update: we have twice-daily mandatory group therapy at work

Remember last week’s letter-writer whose office was requiring people to attend twice-daily group therapy? Here’s the update.

Hi! OP here! OMG it’s been a week. So when I wrote this, I called out the whole week because I couldn’t wrap my head around all of this, and I had luckily enough gotten a job interview somewhere else. I appreciate your comments and the support and advice and I’m going to give some back. I gotta say something here, y’all: no job is worth what I was going through mentally. Never is a job worth it. Never ever. Some of you sound like you’d have stayed. I’ve been living below the poverty level my whole life, I’ve been poor, I’m still poor. I’d scrub toilets before I’d go through that job again. You are worth more than your work.

I ended up talking to a friend of mine who has a lawyer in the family and she had her cousin on the phone in seconds during this coffee date. Monday morning (the day this posted, ironically) I went in with a lawyer, who was boggled at what was going on. She was literally speechless for a few minutes after I told her about the therapy mandate.

My lawyer and I met with HR and the two board members on site and we addressed everything. Their reaction to what was going on ranged from shock and horror to almost comic apathy. After one board member stated that “work was what I make it” and one HR staff member brought up that she was concerned about my safety and retaliation (I can’t even), my lawyer and I decided I’d be better off elsewhere. There are some details I can’t talk about that did end in my favor, so I’m very okay with this.

The aftermath of me quitting over the therapy mandate precipitated two of my coworkers threatening to walk out with me, which precipitated an internal investigation and my former boss being put on suspension. I understand his license is on the line now as well.

It’s okay to be the powder keg when something isn’t right, that’s what this has taught me.

how do I rebuild my career after destroying it in my 30s?

A reader writes:

I was relatively successful in my twenties. I got a job right out of college and climbed the ladder, going from an assistant position to a director position, all at the same workplace. I even accomplished some pretty amazing things—many of which are still in place. My personal life exploded in my thirties as my marriage took a turn toward the abusive, and I became a worse and worse employee, eventually agreeing to resign under (appropriately) frosty terms. I got a part-time position after that but I hadn’t pulled myself out of my tailspin. Then I had a kid and took care of my parents as they died and eventually ghosted my last employer out of shame because I felt like I was failing. I know how bad this sounds.

I am now in my early 40s. I went through tons of therapy, went back to school, got a second bachelors in a completely unrelated field—graduating magna cum laude with a major department award—and now I’m trying to find a job. I’d like to go to grad school, which tends to be rife with mentorships and placement help, but I don’t have the hands-on work experience I need.

I am deeply ashamed of the past several years (but proud of my recent academic achievements). I know I messed up. And I understand the ways that I messed up. And I’m not trying to make any of it okay. The jobs I am applying for are entry-level. I don’t want to ride on my prior work experience. But my years of instability took a toll. Right now, I don’t have any references. And I’m obviously older.

How do I address this period of instability? How do I talk about my prior life? And how do I find a job without references? Are there positions that don’t require them these days? I’m absolutely willing to volunteer, but I’m having trouble finding places to do so.

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

some men in my office refuse to be alone with women

A reader writes:

I work for a mid-sized private company that, while not a religious organization, does have “Christian values” as one of its organizational tenets, and has many Christian employees (of which I consider myself one, but more on the liberal progressive side). Generally, they treat employees well, have flexible workplace policies, and overall strive to create a healthy work environment. For the most part, they succeed. However, one issue has come up repeatedly, and I’m wondering what (if anything) to do about it.

A few of the employees (and managers as well) adhere to a particularly strict brand of religious practice where they (men) do not spend time alone with members of the opposite sex who aren’t their wives or family members. While this doesn’t present itself as much of an issue in the day-to-day operation of the workplace, this has had impacts on performance reviews, work trips, and work-related outings (and, frankly, my morale). Some of my peers share these convictions, and while it’s irritating to me to be reduced to gender, I do respect their preferences. However, I feel like it leads to inequitable treatment when managers can have off-site 1:1 performance reviews (per the typical practice of the company) with their male employees and not with female employees, or could potentially be career-limiting if, say, they needed to choose someone to travel with them for a project and choose a male employee due to their beliefs.

I’ve discussed this with a few others here, and one coworker has raised it up the chain a bit (specifically, the performance review piece). She was told that going for an off-site lunch for a performance review is part of the company culture and that it wouldn’t change, and that the accommodation was to bring along another coworker or a spouse. To us, this seems awkward at best and paternalistic at worst.

So I guess the question is: is there a case for really pressing them on this issue? Does it leave them open to legal liability? Will it benefit women in my workplace? Or is it a smaller issue in the context of a generally supportive work environment?

This is disgusting and sexist, and it hurts women. Despite some high-profile instances of employers apparently tolerating this (Mike Pence), you cannot allow employees, and especially managers, to treat men and woman differently in substantive ways that have real impact on them. It’s illegal.

And this does have real impact. As you point out, it denies women the same sort of relationship-building and professional development opportunities that their male coworkers receive. If only male employees are having one-on-one meals with these managers, traveling with them, and getting picked for projects where they’ll work together closely, they’re getting professional advantages that are being denied to their female colleagues.  If those managers aren’t comfortable doing those things with women, they they need to stop doing them with men as well.

And it’s frankly offensive to require women to have a chaperone sit in on their performance evaluations if they want to have them in the same off-site, and presumably more relaxed, environment as their male colleagues get to do. (Also, that suggestion that the chaperone could be a spouse? That’s bizarre.)

Then there’s the law. I asked employment lawyer Donna Ballman, author of the excellent book Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired, to weigh in:

Refusing to be alone with one gender and not the other in the workplace is, in my opinion, a blatant violation of Title VII and probably most state anti-discrimination laws. If only one gender is singled out in a way that affects their ability to do their job, their promotion prospects, or other terms and conditions of employment, it’s sex discrimination, pure and simple.

That means anyone who decides, for whatever reason, not to be alone with a certain gender of employee must refuse to be alone with all. I’m guessing that will make working almost impossible in many jobs. Let’s look at how it would work if applied evenly among genders.

For example, let’s say the company has an open-door policy, where any employee can go to anyone in management with complaints or concerns. The advantage of such a policy is that employees can feel free to express any issues in private with a trusted member of management. If there is something going on that’s illegal, like sexual harassment, discrimination, or other illegal activity, it’s in the company’s best interest to find out sooner rather than later. The person who requires a witness for such meetings is making the open-door policy a joke. With a witness, employees will feel less free to express concerns. The illegal activity will continue because nobody reported it. The company could well suffer as well as employees.

If the company has a sexual harassment policy stating they should report sexual harassment to specified individuals, the person who refuses to meet with them unless there’s a witness present again makes the policy a joke. Making the policy a joke could well knock out any defense the employer had regarding having an effective policy.

Employee performance reviews are usually one-on-one. With a witness, everyone knows everyone else’s business. That can cut both ways for employees, since they will know who the poor performers are. When it comes to discrimination, if they can show someone else was performing more poorly than them but was not fired, they may be able to prove discrimination. On the other hand, most employees don’t want their business spread among coworkers, so having a witness could adversely affect morale.

When interviewing for promotions, all employees would have a witness present for their interviews. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, but depending on the witness it probably affects their ability to perform well in interviews, and it probably affects the interviewer’s demeanor and questions.

Now let’s look at the single-gender effects of the situations above. Men but not women would be allowed to utilize the open door policy, so men could have a friendly chat but women would be making a formal complaint. Men but not women would be able to report sexual harassment in a confidential way, making it more difficult for women to report. Men would know which women were poor performers but women would not have the same information. Only women would have a witness present in promotion interviews, so men could have a good-old-boy friendly chat and women would have a formal interview with no such camaraderie.

Anyone who can’t see why this would be a problem needs an HR 101 seminar, speedy quick.

As for what to do … ideally you and other women in your company would push back on this as a group. Point out that it’s a violation of Title VII (and check to see if it violates anti-discrimination laws in your state as well), and that your company is illegally denying women opportunities that men there receive. Use language like, “We certainly respect our colleagues’ religious beliefs, but they need to be applied evenly across the board without singling out anyone by gender.”

If your company isn’t receptive to that, I’d seriously consider getting a lawyer involved. It’s worth pushing this.

a client hit my parked car, is it gross to floss in the office bathroom, and more

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

1. A client hit my parked car

I am an intern in a law office. The office has a parking lot, but interns are not allowed to park there because it is very small and the higher-ups want to leave the space for clients. I was picking up supplies for the office, so I parked in the lot so that I could unload my car. I parked against the wall of the garage, which is not an official spot, but many people park there anyways. After unloading my car, I left my car in the lot for the day, even though as an intern, I was supposed to move it.

At the end of the day, my car had a large dent in it. I contacted the security guard at the office, who has access to the video cameras in the lot; it was clear that I was the victim of a hit and run. The security guard who watched the video cameras saw that a client had hit my car. That being said, my office says that I am at fault because a) As an intern, I should not have parked in the lot and b) I was not parked in an official spot.

I have a meeting with a higher-up in the agency next week where I can articulate my case and see if they will release footage of the accident to me. I know that the office has no obligation to release the footage to me – their lot is privately owned. However, they watched the footage, they know who did it, and they will not tell me on principle, because I should not have been parked there. I’m not sure how to approach the meeting. Knowing my office, it will turn into a blame-fest where I will get attacked for parking there. I want to keep the meeting focused on the fact that I am the victim of a crime, but I don’t know how to politely redirect the (scary!) loons when they tell me that I should not have been in the lot in the first place.

Report the hit and run to your auto insurance and let them handle it. If they want to try to get the tape from your office, they can do that — but that’s theirs to handle and you shouldn’t be getting into a battle with your office over this, particularly when they’re right about the parking issue on your side (not that you were in the lot so much as that you weren’t in an actual space). Also, that way if someone is going after a client, it’s your insurance, not you personally. (Your company still may not be thrilled about that, but it’s way better than if it’s you.)

2. Is it gross to floss at the bathroom sink at work?

For various reasons, mostly to do with my janky teeth, I need to floss multiple times a day during the workday. I find it gross when people floss at their computers, so I’ve been going into the multi-stall bathroom to floss at the sink. But is that gross too? I felt super awkward the one time a coworker came in while I was flossing. Should I be flossing in a bathroom stall? Am I dramatically overthinking this?

It is fine to floss at a sink in the bathroom, as long as you clean up any mess that results. You don’t need to go in a stall (where the job is going to be harder without a mirror anyway).

The bathroom is the appropriate place for flossing! And far grosser things happen in there, so you are fine.

3. How long should I have to prepare for longer-term travel?

My company asked at the beginning of the year if I would be willing to move to one of our sister sites for 1-2 months to help them get a project off the ground. I responded with some clarifying questions but also with general enthusiasm (it looks like an interesting project and would be a great growth opportunity for me). I didn’t hear back for a month, despite following up multiple times and through various mediums.

I finally heard back about my questions this week and found out part of the reason for the delay is that my manager and the sister site manager are in a tug of war- my manager is re-thinking whether they want me to go, and the sister site manager wants me there. Meanwhile, I’m stuck in limbo and the scheduled start date is rapidly approaching.

I’m pretty frustrated at this point. I’m a planner by nature, and the not knowing is driving me a little crazy. I can’t get back to people on plans we’re trying to make together, I can’t sign up for the regular classes and volunteer events I usually participate in, and I’m worried that if we cut it too close I won’t have time to organize my work at my current site so that it can continue smoothly while I’m gone. I’ve tried bringing this up with the company, but they just brushed it off and told me they’d give me a reasonable amount of time to prepare. Is there any way to say “get me a decision by this date or I’m passing” that doesn’t sound confrontational? Or is this perfectly normal and I’m being unreasonable?

You should be able to say, “In order to go, I’d need to know by (date). If it’s still unresolved then, I’d need to say no, because of commitments that I need to make here.” (This assumes that going is truly voluntary, which it sounds like it is.)

Be aware, though, that this might increase the chance of you not going. If you really want to go, it might make sense to decide if you’re willing to tolerate longer uncertainty as the price for going.

Alternately, you could say, “If you do end up sending me, I’d need X weeks advance notice to get things in shape at home, serve out commitments, etc.”

4. How do I let people know I’m fine with not getting promoted?

I work in a large organization as a design and production manager. This is my first time as a manager.

My own manager has created a new role of head of design and production in my team. The head should be very experienced, and wouldn’t replace my role but would manage mine. I understand the strategic need for the role and in fact would welcome it. It reflects the typical structure of other organizations in my industry. Believe me when I say that the head job is not a job that I would get or even would want for many reasons – including that I am way too inexperienced. It would be a bad decision for all concerned.

I have a good relationship with my manager. We are having an open dialogue about the restructuring, she’s taking on board my feedback, and I’m hoping to use this opportunity to tailor my job better to how it suits me and work out a career progression plan. However, some colleagues have been really surprised to hear I’m not applying for the head role, have encouraged me to even when I explain why I don’t want it, or they think I’m sabotaging my own career.

My organization is big but word travels fast. I try not to care what people think if it’s nothing to do with them. But I’m worried that colleagues I’m not close to will think that I’ve been overlooked or that I applied and got rejected for the job (there has been a lot restructuring across the organization recently and a lot of drama and gossip along these lines to go with it). I’ve built up a reputation at work as someone who is smart, highly competent, and progresses quickly (I’m under 30, which is unusual for managers here). I don’t want to compromise that. I know there’s only so much I can control about gossip, but I also want to minimize it if I can.

When the head is appointed, how do I communicate to the larger network of colleagues (I’m talking dozens if not hundreds of people) that I’m really fine with it and that I’m figuring things out for my own career path? I wondered if I could ask a few trusted colleagues to spread the news for me if and when it comes up in their circles – like proactive, positive gossiping. But maybe that’s just fighting fire with fire?

I think you’re worrying about it too much! When people ask you about it, say something enthusiastic like “I think it’s a great idea to create the role! It’s not the right position for me right now, but I’m excited to see who we hire.” If people seem surprised, say, “It’s really not the right move for me right now! The person in that role should have more X experience than I do. I could see applying for it at some point down the road, but not now.” Or even just: “That’s a more senior role than you might realize. So not now, but maybe at some point.” And once a hire has been made: “I’m really excited to work with her. She brings a ton of experience that will be great for our team.”

You’re not going to reach every single person with this message, but that’s okay. The people you work with most closely will hear it. And for everyone else, if you’re known to be smart and competent and progressing fast, that’s not going to be undone by one outside hire.

But if you want to, you can certainly say something to people you’re close with like, “If you hear people speculating about this, would you explain it’s a more senior role than they realize and I’m fully on board with this plan?” I wouldn’t push it too much, or you’ll actually be feeding drama (and it risks becoming “Jane is really concerned about what people will think about this”).

5. I’m not paid overtime and my pay is docked when I’m out for a few hours

I’m currently in a new post where I am described as an exempt employee, which I understand to mean that I can be asked to do overtime with out any overtime pay.

My employer, however, deducts pay for any amount of time out of office during the traditional working hours. For example, if I leave the office for two hours to go to the doctor, my salary is prorated. In my previous experience with this field, this is quite unusual as it is expected that the periods of work outside of normal work hours will more than compensate for these rare occasions.

Is my expectation that this time should not be deducted unreasonable? Is this something worth raising with my employer?

This is illegal. If you’re being treated as exempt (not paid overtime), they aren’t allowed to dock your salary like that — and by doing that, they’re forfeiting the legal right to treat you as exempt … which means if you wanted to push it, you’d have a claim for overtime for all hours you’ve worked over 40 in any given week (including back pay).

I’d say this to your employer: “I’m not clear on whether my position is exempt or non-exempt. I’d thought I was classified as exempt and thus not eligible for overtime pay, but docking my pay when I’m out of the office means I’m being treated as non-exempt. We can get in legal trouble for doing it both ways — it has to be one or the other. Do you want to consider me non-exempt, meaning we can dock my pay like that but also need to pay overtime? Or do you want me to stay exempt from overtime, meaning that we can’t dock that time?”

If they dispute that, then say, “Hmmm, the law is actually pretty clear. Will you take another look at it? I’ll send you the Department of Labor factsheet and you can take a look..” And then send them this.

my employee is being rude to others — but I think it’s from the stress of cancer

A reader writes:

I am a manager for a department of 11 people inside a large organization. One of my long time employees, Zed, has stage 4 pancreatic cancer. When Zed was first diagnosed about three months ago, I asked if he might consider taking FMLA leave (our organization and state have very generous medical leave policies). Zed refused. I think it’s because being his job is a big part of his identity, so he wants to work as much as possible while he is going through chemotherapy.

Zed is an exempt employee. He comes in days when he is up to it (two or three hours is a “good” day) and takes sick days when he is in treatment or can’t come in. He has been pretty good about giving me his anticipated schedule a week ahead of time so we know when we can expect him.

All of us like Zed a lot personally and are rooting for him.

Zed has recently begun exhibiting behavior that I do not find appropriate in a professional setting. One of his responsibilities is interfacing with, let’s say, the basket weaving department. Zed sends angry emails IN ALL CAPS to and about the basket weavers, complaining about their work, bringing up things the basket weavers did wrong five years ago, and generally making statements like “I don’t know what is wrong with these people.” My staff and I are frustrated that we only have two or three hours a day with Zed, and when he is in the office he spends his time complaining about other departments and what everyone else is doing.

Zed’s tone and behavior are starting to have consequences for his coworkers and our department, and I know it’s time for me to talk with him. Do you have any recommendations for how I tell Zed he needs to improve the tone and manner of his communications? It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to think that that his cancer diagnosis is having consequences for his mental health, which is spilling out at work. Should I suggest counseling or bereavement groups, or just stick to the facts of “your work is not up to standards, and you must improve”? Should I push harder for him to take FMLA leave so he can focus on getting better? (I would expect resistance to this.)

I’d appreciate your help knowing how best to respond to this difficult scenario and be a good boss and a good human being. Thank you!

The best thing you can do is to kindly talk to him about what you need him to do differently, so that he’s able to decide for himself if he’s able to meet the expectations of his job right now or not. While the bottom line of the message is the same as it would be if he wasn’t sick (“you need to stop X”), the overall tone and framing will be different so that it’s sensitive to the situation he’s in.

So it might sound like this: “I know you’re dealing with a lot right now. I want to be honest with you that I think the situation is affecting how you’re showing up at work. That’s understandable! But I can’t have you sending the basket weavers angry emails like you’ve been doing, or spending so much time complaining about them to the rest of us. This would be true in normal circumstances as well, but it’s especially true when we’ve only got you for a few hours a day. I want to make sure that your time here is being spent where we most need it, not getting bogged down in frustrations with another department.”

If he seems to get it, that may be all you need to say. But if he doesn’t — or if the behavior continues — then you’ll need to move to something like this: “I want to be clear — I understand that you’re frustrated, but you cannot send emails like this. Your emails to other departments need to be polite and constructive, not hostile. That means no all caps, no complaining about things they did years ago, and generally being civil and ideally pleasant. If you can’t do that, I want to revisit what you’re responsible for right now, so I want to know what you think is realistic.”

Another option: “I know you’re dealing with a lot right now, and it’s completely understandable that you’re under a lot of stress. But it’s spilling out into how you’re treating other people. I’m glad to have you here, but this can’t continue. I want you to take a few days and think about whether you can get this under control at work, or whether it would be better to take more time off while you’re in treatment. I support you in whatever you decide — but if you come in, I need you to change the way you’re interacting with people.”

I wouldn’t suggest counseling unless you’re unusually close. That’s not really your role as his boss … although if he has access to an EAP through work, you can definitely remind him of that.

You also need to be careful about pushing for him to take leave, because you’re potentially getting into sticky legal territory there. (For example, if you push him to take leave but not your employee with another illness, you risk that being seen as trying to pushy Zed out of work because of his cancer diagnosis, even though that’s not your intent.) Plus, he may be saving his FMLA in case his condition worsens and he has greater need for it later. But if your employer offers short-term or long-term disability insurance, make sure he knows about that. (If you have an HR department, they should go over the available options with him, if they haven’t already.)

Ultimately, you do need to be clear with him that he needs to change what he’s doing, but you can do that with kindness and compassion.

managers need to stop sugarcoating their feedback

I hear from a lot of managers who are frustrated with an employee’s work or behavior, feel they’ve addressed the issue, and wonder why it’s still continuing. Over the years, I’ve learned to always ask these frustrated managers, “Exactly what have you said to the person about this?” … because more often than not, it turns out that the manager has only hinted at the problem, rather than being direct about it.

At Slate today, I wrote about how managers often think they’ve addressed a problem when in fact the language they used was so soft that their employee missed the message entirely or doesn’t realize it’s a serious issue. You can read it here.

our laid-off coworker still shows up every day, employer wants a short story that will make them cry, and more

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

1. Our laid-off coworker is still showing up every day

My boss laid off one of our team members one afternoon. There was an organization-wide mandate to make a budget correction, and he chose this measure for our unit.

The next day, the team member showed up at work. And the next. And the next. They’re not working — duties have been reassigned— but seem to be just slowly packing up their stuff and using the kitchen. They’re not doing anything to be disruptive, but people in the office have noticed they’re still here. The boss works in the same office area so he knows this is happening. I suspect he gave the laid-off employee a grace period to get transitioned out, being a long-timer in the organization and all, but this seems like an odd situation. Is this odd? Should I keep my mouth shut and suspect the boss has some sort of plan here?

It’s odd, but it’s not something you need to intervene on. Most commonly, people who are laid off will leave that day (even though they may get severance payments for a longer period of time), in part because companies want their remaining workforce to be able to move forward without the guilt and awkwardness that can come with having laid-off people still showing up. Other times, though, someone will be laid off and given an ending date at some point in the future; in those cases, they may be expected to continue their normal work pace for that time, or they may have lightened workloads and be encouraged to use that time for job searching.

It’s not clear what’s happening in your coworker’s case. Maybe her ending date is two weeks away. Maybe her official last day was the day of the layoff, but your boss told her to take her time in packing up her stuff and she’s taking that far more literally than he intended. It’s definitely odd, and it’s probably keeping her emotionally tied to your company in way that’s not healthy (and keeping her from moving forward). It could be that she’s lonely. It could be that she’s at a loss about what will happen once she fully leaves.

But it’s really between her and your boss, as long as it’s not interfering with your work.

2. Application says to write a short story that will make the reader cry, smile, or stay up all night

I’m considering applying for a position at what seems like an interesting company, but instead of a cover letter they’ve asked for this: “As part of this application, we ask that you write a maximum 300-word short story that has the power to make us cry, smile, or stay up all night thinking about it” … which to be honest has left me somewhat baffled. Do they want a personal narrative? A piece of fiction? Should it touch on work experience or just aim to meet one of their goals of laugh, cry, or haunt their dreams?

Also … why?? This is a creative position, but it’s not like flash fiction is a major element of the role. I was also considering adding a more traditional cover letter as a second page of my resume (that’s the only place on the application page where you’re able to upload anything) to at least give some context for my experience and qualifications. Thoughts on any of that?

My thought is that you should avoid any employer that asks you to invest serious time and effort in a project before they’ve even done a cursory screening of your application. Given that 95% (or more) of applicants for any given job aren’t even interviewed, they’re knowingly wasting the time of a huge number of people — and that’s before we even get into the goofiness of this particular assignment.

As for why they’d do this … they don’t know how to hire well and they think they’ve stumbled on a creative, “fun” way to assess their applicants, without considering (a) how many people’s time they’re wasting and (b) how eye-rolly and annoying this will be to many good candidates. It’s possible that this really does get at some critical skill for the position, but if that’s the case they should be giving clearer instructions and doing some initial screening before expecting people to invest time in it.

3. Founder regularly threatens to quit our start-up

I have an equity stake in a start-up and really need your advice on how to move forward in light of recent events. We are a team of three. The founder works on the start-up full-time, and the original agreement was for the other two of us to stay at our full-time jobs until the company raised funding.

I absolutely love the work (I handle my projects at night and on the weekend), but the founder is emotionally unstable. One day he’s happy with our team, loves the work, and sees a big future for our brand. The next day, he’s down in the dumps, believes the idea won’t work, threatens to quit, and is disappointed with everyone’s work. I’m concerned he has a distorted view of reality, but because I love the idea, I’ve stuck around. Plus, I sympathize with the fact that he left a six-figure, Fortune 500 job to start a business and he’s stressed out from not earning income for 18 months.

I was ready to quit my job and move to a different city with my husband and newborn for this start-up. But why would I try to build a business with someone whose management style I fundamentally disagree with? AND to top it off, he has already fired four people since he started the company. I’m not sure what to do now. I’ve had conversations asking him to be more direct about specific issues with my work instead of passive aggressive remarks. Beyond that though, do you think there’s hope? Would it be dumb to stick around?

Don’t start a business with someone whose management style is toxic. It will be a nightmare that ensnares you more the longer you stay. You have the chance to get out now with far less fuss than it will take later on.

If he doesn’t handle stress well, he shouldn’t be running a business, let alone a start-up. This is highly unlikely to change.

You can find other work you love that doesn’t involve tethering yourself to this guy.

4. Employee called out for snow — but it’s not forecasted to snow until her workday is over

An employee sent me an email yesterday morning letting me now that because of her back problem (not a job-related injury), she is not coming in because of the possible road conditions in the afternoon. But our schedule is 7 to 3 and it’s predicted to start snowing around 4 pm. What should I do? I am an HR manager and need to be on both the employer and the employee side.

Well, first, this is her manager’s to handle, rather than yours as HR. But it would be reasonable for her manager to say, “The snow isn’t expected to start until an hour after we close. If the forecast changes during the day, we can of course let you leave early if you need to, but if that’s the only obstacle to you coming in, I hope you’ll make it in. If I’m misunderstanding, though, please let me know.”

Beyond that, it’s also worth her manager having a conversation with her to make sure they’re both aligned on how this employee will handle snow in the forecast. It’s possible that there’s something about her injury that makes this riskier for her than the manager understands, and that’s worth finding out. (And it doesn’t matter that it’s not a job-related injury.)

5. Including one month of work on my resume

I applied, interviewed for, and ultimately accepted a part-time work-from-home side job. The job was temporary (three months) and required a minimum number of weekly hours. When I accepted the position, I was confident I could do my full-time job and this side job easily. I was excited by the opportunity, because it gave me experience in an area that I am really interested in. In fact, I was doing it 90% for the experience/resume building and only 10% for the money.

The week the job was set to begin (two months later), I switched offices for my full-time job. My position is the same, it is just a different location. It turns out that this location is an utter mess. I spent my first few days fielding angry calls that stemmed from mistakes my predecessor made. As a result, I’ve been working overtime M-F and weekends, and I’ll still behind. I’m also beyond stressed. I simply couldn’t continue my side job at the hours they required. I asked to reduce the minimum hours per week and emphasized my enthusiasm for the work, but they declined and said the minimum was strict — I make the hours or quit. I completely understand their perspective and am not upset by the decision I need to make.

My question is: if I quit, can I still put this position on my resume? I attended a full week training for the position and did the job for a month total. I want to put it on my resume — but am I essentially lying, since I quit prematurely.

Don’t include it. A month isn’t enough to strengthen your resume, and you’re likely to be asked questions about why it was so short, at which point you’ll need to explain you left one-third of the way into a three-month commitment (which is understandable given the circumstances, but also isn’t helpful in an interview).

weekend free-for-all – February 16-17, 2019

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: Seven Days of Us, by Francesca Hornak. A family is forced to spend a week in quarantine together at Christmas. It’s tense, it’s funny, and it does not go quite smoothly.

open thread – February 15-16, 2019

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.

car alarm keeps disrupting our office, coworker is blocking me from work, and more

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

1. A car alarm is disrupting our office many times per hour

My office is small, one story, and located on a relatively busy street. There is a car that parks along the street directly in front our our building, and this car has a VERY sensitive car alarm. This has always been an issue since I started here, almost three years ago. The owner of said car previously used to have a car where the alarm system blared every single time a car would zip by. It didn’t matter if it was a smart car or a 4×4 lifted diesel truck, that alarm would go off. Every. Single. Time. Now, she has a different car, with an even more obnoxious car alarm. Sometimes it takes her 2-5 minutes to walk outside the building and turn it off, and it often happens nearly every 5-10 minutes. This is maddening. We are unable to hear clients on phone calls and unable to focus on work because her car alarm is blaring for what seems like hours, every 10 minutes. It is so bad, we have two clients that refuse to meet in our office, which is an issue because of the nature of our work.

The reason that we don’t know what to do is that this car does not belong to one of our employees. It belongs to someone in the next door office. I have suggested calling next door and requesting the employee park across the street in the communal lot, rather than right outside our front door, thinking that if it is located in the lot, it won’t be triggered by street noises. This was shut down because they don’t want to cause any hostile tensions between us and that company. They also believe this will come off as controlling. I have also suggested writing a friendly note and leaving it on her car, letting her know her car alarm is very disruptive to our business and the others on the street. This was also called too aggressive (which, who cares at this point). Aside from it being disruptive and giving me regular headaches, I am positive that this has to be annoying for the owner too. Having to get up from your desk to turn off your car alarm every 5-10 minutes has got to be disruptive and aggravating to her too, so I am really at a loss as to why she even wants to park there knowing she is gonna be pulled away from her desk to turn off the alarm. Do you or your readers have any suggestions?

P.S. I decided to track the alarm and how long it blasts each time it goes off. In the last 49 minutes, her car alarm has gone off seven times. Since it takes her so long to turn off the alarm, the alarm has been blasting for a combined 28 minutes. I am losing it.

Good lord, how is this woman okay with going outside leaving seven times in an hour to turn a car alarm? How is her employer okay with it? I do not understand this situation.

In any case, leave the note. You don’t need your employer’s permission to leave the note, as long as you don’t identify your company in it. Leave a note saying you work nearby, the alarm is giving you headaches and driving away clients, and beg her to disable the alarm (which clearly isn’t serving any function at this point) or try parking in the lot. That said, this is not someone who is governed by logic, so the note may make no difference.

Your other, and perhaps better, option is to report it to your local police. Many cities will cite car owners whose alarms go off too frequently.

2. My coworker is blocking me from work a senior manager asked me to help her with

I’m fairly new to my job doing administrative work at a large company. Recently, a senior-level manager (Sara) asked if I could help another admin (Mary) catch up on some of the work she was behind on for a C-suite executive. I responded that I was happy to help and reached out to the Mary to get the details and formulate a plan. Honestly, I was flattered and excited that I would be helping out an exec!

For a bit of context, I have a great working relationship and a budding friendship with Mary. Upon my initial outreach, Mary agreed to send along some materials that I could help with and did so, however I’m limited in how much I can help without more information. I did but I could, but told Mary I’d probably need more and she agreed, but expressed that it was really more work for her to share info with me. I offered to sit with her so that she’s not sending me info, but rather we can work together to speed up the process and be there together to field questions but she didn’t go for the idea. I feel like I’ve tried everything to be helpful, but Mary doesn’t want to put in the up-front work in order to share her load. I know she’s open to help and it’s not a matter of controlling the situation, it’s like she’s too unorganized to make this process easier.

Now, Sara is asking why we’re not getting the work done and what’s taking so long. For now, I’ve let Mary respond to these emails and say “we’re working on it” and “(my name) has been a great help,” even though I haven’t because she’s making it impossible for me to help! I don’t want this to reflect poorly on my work ethic and I don’t want to throw Mary under the bus. There’s a chance that nothing will come of this and I’ll never be asked directly about how involved I’ve been thus far, but as a new employee I want to impress senior leaders, not shy away from stepping up like this. Is there anything I can do here? Or do I just let this pass and hope I can impress her next time?

You need to let Sara know what’s going on. She specifically asked you to do some of this work and needs to know that it’s not happening — especially since it sounds like Mary is letting her go on thinking you’re doing work that you’re not doing. If the real situation comes out at some point, you’re going to look like you were complicit in Mary’s lie and that’s not good.

Reply to Sara and say, “I was able to do XYZ on this project, but after that Mary felt it would be more work for her to relay the information I’d need to assist her further — so since Tuesday, I’ve been sitting it out. But I’d be glad to keep helping if Mary wants to pull me back in!” This is not about throwing Mary under the bus; this is about updating Sara on work that she asked you to do and is now checking in on.

You can also say to Mary, “I need to let Sara know that I’m not working on this since it sounds like she thinks I am” so that she’s not blindsided when Sara asks her about it.

3. Can I ask if I’m going to be laid off?

Is it okay to ask if you might get laid off? My job is entering a slow period that’s projected to last for a year, so I’m terrified that I’ll get laid off, considering that I have very niche skills that make it so I can’t just be transferred to another role in the meantime. And if it is okay to proactively ask, how on earth do I go about doing that — just come out and as, “Hey, am I about to get laid off”?

The problem with asking is that if they say no, you can’t really believe that answer. Your manager may not think you’re going to get laid off, but then it happens anyway. Or they may know it could happen but aren’t allowed to say that. Some people have been told their jobs are safe hours before they get laid off. As a general rule, companies do not want to announce layoffs until they’re actually happening, for fear of causing rumors and panic and losing people they wanted to retain.

What would be more useful would be to talk to your manager about how you can be useful and productive during this slow period, and to come up with your own proposals of things you could work on. Or if it seems really clear to you that there just won’t be anything, then you can say something like, “Could you talk about the plans for my role during the next year while this project is slowing down?” (You might worry that’ll call your manager’s attention to the fact that you don’t have much to do, but it’s very unlikely she won’t notice that on her own, and meanwhile you’ll get the peace of mind of actually discussing it.)

4. Can I tell my references I turned down a job where they vouched for me?

I’ve been job hunting for a few months. I recently reached the final stages of two hiring processes, and gave my references a heads-up they might be contacted by two places. One organization moved quickly and gave me an offer. After a lot of soul searching, I turned them down. (It was objectively not a good fit for me, and I was really excited about the second place.) I’m still in the running for the second organization, but their timeline is a little slower and I probably won’t hear back from them for at least another week. I’m optimistic, but of course anything could happen. I don’t think they’ve contacted my references yet.

I know I need to follow up with my references. One of them emailed me asking how it all turned out. I hate not responding for 2+ weeks, or worse, not responding for a while, then following up to let them know another reference request might be coming from the second organization. That feels really transactional!

Is it okay to tell them I turned down the job? Does that seem entitled? I shouldn’t lie and say they turned me down, right? Or should I just wait until I have something definite to tell them about the second organization?

Tell them you turned down the job! It doesn’t seem in the least entitled. People get to turn down job offers for all sorts of reasons — they couldn’t come to an agreement about pay, or the health insurance was ridiculously overpriced or non-existent, or the job just wasn’t right for you, or so forth. Receiving an offer in no way obligates you to take it. And you haven’t wasted your references’ time when you turn down an offer; sometimes you don’t know whether or not you’ll take an offer until you actually get it and can consider the details.

So respond to that reference (do not leave her hanging!) and say, “I did end up receiving an offer from Company A. Ultimately I ended up turning it down; after a lot of soul searching and reflecting on what I learned in the hiring process, I realized it just wasn’t the right fit for me. But I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with them, and I’m hoping to find a stronger match soon.”

If you turn down a bunch of offers for not being the right fit (as opposed to not being able to come to terms on salary, or the job offered being different from the one you interviewed for, or something else you couldn’t have known until seeing the offer), your references could start wondering why you’re not being more thoughtful about these jobs before they get all the way to the offer stage. But that’s not going to happen with just one instance of it.

5. Does this email mean I’m going to get rejected?

So you have a phone screening for a job. Then you go in for an interview. You meet three people. You feel good about how you did. Then the following week you get an email saying, “Thanks for coming in, we’re going to make our decision at the end of this week.” Is this a formal brush off? Should I expect an email telling me I didn’t get the job?

It means “thanks for coming in and we’re hoping to make a decision by the end of the week.”

There is no code here. Those words mean what you’d assume they meant in any other context.