that he was once again very pleased with my work. He then handed me the contract, which had no raise on it. He casually stated that since I had received a larger than normal raise last year, I should’ve known that that would mean no raise this year. He even went as far as to say that we had discussed that and I had previously agreed to it, which I know is untrue.

I calmly explained to him that I while I didn’t expect the same raise as last year, I did expect some sort of raise for a successful year of work. This is when all hell broke loose. He suddenly became enraged, red in the face, scolding me on how ungrateful and unappreciative I am, saying he does so much for us, says he feels taken advantage of, and even used the word “greedy.”

I replied by thanking him for all that he does for his employees, but he wasn’t having any of it. I tried to remain professional and asked if I could take the contract home to mull it over and reschedule another meeting soon, and he clearly didn’t like that. He sat there giving me the death stare and answering with passive one-word replies. He actually took all three copies of that contract and shredded them in front of me, telling me I can look at last year’s instead. It is worth noting that he has been known to speak to employees like this before, but I have always been in his good books and never experienced it firsthand.

I was shaken by all this, and the next day I sent him a strongly worded email about how not getting a raise is one thing, but being spoken to so disrespectfully was another. He never responded. After a week I asked him for another meeting, where he was suddenly in a good mood and handed me my contract with a $2 raise. I signed it.

My question is, how do I move forward with him? Is there any salvaging of our relationship? Or is it time to make this my last year here?

Are you willing to keep working for someone who throws a temper tantrum, tears up documents, and calls you greedy when you ask for a raise?

That sounds like you’re supposed to say “oh, no, of course not,” but it’s a real question. There might be enough other things about this job that you like enough that you’re willing to accept this as part of the overall package. It’s perfectly legitimate to decide, “Well, I’m working for a jerk, but I love the work, the pay is good, and I only have to deal with his bad behavior occasionally, so I’ll stay.”

But it’s also reasonable to decide that you’re not going to tolerate that.

And really, after 10 years, there might be a lot to gain by looking around at what else is out there anyway.

I do think it’s interesting that when you stood up to him, he backed down and treated you better. But it’s certainly not ideal to work closely with someone who requires that you push back on bullying before he’ll treat you with respect.

You asked how to move forward with him and salvage the relationship, if you do want to stay. Frankly, I don’t know that you need to do anything in particular. He’s the one who lost his cool and flipped out, and he’s the one who’s now acting like nothing happened. If he wants to act like nothing happened, you could just let him do that (on the surface at least; internally, you’ve of course recalibrated your sense of who he is).

But if you feel that you need to address it in order to continue working with him … well, I think you’d be opening up a box of bees that might be better left alone. It sounds like you did say your piece in your email to him, and he took it in, based on his more conciliatory behavior after that. I don’t know that there’s much to be gained by trying to revisit it. It’s possible that it could result in a constructive conversation about respect, but it’s more likely that you will get stung by some of those bees. And I think you’ve made your point anyway.

By the way, you are almost definitely not an independent contractor, legally speaking. If you’ve been working for this employer full-time for years, you have no other clients, and you’re getting employee-like performance reviews, you sound very much like an employee, not an independent contractor, and they should in fact be deducting taxes from your check and paying their share of your payroll taxes (as well as offering you whatever benefits they offer to full-time employees). You might not care — many people don’t — but do be aware that they’re almost certainly breaking the law in this regard and you could pursue that if you ever wanted to.

the clingy coworker — and the return of the Ask a Manager podcast

The Ask a Manager podcast is back from hiatus … and I’m excited to announce that the show is now a part of the HowStuffWorks family (meaning they are producing and distributing the show).

This week on the show, I talk to a guest whose coworker wants a more intense friendship than she does. We talked about how to distance yourself from someone without seeming exclusionary, why setting boundaries is a two-step process, how to rewire a friendship, and more. The show is 25 minutes long, and you can listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts (or here’s the direct RSS feed). Or you can listen right here:

If you want to ask your own question on the show, email it to podcast@askamanager.org.

And if you like the show, please subscribe and leave a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen.

my employee isn’t respected by his coworkers — what can I do?

A reader writes:

I was recently hired as a systems administrator and manager of a small IT department of three people, including myself. Both my reports have been with the company for several years, and are extremely knowledgeable about all of the systems here. Unfortunately, one of them seems to have much less respect from many other employees. We’ll call him Josh, the other tech Steven, and the previous manager Cory.

I was looking into an issue with a user when they made a comment that it had been ongoing for a while, saying “Cory looked at it, Steven looked at it, Josh looked at it. Josh doesn’t really count though.” Yesterday I was speaking to another user about a problem Josh might be familiar with and told them he was out for a few days, to which they responded, “Oh good.” They apologized a few seconds later, saying “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that” but it’s pretty clear that while I know Josh is technically competent, other employees of the company are either less confident in his ability or — what seems to really be the case — they simply don’t like or respect him and they are willing to make remarks to that effect directly to me.

What do I do, as a new manager who wants to defend and take care of my employees? I spoke with my director about the first comment a couple weeks back, and they acknowledged that it’s an ongoing problem, but didn’t seem to know what to do about it.

I wrote back and asked: Do you know what’s behind people’s feelings about Josh? Where did that come from / what’s causing it?

It seems to be a personality conflict. Based on the discussion I had with my director about the problem, Josh isn’t the best with people and can come across as condescending and as if he’s being inconvenienced by having to help them. At least one person has apparently expressed that he embarrassed them in front of a few others by implying (in front of everyone present) that the problem they needed him to fix was “stupid.” I haven’t yet had any conversations with Josh about the issue, but I can tell that he gets frustrated by people not being as knowledgeable as he expects them to be. I think it’s a problem all IT workers have to some degree, but the problem here is that his inside thoughts come out a little too much.

Aha! That wasn’t the answer I expected! I had assumed Josh wasn’t very skilled, and that people were making fun of him not being good at his job. Which would still be a problem, but a different one.

But in this case, it sounds like Josh is being … well, a jerk. And the remarks you’re hearing are people saying “we don’t like working with Josh because he’s rude,” not “we don’t like working with Josh because he’s incompetent.”

So, to be blunt, I think you’re looking at this from a slightly skewed perspective. This isn’t really a personality conflict (where two people are behaving reasonably but just not getting along).

What you’re seeing are big red signs that you have a serious Josh problem that you need to deal with. The problem isn’t that other people don’t respect him enough, or that you need to defend him. The problem is that Josh needs to change his behavior because he’s interacting with people in a way that’s not acceptable — which means he’s not performing his job at the level that you need to require.

That means that you’re going to need to have a serious conversation with Josh about how he treats coworkers. Before you do that, it might be worth collecting additional information from people who work with him regularly, so that you understand the full scope of the problem. You can do that by saying something like, “I’ve heard you and a few others joke about not wanting to work with Josh. I want to address whatever is going on. Can you tell me more about what’s caused that?”

Then sit down with Josh, explain that he’s coming across as rude to coworkers (being as specific as you can) and that it’s making people reluctant to work with him, and explain what you need to see from him instead. You can use language like, “Doing well in this role requires having good relationships with colleagues, and if people are reluctant to approach you, it will impact your success here. I want people to walk away from their interactions with you thinking of you as a helpful resource who they’d be glad to come back to.” (More advice on doing this is here.)

Your instinct that part of your role as a manager is to take care of your people and to intervene if they’re being trash-talked is a good one. But you’ve also got to look at the situation more broadly and ask where the trash-talking is coming from and why. Your employees won’t always be the ones in the right; sometimes the talk you hear will be an indication that there’s a problem you need to address with the employee themselves. And that’s what’s going on here.

But once you address this with Josh and are staying actively engaged to make sure he’s working on the problem, then you’ll have standing to say something to others when you hear anti-Josh comments. At that point, you can say things like, “I’m actually working with Josh on that. Can I ask you to give him another chance, with an open mind? If you still run into problems, I’d like to hear about it so I can address it — but I’m hoping you’ll give him another shot.”

(Of course, you can’t credibly say that if people don’t then see real changes in Josh, or if you don’t act with more seriousness if the problems continue.)

I was rejected for a job I was qualified for, a coworker in a beach cover-up, and more

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

1. I was rejected for a job I should have been interviewed for

I recently applied for a job that I knew I should at least get an interview for at a community college. I met the minimum requirements or I wouldn’t have applied for the job. When I got a letter saying I was rejected as I didn’t meet the minimum, I was shocked. I wrote back to the hiring manager, copied in the verbage in the job post underlining my qualifications, and asked her to confirm that there had not been some kind of misunderstanding of my qualifications.

Is that a viable way to approach it such a mishap?

No, you shouldn’t do that. I get that you’re being thrown off by the wording in the rejection letter saying you didn’t meet the minimum qualifications, but that’s most likely a badly worded form letter rather than an opportunity to point out “wait, yes I do.”

Since it sounds like you assumed you’d at least be interviewed: Keep in mind that meeting the minimum qualifications for a job isn’t enough to guarantee that. There could 100 applicants who all meet the basic qualifications, and they’re not going to interview all of them; instead, they’ll pick the top few most qualified — which could mean 95 qualified people aren’t getting interviews. Plus, there are of lots of other reasons you might meet the qualifications and not be interviewed — a weak cover letter, a spotty work history, a resume that isn’t particularly compelling, and lots more. More than anything, though, the thing to remember is that you’re competing against other people, and no matter how strong a candidate you are, if enough other people are stronger, you probably won’t get interviewed.

So if you get rejected, don’t assume it was a mistake that needs to be remedied. Assume that other people appeared to be stronger. Don’t try to contest the decision, since that make it seem like you don’t understand this, or that you’re pushy and difficult to work with — and either of those options will make them less likely to want to interview you in the future.

2. My office is implementing summer hours very badly

My office recently decided to implement summer hours for the first time. We would add an extra hour Monday through Thursday, and then have half days on Friday.

We were told today that these hours would begin next week. This is an issue for quite a few people in our office. Some have children and now have to revamp their childcare plans on incredibly short notice. Other employees have made commitments to outside organizations and are now going to have a difficult time meeting those commitments.

We also have other offices that will not be implementing these hours. I’m concerned that when these offices have issues, we’re still going to be expected to drop whatever we’re doing and take care of those. My boss also mentioned that sometime some hourly workers may be working overtime and some of us may have to just stay a couple hours to help out. This is not going to go over well, and essentially means that some of us (salaried exempt) will have to plan like we’re on call and be unable to do anything with these half days.

I did ask about how flexible these hours were, and the answer was not at all. I’d like to know what to say when we’re asked to stay late and cannot because we have other obligations on Fridays, and what I can do to make this easier on my employees who have made other commitments that they now cannot fulfill (I have no power to let someone leave early or adjust hours on a regular basis).

Summer hours are supposed to be a perk, not a burden. This is being implemented horribly. The lack of notice, the inflexibility, the lack of thought about people who have kids or other commitments outside of work, and the apparent lack of consulting with the people affected before announcing it — all very bad.

Your best bet is to get a group of coworkers together and push back on this as a group. Say that you appreciate the attempt to offer a perk, but this is actually making your work lives worse, not better, and explain why. Ask if the plans can be revisited, or if they can be optional rather than mandatory. Who knows if they’ll agree to take another look at this or not, but there’s strength in numbers and it’s harder to ignore a bunch of people all speaking up together than it is with push-back from just one or two people.

3. Company is asking about my “dream job” in my self-evalaution

I am staring at my employer’s self-appraisal form and I have some concerns. Background: I work for a media company that has been doing a lot of acquiring and has not been giving raises since my little cog in the wheel was acquired more than two years ago. An employee satisfaction survey last year told them we were none too pleased with that and flagged other areas of concern. Earlier this year, we were told there would be merit increases after the performance evaluation process.

Well, the process is upon us, and in response to the morale-related issues they distilled from the employee survey, there are some truly bonkers questions:
“What talents, interests, or skills do you have that we haven’t made the most of?”
“Is there anything you’d like to change about your job?”
“What’s your dream job, and what can we do to support your progress toward it?”

Why would I tell a company that hasn’t given raises in two years how they can squeeze more out of me? Why would I tell corporate what I would change about my job or what other job I want when raises are on the line here? Some of these would be valid one-on-one conversation topics with a manager, but as a part of the company-wide, HR-initiated evaluation process it seems like we’re in an impossible position here. I like my job just fine, feel I am succeeding, and I would like to be compensated with a merit increase. How do I navigate this?

Those aren’t really bonkers questions, particularly the first two! The third one, about your dream job, is one that a lot of people aren’t going to feel comfortable answering, and rightly so (if you’re an accountant and your dream job is to be a circus performer, it does you no good to let your employer know that). But the first two are reasonable things to inquire about. It’s not necessarily about squeezing more out of you; at least in many companies, it would be about giving you opportunities to grow in areas that interest you (if they make sense for the company as well). They want you and your manager discussing that as part of the evaluation process because managers should be having those conversations.

Still, though, if you don’t care to share your answers, it’s fine to go with vague answers like “Nothing comes to mind” and “No real dream job — I just want to continue progressing in the role I’m in.”

4. My coworker wears a beach cover-up as a dress

I have a coworker who often wears a bathing suit cover-up to work in the summertime. Our department does tend to be fairly casual, but we interact with the public and a few coworkers have commented on it to me. (We are on the same level and report to the same person.)

I have to assume she doesn’t know it’s a cover-up and she thinks it’s a dress. She doesn’t take criticism well and the two of us have butted heads a few times in the past. Is there a tactful way to let her know that she might want to rethink this one?

If you’re not her manager, I’d leave it alone. Her manager is the one with standing to address it. If you’re a peer, it’s really not your business — and it especially doesn’t make sense to try to take this on if you already know she doesn’t take criticism well. Someone who’s not you is being paid to address this kind of thing (true, they don’t appear to be doing it, but this isn’t yours to deal with).

5. Handling email build-up during maternity leave

I work at a tiny organization (three people total) but we do a ton on work with outside clients and venues. Almost everything is over email. I’m pregnant and planning to take about two months away from the office. My coworkers are incredibly supportive. We were already planning to hire a part-time person but now have increased their responsibilities and are divvying up my other tasks. The pregnancy has brought to the surface lots of my own fears around work and responsibilities — it’s scary to image stepping away for this long but I’m getting there. I still have some time before leave and plan to make the most of it. What I can’t wrap my head around is my email and the backlog that’s going to be waiting for me when I return. I’ll have an out-of-office up, but it’s our practice to cc each other on lots of correspondence and usually, it’s an excellent system. But the item of coming back to thousands of email is terrifying! I try to keep it under 10 unread email or less when I’m in the office. We work in the arts but our work is closely related to sales so we tend to be very responsive — an email is usually responded within the same day so email requests expire quickly.

Any ideas or tips on dealing with email backlog? Do I just hunker down and read through everything when I come back? Do I ask my coworkers to leave me off anything that’s not extremely pressing and then give a recap when I return (which would also be time consuming on both ends)? We do keep a running database on our clients but it’s no where as detailed as our email correspondence. I’m sure we’ll figure an imperfect solution out but I’d love to hear ideas for you or your readers?

Good lord, do not ask to continue being cc’d on everything while you’re away! That will be way too much email to come back to, and lots of it will be things that are already resolved and that you don’t need to review when you’re back (especially if you’re in an office where things are generally handled within a day).

People on maternity leave typically aren’t expected to read every email that was exchanged while they were gone. You don’t need to relive every single thing that happened during that time — you probably only need to know about 10% of it, if that. So yes, ask your coworkers not to cc you on anything other than extremely important things that you’ll absolutely need to be in the loop on when you return — and those should be the exception, not anything that’s happening daily. When you come back, ask for a recap of highlights — but just highlights, not the complete blow-by-blow. That’s reasonable to ask for and will probably be less time-consuming than you think. (And it will be a huge favor to yourself not to return to masses of email, and a favor to your coworkers to trust that they’ll have kept things running smoothly in your absence.)

how do I handle changing my name and job because of a stalker?

A reader writes:

For a few years, I worked as a voice actor. A few of the shows I worked on generated rather passionate fan followings. While that was certainly exciting for me as an actor, it also proved troublesome for my “real world” job working in academic libraries.

I used my real name when I did those shows (well, my nickname, which I’ve used all my life). I had worked as a stage actor for many years before that and always used my real name without any complications, so I thought nothing of doing the same in voice acting.

The trouble is that I work at a public college. This means that if a fan were to Google my name and my city (because of my work, that’s rather easy to put guess), that fan could not only find out very quickly where I work, but also my legal name as that is what IT uses when they create staff email accounts. Now, because this information is so easily found, fans have spread the word across several sites that I’m a librarian, along with the city I work in.

What this all amounts to is that I receive fan letters in my work email, and a few more daring fans have actually come to my library in the hopes of having some face to face time. I typically don’t respond to emails as I don’t want to encourage others to contact me at work (also, I’m a state employee so all of my work emails are public record). When people randomly show up, I explain as politely as I can that I’m at work and I’m not really allowed to conduct personal business on state time. Most of these fans are pretty understanding and just ask if they can see me at an upcoming convention.

One fan, however, has taken things too far. This young man not only showed up to the library job I worked while I was voice acting, but he has continued to come to every library I’ve worked in since then. It started with him coming by my library to try to chat, and when I told him I couldn’t do that on work time, he would wait outside and follow me to my car to try to talk. After several weeks of trying to duck him on foot, I asked our public safety officer to tell the young man to stop. He did stop following me to my car and instead waited in the parking lot in his own car and follow me as I drove away.

I would try to lose this young man in traffic, but if that didn’t work, I would drive to grocery stores or gyms far away from my apartment. Nevertheless, he found out where I live (I don’t know if he finally followed me home without my noticing, or if he used my license plate number and my legal name to find me). He started sending flowers, candies, stuffed animals, and other little gifts to my apartment.

At this point, I contacted the city police. They said they couldn’t do anything about this young man because he hadn’t made any threats and he wasn’t personally delivering the gifts — he just had them shipped to me. They suggested I inform my property manager and ask that the office no longer accept deliveries for me.

Around this time, I was offered a job in “Gotham City” about two hours away, but still in the same large metropolitan area. I accepted the job and moved, but this fan followed me. He started showing up at my new job, emailing me, and sending flowers to my office. My new job required visitors to check in before being allowed through a security gate, so it was much easier to keep him away from my office. I alerted campus police and they eventually trespassed the man, though he continued to email and send me things at work.

I’ve since moved to another job in Gotham City that is much more in line with what I want to do as a librarian. I am now an instructor and I assist students one on one at the research desk in the library. All was well for my first six months, but my stalker found me again. The same behavior has continued, but to avoid being trespassed, this man enrolled in one lab class so that he would be a student with official business on campus. Because they can’t block a student from using the library, the campus police suggested allowing him to use the library only while I am not on duty. While that sounds fair, it means I’ve had to give this man my work schedule so he knows when he can’t come in.

Also, flowers and gifts have started arriving at my new apartment, which tells me this man again knows where I live. I went to the Gotham City police but they said the same thing as the other city’s police department: they can’t do anything until he makes a threat.

In the library world, it’s perfectly normal to leave a job when you finish your degree as I did. And it’s also perfectly normal to only stay at that first post-grad job for a year or two, which I did. I’ve been in my newest position for about eight months now and I don’t know how much longer I can deal with the stress of having a stalker.

I’d like to move to a new job far away from Gotham City and change my name (or at least go by a different nickname at work so my email address will be different). I’m curious as to how I should go about this. Do I choose a new nickname now and use it on my application materials? If so, do I tell all my references that someone may call asking for a reference for “Samantha Smith” instead of “Katy Smith”?

(I’m hoping to avoid legally changing my name if I can. I’d like to try simply going by a different first name to see if that, combined with moving far enough away, would put a stop to things. I think my last name is so common that people generally wouldn’t be able to find me with that alone. My middle name would be an option, or at least a variant of it.)

And what do I list as my reason for leaving my current job? For academic librarian positions, you typically have to fill out an application in addition to submitting a resume, and there’s usually a character limit in the “reason for leaving” field. The term “stalker” gets thrown about frequently in the library world as everyone has had to deal with an overly-attached patron at some point. How do I explain that this one is legit, and that’s why I’m leaving my current position (which I love) after less than a year?

I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this! This is really horrible and scary.

You could indeed start applying with the new name now, and just give your references a heads-up about what’s going on. And so that you don’t have to rely on all your references remembering, you could include a note on your list of references saying something like, “Note that these references know me as Katy Smith, my legal name. I’ve recently begun going by Samantha, my middle name.”)

Another option is to apply using your current name, but once you have an offer, explain that you’re in the process of changing your name because of a stalker situation and that by the time you start with them, you’ll be going by Samantha Smith instead of Katy Smith. (As far as precise timing, don’t wait any longer to say it than the conversation where you accept the offer. That’s because as soon as you accept, they may start getting you into their system with the old name, and it can be weirdly hard to get some employers to change that.)

As for what to list for a reason for leaving, you can just list “moving.” That’s actually true — you are in fact moving, and your application doesn’t need to get into the reasons why. (Just like if you were moving because of a divorce or a desire for warmer weather, you’d still just list “moving,” not “divorce” or “it’s too chilly here.”)

You might be asked in the interview about why you’re moving, and you have two choices there: You could give an answer focused on why you’re interested in moving to the area of the country where the new job is (like “I’ve realized I want to be closer to family” or “I really wanted to find work in Oregon before I get much more established in my career, because I want to live in this area long-term”). Or you could be honest: “A few years back, I worked as a voice actor and a fan from that time has been stalking me. I’ve decided to change my name and move away.” Since you’re worried about the way the term gets used in the library world, you could add, “I know there’s always some risk of patrons with unhealthy attachments in this field, but this was different than that.”

Of those two options, you’re probably better off with the first. With the second, employers will still want to know why their area, so you might as well jump straight there — and I worry that the details of the situation will distract them from what you want them focusing on.

But we also have to balance that against the reality that employers may worry about you leaving the job after a relatively short time, and explaining the stalker provides context for that — so they both have their advantages and disadvantages. Because of that, you might just go with whichever you’re more comfortable with, and whichever you’re going to be more confident explaining in an interview.

I hope this all gets settled quickly and easily, and that you have much more peace ahead of you.