I’m furious that my vacation request was denied, Civil War reenactor beards at job interviews, and more

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

1. My vacation request was denied, and I’m furious that my coworkers got to take time off then

In March, I submitted a vacation request for July 13-15. My manager denied the request, saying that it was during a “black out” period following our second quarter close. She explained that no one is allowed to take time off during any of the two weeks of a quarter close. I asked if I could appeal to her boss for an exception, with the assurance that I would be happy to work extra hours to clear my workload in advance of the days off. She still denied me, saying that she had to be fair to all of the accountants, reiterating that no one was allowed time off.

On July 15, a coworker pointed out to me that one accountant had been allowed to take 14th and 15th off, while another accountant had been allowed to take the 15th off. I was furious. I emailed my manager the above conversation and copied her two bosses. I said that it had been brought to my attention that two others had been granted vacation time when my request was denied and asked how this was fair. She did not respond to the email, but sent an instant message for me to stop by her office for “just a sec”; I responded that I was not in a constructive mood and I would prefer to wait. I stopped by her office about 4:50 (as I was leaving) but she had apparently already left for the day – computer off, lights out. Am I wrong to be so upset?

I can understand why you’re upset, but I think you were in the wrong to be so aggressive about it. Cc’ing her bosses was pretty out of line. This is really between the two of you, and you hadn’t even talked about it with her yet to discover if there was a reasonable explanation (more on that in a minute). Also, responding to her meeting request by saying that weren’t not in a constructive mood is not great; it’s essentially saying, “I’m having a tantrum.” These aren’t personal relationships; they’re business relationships, and you’re generally expected to pull it together and operate professionally when your boss wants to talk to you.

As for the situation itself: It’s possible that your coworkers were on FMLA leave or had some kind of emergency (granting leave for illness or a personal emergency are very different than granting vacation request during blackout periods). You don’t know yet, and you definitely don’t want to get this pissed off and then discover the person was out because of a death in the family or for crucial medical treatment.

2. Beards at interviews … and Civil War reenactor beards

When I am clean-shaven, I look like I am about 12 years old. (I’m 40.) I work in a conservative field, but it is not uncommon for men in the field to have near and trimmed mustaches and beards. However, I’ve always heard that a man should be clean-shaven for an interview.

I don’t want to shave because, as I said, I have a horrible baby-face and want to be taken seriously as an adult. Should I shave anyway?

Along the same lines, I’m a U.S. Civil War reenactor and my facial hair is a style common to that era. (Sideburns to the jawline, short beard to the chin, then up to the mustache. My chin itself is hairless.) However, the style is obviously not common in the modern world. My resume lists that I am a reenactor, and I wear the style I do for the historical accuracy when I am on the field. Given the rarity of my facial hair style in modern society, should I shave it before an interview?

In most fields, it’s fine to have facial hair for an interview. If you normally wear a beard, you wouldn’t need to shave just for a job interview (although it should be neatly trimmed). But you’re right that the style you wear is a very distinctive look, so I think it’s less about whether you can have facial hair at an interview (yes) and more about whether it’s an issue to have really unusual facial hair (like this, or a handlebar mustache). I want to tell you that it’s totally fine, and with some interviewers it probably would be — but with others, you’re going to be “the guy with the Civil War beard” and it’s going to get in the way of their assessment of you as a candidate.

I’d say play it safe and shave it, but it depends on how strongly you feel about maintaining it and how much you care if it’s a sticking point for some interviewers.

3. My boss asked how much he’d need to pay me not to work a second job

If my boss says to me, “How much do I have to pay you so that you don’t have to work a second job?” but he a) said it two weeks ago and I kind of laughed it off, b) is probably sincere, but I know for a fact that they hired me at a higher salary than they ever have for my current position and c) I never negotiated for my salary, but just took the first offer because they never opened up the discussion for salary negotiations…what do I do?

I’m getting paid more at this job than I ever have, but it’s still not enough because my $109,000 worth of student loans came due. In the meantime, I’m killing myself working two jobs that are both very stressful (60 hours of customer service a week).

Well, it seems like he asked you a pretty straightforward question, so I would go back and tell him! Say this: “Were you really serious the other day when you asked how much I’d need to earn here in order not to have to work a second job?” Assuming he says yes, give him the real answer.

That’s not a question a smart manager would ask without meaning it. See what he says.

4. I don’t want a baby shower at work

I have worked at my current job for many years, and I am thrilled to be expecting my first child! As is the norm in most office settings, we host baby showers for expectant mothers and fathers, regardless of how many children someone has had. The grandeur of these events will vary based on your perceived importance within the group and how much you are liked. It’s usually a surprise.

Is there a polite way for me to decline the offer of a baby shower at the office? I have been mistreated by multiple managers over the years, and do not wish to be on the receiving end of what feels like an extremely insincere gesture or any related gifts. I also do not agree with playing favorites in the office.

Talk to the person most likely to organize it — or to at least know who is organizing it — and say, “I know we often do showers for expecting parents. I’d prefer not to have one, and I was hoping you could help me make sure no one inadvertently organizes one. It would be a kind gesture, but I wanted to speak up now since it’s really not something I want.”

Be prepared for questions about why, though. One possible response is to just fall back on, “Oh, just not really my thing.” You could also add, “We’re waiting until the baby is here to see what we need,” although that risks people thinking you’d be okay with a shower with an atypical theme (like kids’ books, or parenting tips, or so forth).

5. Do I have to be paid for the time I spend sleeping on business trips?

I have a question about travel reimbursements. I just started a new job, my first salaried position. My job has involved a lot of travel with overnight stays. Does that count as overtime work? Do I need to be compensated for all the time I spend away (e.g., eight hours sleeping, etc.)? And if so, how do I ask for that?

Nope. First, if you’re exempt, you just get paid your regular salary regardless of how much time you work. But if you’re non-exempt (meaning eligible for overtime pay), then you’d get paid your regular salary, plus pay for any additional hours worked over 40 in a week. “Hours worked” really does mean hours worked — so if you’re attending a mandatory evening event, they have to pay you for that time. But if you’re hanging out in your hotel room, sleeping, or your time is otherwise your own while you’re on the trip, that’s not paid time. In other words, if you’re just working eight-hour days while you’re on the trip, it’s not going to impact what you’re paid.

Time spent in the act of traveling, like sitting on a plane or driving to your destination, works a little differently (and again, still only talking about non-exempt employees here). If you’re doing the actual traveling during your normal work hours, you have to be paid for that time. If the travel happens outside your regular work hours, they don’t have to pay for you it (like if you have an evening flight that’s outside of the times you normally work).

weekend free-for-all – July 23-24, 2016

Olive with iPadThis 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. If you have a work question, you can email it to me or post it in the work-related open thread on Fridays.)

Book recommendation of the week: A Room with a View, by E. M. Forster. This is one of my favorite books of all time. It has a priggish fiancé, an unsuitable second suitor, an annoying chaperone, a romp through Italy, and so many more delightful things.

should I give my new boss a gift, I get my own hotel room while my male coworkers have to share, and more

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

1. Should I give my new boss a gift as thanks for hiring me?

I got a job and start last Monday. My boss wasn’t here for the first week, but he will be in next Monday. I learned a lot already and understand how my team works.

I got interviewed by the team, including my boss. It was three of us being interviewed and I got it. They all discussed it and my boss obviously has the final say. So I feel honored and grateful for this opportunity. The gift I want to give him is a knight with both hands out holding a pen. So it’s a little fancy pen holder. Think it’s too far or weird?

Nooooo, do not do that. Your boss didn’t hire you as a favor; he hired you because he thought you were the best person for the job. A gift will be weird. Do not do it.

I know it’s easy to feel gratitude when you’re hired, but it’s really not a gratitude situation; this is a two-way business arrangement. The mental positioning you want is this: You’re excited to be there and happy for the opportunity, but you’re bringing at least as much value as the paycheck they’re giving you in exchange for that.

(Plus you don’t really know your new boss at this point and can’t judge if he’d like the gift or not. Maybe he had a terrible experience with a knight once. The point is, you don’t know him well enough for gift-giving.)

2. Is it okay that I get my own hotel room while my male coworkers have to share?

I’m a woman on a team of mostly men. When we travel, the men often have to share a room while I get my own (if there was another woman, I assume we would share, but that hasn’t come up yet). On the one hand, I think sharing a room with a coworker is a bit strange regardless of gender, and I treasure the alone time to recharge. But I also think it probably wouldn’t be that big of a deal. We work long days and don’t spend much time at the hotel. Also, I feel like I’m getting special treatment due to my gender, and I don’t want my coworkers to resent me.

I had initially told my work I would prefer not to, but should I offer to start sharing rooms with the men? My company would be glad to save the hotel money. What if it turns out to make me more uncomfortable than I expect; will it be strange to change my mind again?

Don’t offer to share rooms with the men. It’s 100% normal to not mix sexes in hotel rooms during business travel. We can debate whether or not that makes sense, but it’s unquestionably the norm. Your male coworkers almost certainly know this and don’t expect to share a room with you. You’re not getting special treatment because you’re a woman; if there were other women on staff, you’d be sharing a room, but right now there aren’t. I promise you that no one thinks that you’re selfish for not offering to share with the men.

Sharing hotel rooms sucks. Enjoy that for right now, circumstance has put you in a position where you don’t have to.

3. Am I operating in bad faith by planning for a trip that I’ll back out of if I become pregnant?

I’m planning on presenting at a conference in the next couple of months for work. I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time and think it will be good for my career. However, it’s in a country with active Zika transmission, and I’ve been trying to conceive. The risk would be low since I would be mostly indoors, in a big clean city, but WHO and CDC guidelines still recommend that pregnant women limit travel. So if I were to get pregnant over the next month, I would not go.

I’ve already experienced a chemical pregnancy (like a super early miscarriage) and I know conception can take a while so I wanted to leave the door open for myself. Am I acting in bad faith? I’ve stalled booking anything just in case and I’ll know for sure before it’s too late, but I hate feeling so cagey and dishonest about it all. Should I just back off the trip regardless?

Pregnancy is unpredictable enough that you’re not obligated to make work plans around the possibility that you might become pregnant in the future. If you do, you’ll deal with it then, but until that time, it’s completely reasonable that you’re proceeding to make plans based on your current reality.

Updated to add: As commenters have pointed out, the CDC recommends that you should wait at least eight weeks before trying to conceive after returning from an area with Zika.

4. A former employer still pays for my cell phone bill

I still have a past employer paying for my cell phone. Is this morally wrong or illegal? I don’t want to get in any trouble!

It’s not illegal, but yes, there’s an ethical issue with allowing them to continue to pay a bill when it’s no longer a business expense. Take them off the bill (or if you can’t do that yourself, contact them and alert them that they need to).

4 updates from recent letter-writers

Here are four updates from people who had their letters answered here this year.

1. I’m breastfeeding and was told to pump in the bathroom (#3 at the link)

Thank you for your advice! And thank you to all the commenters on AAM, who are amazing. The community of support was overwhelming, and I wish I could have thanked everyone for their kind words and commiseration.

So here’s the update — since I know I love reading them on your site:

Instead of stressing over wording to the office manager, I sent a note to HR, basically saying “the space earmarked for breast pumping is a bathroom — I’m thinking there is a better option. What do you think?” The instantaneous email back from my HR rep agreed that a bathroom was unacceptable, and we met to look at options minutes later. She was also horrified that this had been the initial solution, which, y’know, was kind of the reaction I was looking for. A lock was installed on the door soon after, and shared out that the room would be reserved for this purpose. I’m relieved it was a happy ending.

2. How can I confirm I’m really still confirmed to teach a class this summer? (#5 at the link)

A happy update for you!

Your advice on how to reach out to Jane worked quite well. She immediately put me in touch with the administrative team to get me in the system and set up. Our schedules never worked out for me to shadow her class, but we were able to meet up in person and talk through curriculum alignment between our classes. She also shared a number of general tips for teaching.

My class started this week, and while it’s definitely a lot of extra work on top of my regular job, I’ve been enjoying the opportunity to introduce students to a field of study that most have never considered before. It’s an elective, so it won’t be offered every semester, but I’m hopeful that they will continue to add it on to the schedule every year or so.

Thank you very much for helping me out!

3. Can I ask interviewers about their budget deficit?

This letter-writer sent in an update earlier, where she also asked another question about talking about passion in interviews. Here’s the second update.

After a couple of weeks of being told I wasn’t chosen, I looked on the organization’s website and noticed that they hired their acting director, who was the associate director to the previous executive director. Case closed.

Moving on. I still don’t have a job, but I have identified some of my blocks and I am feeling better, targeting my job hunt more strategically, increasing the number of job applications going out and am slowly getting more interviews. And of course, reading AAM religiously helps me a great deal.

Yesterday I got an email from one of the board members. It came from the woman who is the E.D. of a good-sized organization and attached was the job announcement for the associate director position of the same organization for which I interviewed. She was the person who was not giving me eye contact and was texting on her phone during the interview.

I scrolled down and saw where the newly minted E.D. wrote the email to ask her board members to send out the job opening to whomever they thought might be interested. Sad to say, and I know this reflects poorly on me, but I took a small amount of satisfaction in that even though it was a brief email, it wasn’t well-worded and sounded amateurish instead of professional. Although I realize she might truly be a kick-ass E.D., just one who doesn’t write terribly well.

I very politely thanked the woman who sent the email. I have absolutely zero interest in applying.

4. I was placed on a PIP, resigned, and then was asked to work beyond my two weeks notice (#4 at the link)

I wanted to provide a follow up to my email about being asked to work longer than two weeks after giving notice while being on a PIP.

After my boss made the request that I stay at my job longer than two weeks and work this conference, I had an unfortunate dental emergency. I ended up staying mostly because I needed my dental insurance and didn’t want to deal with paying out of pocket during the gap between my old and new insurance (FYI – root canals and crowns are expensive).

Anyway, I ended up working the conference, which gave me a lot of one on one time with my clients and I absolutely killed it. I did a great job and they loved me. After the conference, they called my boss to tell me how much they love me and appreciate my work and she had to tell them that I quit. I feel like this is the happiest ending possible for me. I didn’t really want to work, but I was able to get my tooth fixed and I left my job on a very high note. Even though my boss probably doesn’t care about my departure it was a little bit of an FU to have my clients tell her how upset they were that I was leaving.

how to ask your interviewer for a flexible schedule

A reader writes:

I’m in the process of looking for a new job and I’ve run into a bit of an issue. My young son is disabled and requires a lot of doctor and therapy appointments. My husband and I split this up as much as possible and always try to keep our time scheduled in the most effective way, but it is not unusual to have to leave work for 2-3 appointments a month. It is very important that I work for an employer with flexible time-off and/or flexible scheduling.

I don’t want to set myself up for failure or find myself in a situation where, while everything looked great on paper, my coworkers or boss are annoyed by my situation. What is the best way to deal with this? Is it appropriate to bring up my family situation in the later stages of the interview process? Is there a way to find out about this aspect of the company culture without scaring potential bosses away thinking I’m going to be chronically absent?

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

open thread – July 22-23, 2016

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 :)

I don’t want employers to see my high school fanfic, coworker spends his day on magic and politics, and more

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

1. I don’t want employers to see fanfic that I wrote in high school!

I have a completely unique name, so a Google search for me will produce only results relevant to me. I’m old enough that most of these are innocuous, but I have one ridiculously bad result that’s haunted me for over a decade — a fanfiction story I wrote in high school (circa 1999) under my real, full name, before I knew to use a pseudonym. It’s archived at a defunct Angelfire site and the owner never responded to my attempts, 13-14 years ago, to get it taken down. A more recent DMCA request to the host had no result either, and Google won’t let me remove the result since I don’t own the site myself.

It’s fanfiction for a show that went off the air more than a decade ago, so though there’s no date on the page, I have to assume anyone who runs across it can figure out it’s very old…except I work in the conservative legal field and it’s hard to trust that anyone in HR would see it that way (or believe their clients would either). I’m fortunate that it isn’t explicit erotica, but it’s a romance story with mentions of sex, and it’s definitely not the kind of thing I’d want a potential employer seeing even knowing I was a teenager when it was written.

As far as I can tell, my only solution is to get a Twitter with my real name or unlock my Google+ account, and try to flood the search results with more relevant/recent results that are actually professional. I’ve been able to find employment in the last 17 years, obviously, but I always wonder about applications I’ve sent which might have been affected by this search result. Is this truly something that would have been (and still could be) an immediate deal-breaker to an employer?

It’s from nearly 20 years ago! Even if it’s not dated, the fact that it’s on an Angelfire site is going to make it clear that it’s really old. And it’s highly, highly unlikely than anyone is going to read enough of it to even learn that it’s a romance story with mention of sex (no offense to your story, which could be a masterpiece; it’s just not what we’re looking to spend time on when googling a candidate). I think it’s probably a non-issue.

That said, which page of search results does it appear on? If it’s on the first page, I’d do a little bit of search engine management by creating enough other search results that it gets pushed onto the second or third page. (Twitter is one way to do that, but not the only way! Anything that gets attached to your name will probably push this down in the rankings.) If you do that, I think you can permanently not worry about this.

2. My coworker spends his day on magic and politics

I work in a small company with roughly 20 workers at our main office. There’s a gentlemen (and I use that term loosely) who has taken more than his fair share of liberties. He spends the majority of his days watching political satire videos, watching Rush Limbaugh, or watching videos on magic, his new hobby. He leaves copies of various magic and political documents on the office printers, which get mixed up in our printed documents. Three of us have to pick up his work in addition to our already busy schedules. In addition, we’ve document multiple abrasive emails where he offends and degrades our team. We’re all past the point of offended and angry and have brought this complaint to management numerous times. The gentlemen happens to be in his 70’s and we’ve been told he’s in a “protected class,” even though the president of the company can demonstrate insubordination from our coworker on numerous occasions and says he can’t do anything due to his advanced age.

Is this so? Other than leaving the company, what can we do? My colleagues and I work very well together, but the distraction and the extra work are at the point of walking out the door.

No, it’s not true. It’s true that it’s illegal to discriminate against people for being 40 or older, but that means that an employer can’t make adverse employment decisions (like firing him) because of someone’s age … but they can fire him because of performance, attitude, laziness, or any of the other issues in play here. Discrimination laws don’t say “you can’t fire people protected by these laws”; they just say that someone’s age/race/sex/religion/disability/etc. can’t be the reason for firing them.

So they could absolutely deal with this guy if they wanted to. They’re just choosing not to.

As for what you can do about it, your options are limited. At a minimum, you and your coworker should probably could agree as a group that you’re going to stop covering his work and let him deal with the consequences. You could also talk to your coworker directly and repeatedly and tell him to start pulling his weight and stop leaving magical documents on the printer. If you wanted to, you and your coworkers could complain enough that it becomes more of a pain for the company to continue not dealing with it. But really, you’re working for a company that doesn’t care that this guy is spending his day on magic and politics (what a combination!) and leaving you to pick up the slack.

3. New manager wants us to revisit decisions made by our old manager

Our team has a new manager, John. The old manager, Jane, left voluntarily for legitimate reasons. I’ve been doing things according to decisions made by Jane, even if I didn’t agree, because that was the management instruction, e.g. we have to fill the requisition form in before we write the check. But when questioned about some of this by John, he says things like “Jane doesn’t work here any more, so we don’t have to do that” and seems annoyed / frustrated by me constantly bringing up Jane as the reason for doing things a certain way and seems to perceive me as a bit of a “stick in the mud.”

My response to John is that if someone leaves, I don’t automatically revisit/question all their decisions as an agenda item. Surely those decisions were made as part of the management structure of the company as a whole, rather than by Jane in a personal capacity?!

Who is right in this situation, and how can I be less of a “stick in the mud” without coming off as having no initiative / lack of learning by asking John about every little thing?

If you’re saying this stuff in response to John specifically asking you about why you do something a certain way (as opposed to bringing it up on your own), it’s a pretty reasonable thing to say — “this is how we’ve been asked to do it.” That said, it sounds like it would help to modify it a bit and instead say something like, “This is how we were previously asked to do it, but I’d be glad to do it differently if you’d like.” That way you’re conveying that you’re not stuck in the previous ways of doing things and are happy to make changes (which might be the part he’s not hearing from you so far).

But it also sounds like John is saying that he doesn’t want you to continue doing things the old way just because Jane asked you to — he wants you to think about it for yourself and propose an alternative if you think there are better methods. Since you mentioned that you disagreed with some of Jane’s decisions, why not go to John with proposals for better ways of doing those things? You could say something like, “I know you’ve been interested in improving some of our processes, so I wanted to suggest a couple of additional changes that I think would make us more effective — specifically, X and Y.” If John has been worried that you’re wed to old processes or not questioning whether they’re the best way to do things, that would help counteract that impression pretty well.

4. My store wants me to be pushier about getting people to sign up for a credit card

Recently, the chain retail store I work in has decided to start pushing the store branded credit card more heavily, “encouraging” everyone working the registers by running nationwide contests and featuring big sellers in newsletters. Because of my own problems I’ve had with branded credit cards, I don’t feel comfortable asking anyone up sign up for one until they speak with some sort of financial advisor.

But during my last shift it was hinted at that if I don’t try harder to get more credit card applications, I might be let go. I was told by one of my managers that the most successful people in my store just don’t take no for an answer and continue to push people even after being told no multiple times. My anxiety is being pulled in all directions. I can’t lose my job, but I don’t want to feel responsible for someone having credit trouble because of me. Any advice on what to do in this situation?

Ugh, yes, these policies aren’t at all uncommon, despite being obnoxious and annoying a huge number of customers. (I’m guessing that companies who make their salespeople be so pushy must have data showing that it pays off for them, but it’s certainly coming at the expense of a lot of irritated shoppers.)

Anyway, it sounds like you might have a fundamental ethical difference with your employer about his, and you might need to decide if you feel strongly about it that you’re willing to risk your job over it. Before it comes to that, though, talk to your manager and find out what the requirements really are. If it’s truly a requirement of the job, that’s info that you want to have as you decide what you are and aren’t willing to do.

5. Do I need an objective and “references available upon request” on my resume?

I was recently let go from my job of 24 years due to a buy-out. I don’t know if I should mention that in my resume “Objective.” I am no wordsmith and would like help with what to write for my objective. Also, when it comes to references, do I add, to the bottom of my resume “references upon request”?

So, resume conventions have changed significantly in 24 years! You shouldn’t put either of those things on your resume now. Objectives, thank god, have gone the way of the eight-track, and are no longer used. You occasionally still see one, but they really date a resume. (Here’s why.)

And you definitely don’t need to put “references available upon request” on your resume, because it goes without saying that your references are available upon request; it would be really odd if they weren’t. (More here.)

Here’s a walk-through of how to structure a modern resume.

my coworker won’t stop complaining about our health insurance and I feel horribly guilty

A reader writes:

We hired an external contractor to join our team two years ago. Before we interviewed him, he sent me an email asking to confirm that insurance was available because his family’s insurance was through him. Knowing it was available, I said yes it’s available. (I didn’t do any research, I just knew it was available). His wife works in high-end retail with no benefits available and therefore their only access to insurance is his job. My manager also ensured that the contracting company sent him the insurance options, prices, and coverage amounts with his offer, so he should have been aware of what he was signing.

Fast forward a few months after he began working, he learns that the insurance is basically nothing after his wife’s first doctor’s appointment. Despite having the information all along, he exasperatedly admitted one day that he hadn’t even read it! Since he’s an external contractor, it’s not subsidized by the “employer” — it’s 100% paid for by him. Besides that, the coverage is very minimal and he ends up paying for almost everything 70-90% out of pocket. There’s another higher option available, but he says he cannot afford it (despite the fact that I know he’s paid very fairly for what he does and makes good money; he’s probably not swimming in it but he should be comfortable, especially since his wife also works).

Every time he is sick, he complains that he can’t go to the doctor. Every time he has a doctor’s appointment, he complains how expensive it is. He forestalls needed appointments because of the cost, and when any of our teammates DO go to the dentist/doctor, he complains that he wishes he could too. And I hear ALL of this — we are friends at work and sit right next to each other (before you suggest it, no there’s no where else to move, and yes, I do try to work from home sometimes to get space but I can’t do it all the time). He and his wife would like to try to have children soon, but he looked into it with the insurance and he’d be paying for most of the pregnancy and childbirth costs out of pocket.

Over the course of the almost-two-years this has been going on, I’ve tried to gently encourage him to look elsewhere if this isn’t the best option for his family. He is highly employable (he was employed when we interviewed with us, but talks frequently about how much he hated that company) and has some skills that companies would kill to have, and while I don’t want to lose his skills on our team, I really don’t think this is the right place for him.

We are friends at work but this is starting to really wear on me mentally. Not only do I feel incredibly guilty, but he has the ability to look elsewhere and simply just doesn’t (I’d know if he did, I promise, we talk about it A LOT — he’ll show me jobs and ask if he should apply and I’ll say yes, and then he’ll think about it until the application deadline has passed). I am a do-er, not a talker, so I don’t understand sitting there and having a pity party for yourself every day. But besides that, every time he brings it up, it makes ME feel guilty all over again. I really didn’t intend to mislead him, and if I’d known it was this bad, I am certain I would have given the caveat that it’s available but not a very comprehensive plan (though of course, there IS a comprehensive plan available).

Oh, and because I’m sure commenters will suggest it — he’s said that he cannot afford the healthcare marketplace plans available in our state. Other coworkers and I have also suggested other affordable private insurance options. He’ll say “good idea” and then when we follow up will say “I haven’t had a chance to look yet.” This also frustrates me because he drives a brand new car and has told me his monthly lease is like $700, and he always is buying his wife expensive presents, but when she had a medical procedure that cost $1500, he complained that he couldn’t afford it. I know he doesn’t have any student loan debt, nor does his wife. Basically I know way more about his situation than I ever should, because he’s an over-sharer. Essentially, he SHOULD be able to afford the higher insurance, he just chooses to prioritize other things in his life.

How I can tactfully handle this situation? I’d like to ask him to stop telling me every detail about how much appointments cost because I seriously go home and cry over my guilt about his situation (he argues with doctors’ offices and insurance right beside me on the phone), but even then I feel guilty doing so because I feel like it’s all my fault. My manager knows how guilty I feel and tells me that I have misplaced guilt here, because he ensured that the coverage of the benefits package was sent to this guy before he accepted the offer — he knew what he was getting into. I’ve tried before to gently say to him that it’s hard for me to hear about it because I feel so guilty, and he stopped for about a month, but the next time something came up he told everyone on our team all about it again.

I realize my guilt is most likely misplaced as my manager says, but no matter what you or your readers suggest, the guilt I feel isn’t going to change; what I’d like to change is how frequently it’s shoved in my face, and I just don’t know how to get that to stop.

Well, yeah, this is not your fault. I won’t dwell on that too much since you asked me not to, but it’s reasonable to expect that adults will read the benefits information they’re given before accepting an offer. This is true for anyone, but especially for external contractors since it’s not typical for them to be able to use your insurance at all (at least in my experience) and so you’d think he’d be especially interested in what he was getting.

Look at it this way: The only possible reason you could have to feel guilty is if he would have turned down this job if you had made the insurance situation even clearer to him. If he believed he might turn it down based on the details of the insurance, then it was hugely imperative that he read the details of the insurance, and it was irresponsible and reckless that he didn’t. If he wouldn’t have turned the job down if he’d fully understood the details, then the whole question is irrelevant and he’s just complaining because that’s what he would have done no matter what.

That last possibility seems likely, because the amount of complaining he’s doing is way beyond what most people would do in this situation, even if they did feel screwed over. He’s complaining at a fairly extreme and intense level. Rather than interpreting that as evidence of how much you let him down, I’d interpret it as evidence that he’s someone prone to extreme complaining. (I don’t mean to sound callous or insensitive. I’m sure his situation does suck, and I fully support him leaving over it if it’s not workable for him. I just don’t think it’s cool for him to unload it on you all the time.)

Anyway. As for how to get him to stop, this is probably well within your control as long as you’re willing to ask him to. Say this: “Fergus, can I ask you to stop complaining to me about insurance costs? It’s really distracting and it’s hard to hear a constant flow of complaints like this. And since I’m the one who originally gave you the insurance information, it makes me feel really bad. I’d really appreciate it if you’d stop.”

You said that he stopped for a month the last time you asked him to, so it’s likely that he’ll stop again. And if he starts back up at some point, be direct: “Hey, I really need to ask you not to complain to me about this, for all the reasons we’ve discussed before.”

If you wanted to, you could also have this conversation with him: “It doesn’t seem like the benefits package here is the right one for you. If you think that’s true, I think you need to actively look for another job. Meanwhile, though, I think you really need to keep your frustration about it out of the office, because it’s impacting people around you.”

Hell, while we’re talking about conversations to have with him, you could also have this one: “I feel like I know way too many details about your finances and your marriage.”

But it sounds like the cost of making him stop talking to you about insurance and medical costs might just be reminding him once a month. That’s not a bad price; I’d go that route and let yourself have peace the other 29-30 days each month.

pressure to answer email after-hours causes problems … even when there’s not much email to answer

Over at QuickBase’s Fast Track blog today, I take a look at several interesting work-related stories in the news right now, including how to figure out the right amount of pressure to put on your staff, why pressure to answer emails after-hours leads to stress and detachment (even when there’s not actually much email to answer), and more. You can read it here.

ask the readers: bad behavior from job candidates

We hear about plenty of bad behavior from job seekers here — from the candidate who sent a cake and a framed photo of himself to the hiring manager (?!), to the person who was intentionally late to interviews as a “strategy,” to the guy who advertised his job-hunting spouse on a billboard, and so many more.

Now it’s time to expand our list. What’s the worst or weirdest behavior you’ve ever seen from a job candidate?  (There’s a whole category in the archives for bad behavior from interviewers, so this is not one-sided.)

Share in the comments, and leave no detail out.