work questions from Friends, Gilmore Girls, Jane Austen, and more

After I answered a question last year about how one of Twilight vampires could keep his true nature hidden at work, I received a bunch of other questions from literature and TV. Here are four of them.

1. Fired for accepting a kickback (Friends)

In a Season 2 episode of Friends, Monica is promoted to buyer for her restaurant. It’s the first time she’s held the position. She makes a deal with an account, and they personally give her five steaks and an eggplant as a thanks. Being so new to the position, Monica accepts them, not realizing that it’s considered a kickback.

When her boss informs her that it is, Monica apologizes, explaining she didn’t understand, and offers to pay for them. Her boss informs her that they have a corporate policy she didn’t know about, and is immediately fired.

I’ve always thought that it was unfair, and at most she should have been written up or suspended. What do you think should have happened?

I agree — it’s overly harsh. They should have explained the policy, reiterated its seriousness, and warned her that it couldn’t happen again. Firing an otherwise conscientious employee who simply didn’t know about the policy (and who is inexperienced enough that it’s really feasible that she genuinely didn’t know this would be a problem) is overkill.

2. Who would be the best management hire? (Jane Austen)

I was thinking about a literary-themed question last night, which I wondered if you would enjoy: If you had to, which Jane Austen man would you hire for a middle-management position? I think Mr. Darcy would be too rude, Bingley would be a pushover, Wickham and Henry Crawford would cause drama, Mr. Knightley would be very preachy, Edmund is an absolute drip, and so on. I settled for Colonel Brandon because he is patient, thoughtful, and experienced.

I also think on the whole Jane Austen’s women would be a lot easier to work with. I would LOVE to have Emma as a colleague.

P.S. To tell the truth, when I say “I was thinking about a literary-themed question last night,” I was actually wondering who I would pick romance-wise, not work-wise. I am essentially Kitty Bennet.

I love your choice of Colonel Brandon. I think Frederick Wentworth would also be good — assertive but not pushy, driven, and straightforward, with a good work ethic. I’m not convinced Mr. Knightley would be so bad, but then I have a soft spot for him and his bossy ways.

3. Getting severance when you quit to start your own business (tropes)

The recent post on literature got me thinking about a fictional scenario you sometimes see on series finales of TV shows or the endings of movies (fake names used to prevent spoilers). Our beloved protagonist Vivi is leaving to chase his dream/start his own business, after a long stint at Lindblum Corporation. He walks into his boss Garnet’s room to announce his resignation and the scene begins:

Vivi: Miss Garnet, I’m quitting to start my own firm.
Garnet: Don’t quit, let me fire you instead.
Vivi: Huh?
Garnet: If I fire you, then Lindblum Corp will pay you severance! (winks)

So Vivi end up with a big check to chase his dream because he was “fired” and the viewing audience loves Garnet for supporting her friend/employee.

My question: How would this sort of scenario play out in real life? Any legal ramifications? Would Vivi have any long-term issues to worry about?

Unless Garnet is the owner of the company, he’s doing something that his employer presumably wouldn’t be thrilled about if they found out — he’s being generous with money that isn’t his.

Vivi probably won’t have anything to worry about, although it would be better for him if Garnet agreed to call it a layoff rather than a firing. But they’re both doing something fairly unethical, particularly Garnet.

4. Gumptioning your way into a job (Gilmore Girls)

I was recently re-watching Gilmore Girls and an episode stood out to me as relevant to job advice. For background, in case you’re not familiar with the show: the main character, Rory Gilmore, got an internship at a small-ish newspaper, the Stamford Eagle Gazette, thanks to her boyfriend’s father, whose company bought the paper. She worked there for the summer but ended up not going back to school afterwards (due to said boyfriend’s father crushing her dreams, but that’s not really relevant here).

In the episode in question (“The Prodigal Daughter Returns”) she decides to go back to Yale and she wants to get a job as well. She calls the editor of the paper to ask him to be a reference, and he tells her he’s happy to give her a great reference because she performed so well. He wishes he could hire her, but they don’t have any openings available. However, Rory proceeds to go to the paper’s office and speaks to the editor, giving him her resume and two encyclopedia-size binders of her work samples, and asks for a job (she says that he sounded so enthusiastic about her on the phone that she felt like he would want to hire her, and contends she will be very cheap to hire). He insists he has no openings, but she says she can figure that out if they talk for a few minutes. He says no again, so she says she’ll wait. She continues to show up in the office for multiple days, inserting herself into conversations to give ideas (good ones, but still) and even going into the editor’s office to put her resume on his desk so that he’ll read it. This last step apparently convinces the editor that she has good work, so he agrees to meet with her and this leads to her getting hired (for very low pay).

As a regular reader of your blog, this scenario appalled me. I’m curious what advice you would give to A) a manager who has a persistent applicant or B) an applicant who wants to be re-hired at a former employer who likes you, but doesn’t have any open positions.


Yeah, bad moves all around, from the encyclopedia-size binders to the repeated refusals to take no for an answer to showing up at his office for multiple days. In real life, that last move is likely to get you banned from the premises and to cancel out your previously good reference. It’s rarely likely to get you hired.

If you want to be re-hired at a former employer who likes you but doesn’t have any open position, your options are to (a) accept that or (b) in some cases, propose a position that you think they could be open to, if that makes sense — but then take no for an answer if they say no to that too.

Generally speaking, people who refuse to take no for an answer and think they can gumption their way into a yes are bad news — at work, in romance, and in life in general.

open thread – March 24-25, 2017

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 want to stop cleaning our office, my interview was unfairly cancelled, and more

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

1. I started cleaning our office as a side job, but now I want to stop

I’ve worked at my company for over 10 years as an administrative assistant. It’s a small, informal, family-run firm. About eight years ago, the cleaning person was let go. I was offered the opportunity to earn extra money for cleaning the office on weekends. At the time, because of the recession, our office of 25 people was downsized to about 8 full-time and 3 part-time staff. Everyone was doing a side hustle to supplement their incomes back then. Having fewer people made cleaning the office somewhat easy.

As the economy picked up, though, the staff size slowly increased to almost the original size, which as made cleaning more time consuming. Also, an unintended side effect of being part of the cleaning crew (my family and I often cleaned together to make it go faster) is that I’ve come to be seen as the de facto office maid by management during regular work hours. Taking out the trash, running the vacuum, and wiping down tables are regular things for me to do during the week, even though the cleaning job is on the weekends outside of working hours.

Long story short, my husband recently took a job with a significant pay increase. He’ll be working longer hours and will travel around the city and suburbs. He’s said that we’ll have to step away from the cleaning as it no longer fits our family schedule. I’m totally fine with that as it means we get our weekends back without trying to fit cleaning into the short time period. My question is how do I professionally resign from the side job without causing problems in my regular admin job which I was hired to do? Also, I never wanted to be seen as the office maid all week long. How can I politely get that point across in a respectful and professional manner?

Ooof. This has the potential to be tricky if it’s sort of melded into your regular job. Hopefully your boss still sees as you the admin who happened to pick up cleaning side work on the weekend … as opposed to the admin whose job expanded to include cleaning.

But since it sounds like it was supposed to be the former, talk with whoever manages the cleaning (or your boss, if there’s no other obvious person), and say something like this: “As you probably recall, I took on the cleaning gig for some extra money on top of my normal job back during the recession when the staff was smaller and we got rid of the cleaning person. I want to let you know I’m no longer going to be able to do it and so am officially stepping down from that side job. I can do it for two more weekends if you’d like me to, but after that will need to stop, so we should go back to hiring a cleaning service if no one else wants to take it on.”

The more informal cleaning during regular work hours might be trickier, but you could use this as an opening to raise that with your boss too, by saying something like: “I wanted to mention that since I’ve started doing the cleaning as a side job, I’ve noticed people have asked me to do cleaning tasks during the week that they never asked me to do before — things like vacuuming and wiping down counters. I’m hoping you’ll support me in trying to create new boundaries around that stuff now that I’m officially taking myself out of the cleaning job.”

A complicating factor here is that in some offices, admins are asked to do tasks like that. But if you weren’t asked to do it before picking up the side gig, hopefully you’ll be able to argue for going back to that earlier model.

2. My interview got cancelled because another team in the same company is interested in me

I recently applied for two jobs I found on an online job board. They were pretty similar positions with teams at a real estate company. Both jobs were with the same company, but at different office locations, and neither job post gave the name of the team. I have a lot of experience in a pretty specific real estate role, and I got interviews with both teams right away. My interview with team #1 went really well, and they scheduled a follow up interview. This morning, I got an email from team #2, canceling my first interview with them. They said they knew I met with team #1, team #1 is really great, and they’d be in touch to interview me if it didn’t work out with team #1.

After doing some Facebook research, I found that the leaders of team #1 and #2 are friends, and actually work out of the same location (even though the locations online were different — in 2 different states, in fact!) Based on this and the email from team #2, I can only assume that team #1 asked team #2 to back off because they’d like to hire me. It’s also possible team #2 felt awkward enough about the situation to cancel my interview.

I’m frustrated because I was looking forward to meeting with both teams and having some options. I actually think that team #2 is a better fit for me, based on my phone interview. I feel like I should have been allowed to make the decision of which team is the best fit for myself, but now I’m limited. Did I do something wrong by pursuing interviews with both teams? Is this scenario in itself a red flag?

I’m not sure what to do, because I don’t want to feel pigeon-holed into a job with team #1, but I also don’t want to burn any bridges. The real estate community is a small one, and I want to protect my reputation. What should I do?

You didn’t do anything wrong; this is a thing that can happen when you apply for two jobs in the same organization. It’s also not a red flag; it’s perfectly legitimate for them to decide to let one department pursue you and have the other back off.

It sounds like you’re thinking it might be some abuse of the friendship between the two managers, but that’s really not necessarily the case; this kind of thing happens all the time for totally legit reasons. For example, you’re an excellent fit for #1 and only a so-so fit for #2, so they decide it makes sense to put you on a track for #1. Or #2 is flooded with great candidates, while #1 has fewer. Or, #1’s manager tells #2’s manager that she’s really hoping to hire you and so #2 backs off, not out of friendship but out of professional courtesy.

There isn’t really much you can do about it, because it’s their call. At most, you could say something to #2 like, “As interested as I am in team #1, I’m really intrigued by the position with you as well, so I’d still love to talk if you think it might be the right fit.” But you should assume that that will get back to #1 as well, so you’d want to proceed with some caution there.

3. Listing staff members’ degrees on our staff listing

I’m in charge of updating a staff list on our organization’s website and have a question about the degrees listed after staff members’ names. We work in research so most (but not all) of our staff have at least some sort of advanced degree, if not several. The site currently lists staff and their degrees at the master’s and above level. Should I also list undergraduate credentials (B.A., B.S.) for the handful of staff who don’t have advanced degrees? One staff member asked about getting her B.A. added after her name. I’m not opposed to listing it, but I’d always thought the convention was master’s and up. If I do add undergrad degrees, would I need to add them to all staff names? That would create a long listing for some who already have several advanced degrees.

I did some web searching on the topic but I couldn’t find anything definitive. In fact, one site I found said on resumes you should only put credentials after your name at the top if you had a doctorate-level degree. I was surprised by that. What do you think?

In the vast majority of fields, it’s weird to list your degree after your name. There are some fields where it’s done as a matter of custom, but rarely with bachelor’s degrees.

Assuming that the custom in your field is to list advanced degrees but not bachelor’s degrees (which is what it sounds like based on how your website has done it so far), it would be reasonable to explain to your coworker that your organization’s practice is to only list advanced degrees. (But it also sounds like it would be worth verifying that with someone higher-up first, to make sure that you’re not giving her inaccurate information.)

4. I don’t want to use a camera for teleconferences

My company recently adopted an enterprise-wide technology for teleconferences that also allows for video. Our new boss is insisting that each of us get a camera to take part in departmental meetings. While I have no issue using a camera per se or with my coworkers seeing me on the screen, I do have an issue with seeing myself on the screen. My features are very uneven and the flattened look of video tends to exaggerate it. In real life or on conference calls, I’m usually very confident, but I find it distracting and unsettling when I have to see myself on screen while I’m talking, as the image on the screen is very unflattering. (I don’t even do FaceTime in my personal life because of this.)

I understand why my boss wants this, but I’m concerned that this will be too distracting and will affect my performance and presentation during these calls. I don’t want to appear not to be team player, or overly insecure/vain, but I’d really do not want to use video cameras. I have had a conversation with my boss about this when he first offered to send a camera and told him that I’m just not comfortable with it. I offered instead to upload a head shot, so people don’t feel like they’re talking to a faceless image. Now, I’m being requested to comply. Can my boss do this? And if so, are there settings I can use that would allow me to see my coworkers, but block me from seeing my own camera?

Yes, he can do that. (See this discussion of a similar issue.)

You’ve told him you’re uncomfortable and offered an alternative, he’s shot it down, and he’s directly telling you to comply. Unless you have a phobia-level problem with doing it like the person in the letter I just linked to, it sounds like you need to do it.

But if the problem is really just seeing yourself on screen while you talk, there are ways around that! The software itself may have an option to close or minimize the window with your image in it. If it doesn’t, you could even just put a sticky note over that part of the screen to block yourself from seeing it.

5. Complaining about HR

If you have complaints against HR themselves, who can you contact to submit a complaint? Is there a national body that governs the actions of HR?

No, there isn’t. If you have complaints about HR that you want to escalate, you’d do it in the same way you would with a complaint about any other department: by talking to the head of HR, and if that person is the problem, by talking to that person’s boss.

is it time for me to ask for a promotion?

A reader writes:

I’ve been in my job for 1.5 years. Most people in my department get promoted around 2-2.5 years. Because of the timing of reviews/promotions, if I was to get promoted this year, it would happen right before my 2-year mark. Speaking with other people at my level in my department (on different teams), they all seem to think it’s perfectly reasonable for me to get promoted this review cycle. Someone even said it would be BS if I wasn’t.

So how do I know if it’s time to ask?

For my first nine months, my team was just my boss and me. We were struggling just to get projects out and my boss was constantly telling me she wanted me to take on more work but the training kept getting pushed back because we were always putting out fires. We added 2 additional folks and I’ve been taking on much more work that’s allowed me to get a lot closer to where my boss wanted me to be. I would say right now I’m where she was wanting me to be 6 months ago. I’m happy with this progress and want to keep heading in this direction.

I don’t feel as if I’m at the point where I’m clearly doing a more senior job. I also get paid overtime so I’m being compensated for my extra hours. For people on other teams, a promotion is taking on a very clear set of new tasks and my job would probably just entail me taking on more of my bosses work.

I also know I have a bit of impostor syndrome so sometimes my thoughts can be off from reality. My boss really wants to help me advance, whether here or else where but I don’t want to go in asking for a promotion and having my boss think I’m way too premature in asking. We have check-ins and she is always pleased with my work but the word “promotion” has never been brought up.

I want to be realistic but also confident. How do I approach this?

In most organizations, two years would be way too early to feel that it’s BS if you didn’t get a promotion.

And in your office, you know that the norm is more like two or two and a half years, so it not happening just before the two-year mark definitely isn’t BS.

And you think you’re six months behind where your boss was hoping you’d be now.

All of this says that you should ignore the coworkers who are telling you that you should be promoted soon.

If you’re unsure, you could ask them to expand more specifically on why they think that. But based on what you’ve said here, it makes sense to give it more time.

It’s also helpful to realize that, at least in most organizations, promotions aren’t something that should be so closely tied to the amount of time that’s gone by. They’re about moving you into a role with work that’s higher-level than your current role, and that usually happens after you’ve had a sustained period of performing at a higher level than what’s typical for your current position. There are some employers that do it differently (for example, promoting on fairly rigid timelines), but in general it’s not sound to expect that a certain number of months of employment translates into a promotion.

update: my coworker has punched and kicked me under the table at meetings

Remember the letter writer a couple of weeks ago whose coworker was punching and kicking her under the table at meetings — hard? Here’s the update.

I ended up getting the nerve to talk to my boss about it. Honestly, I’ve never seen someone’s eyes bug out of their head so much. He was definitely shocked that this was happening, and he was able to convince me to not only go to HR, but to confront “Jane” head-on.

I filed an incident report with HR and it’s gone on her file. Apparently due to her not-so-great performance reviews, plus this, she’s in some hot water.

After I took it to HR, Jane kept persisting and asking if I was okay and showing up in my office with chocolate and coffee to (I assume) try and distract me from her wrongdoings. I refused her peace making attempts and confronted her. She said she “didn’t realize she had kicked me that hard,” made other excuses, and essentially refused to apologize. I have since distanced myself from her and am only working directly with her when absolutely neccesary.

Thankfully have a good bit of work travel coming up, so I won’t be having to deal with her and that is a huge relief!

Work has been abuse free since filing the complaint! Here’s hoping it stays that way!

the things you don’t know about work when you’re early in your career

Last week, I asked what misconceptions you had when you were new to the work world, and what misconceptions you’ve seen from junior people around you. There were loads of insightful comments, and here are 15 of my favorites.

1. “When I was new to the working world, I thought that my boss knew everything about my work situation, and that if something was wrong or making me unhappy my boss would notice and fix it. If something didn’t get fixed, I assumed that the boss knew and had decided not to do anything about it. I know now that I’m the only person who’s fully immersed in my own day-to-day work, and I have to speak up when I want my boss to fix something (although it’s still difficult to do in practice).”

2. “I would say the biggest misconception I had is about how much people care about ‘who is to blame.’ In some situations, where something dramatically goes wrong, leadership might take root-cause analysis very seriously and pinpointing who did what wrong and when might matter.

In most everyday situations managers/leaders are far more interested in how you plan to fix the issue vs. who was responsible for causing it. That may mean that, yes, you will sometimes get poked in the eye for failures that are completely outside of your control. But that’s better than the black eye you will get from trying to explain (in detail) how the issue actually originated with someone else.”

3. “My biggest misconception about the workplace was that the people in charge will have everything together and really know what they’re doing. The more I work, the more I realize that just because you’ve got a fancy title, doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about.”

4. “A complete lack of processes around you is very likely to hurt you. To explain: it’s good and useful to be able to be spontaneous and figure things out on the fly if there is an emergency. If that is how the day-to-day operations are run, you have a problem, because you won’t have enough space for personal growth – you’re likely to constantly be dropping long term projects at the last minute to fix the immediate stuff. i used to feel very important, until I realized I was stuck because I could never focus on anything long term.”

5. “I’ve spent 8+ years working with entry level customer service reps and innovation was a big focus for me with a number of the teams I’ve worked with. There were two misconceptions I saw A LOT of from newer employees (and honestly, even some who’d been around for a while):

* If a process or tool doesn’t work the way an employee thinks it should, it must be broken and in need of fixing. In a lot of situations where this came up, the employee didn’t have (and didn’t seek out) any background on why we did things the way we did, and just assumed management must be idiots. In reality, there were nearly always valid (and sometimes legal / regulatory) reasons why things worked the way they did. I was always happy to help investigate the why, but I saw a lot of generally good ideas go nowhere because the employee did no research and pitched the idea as if we were all silly for not having thought of it.

* If I see something I perceive to be a problem and report it, my work is done and someone else will fix it. This was especially egregious when the ‘problem’ was nebulously defined and limited to one or two people with no supporting data, but would require a lot of time / effort / money to ‘fix.’

It can be incredibly helpful to have newer eyes help you spot the opportunities in your processes and tools, and come up with innovative solutions the people entrenched in the processes and tools might not think of. But it’s important for employees to do their research, understand the background, and have a workable solution, which is something not everyone knows how to do when they’re new. Being innovative is more than just ‘having brilliant ideas,’ it’s doing the work to make them feasible, too.”

6. “I recently gave my notice, and I’m coming to realize that something that seems SO HUGE to me (quitting my first professional job) is just normal ‘doing business’ to everybody else. It’s a little more complicated than that, but I really expected my resignation to be much more drama filled than it actually was.”

7. “I think my biggest misconception was that I’d get regular feedback and plenty of it, and that I’d know where I stood at all times. As a corollary, I assumed that if anyone had a problem with my work, they would tell me and I would have the ability and opportunity to correct it. So if no one was actually complaining about me, I figured, ‘Hey, I’m doing great! If I wasn’t, someone would have told me.’

I think this was probably a carryover from both the school environment (where you get report cards telling you how you’re doing and you get your papers back with lots of comments on them) and my earliest jobs (where I was a teenager and worked for small local businesses, and where my supervisors weren’t hesitant to both praise and correct me as needed, and where most of my tasks could be pretty accurately described as pass/fail). Also, in both of those settings, corrections were confined to the work product itself and not to areas like attitude, affect, or how others perceived me.”

8. “My biggest misconception (and one I still struggle with sometimes even though I’ve identified it) is that you really don’t have to be ‘yourself’ at work. Many times, being professional means doing something or acting in a way that I would have that I would have thought of as fake or disingenuous when I was in school. Figuring out that what’s really important is being professional (like being polite and maintaining a pleasant working relationship with a coworker that you absolutely, positively can’t freaking stand and want to strangle on a daily basis) was a crazy wake up call.

My internal mantra is ‘These people are not your friends, they are just your coworkers. It’s not being fake, it’s called being professional. You DO NOT have to like them. You just have to act like you don’t want to murder them.'”

9. “I wish I’d known that it was okay to ask questions and that no one cared how smart I appeared to be — they cared that I could do my dang job and think on my feet. This one is a HUGE holdover from grad school in the humanities, where if you have to ask, you’re too dumb to be there. I am now really embarrassed of how much time I wasted faffing about trying to quietly figure things out instead of letting on that I didn’t know something that was (in hindsight) completely reasonable not to know.

I still struggle with this daily and am always impressed when a smart, competent coworker asks for clarification or says ‘wait, I don’t understand X.’ I always have this moment of shock, like, ‘oh, right! you can DO that!'”

10. “Beware ‘venting’ with your coworkers. It feels like you’re blowing off steam and that it’s helping, but more often than not, you’re just stewing in your misery and it’s making you more miserable. It will change how you see things. A groupthink can start to take hold where nobody is willing to give management benefit of the doubt because the group’s default reaction to everything is mistrust and skepticism, and it starts to feel like you’d be violating a group norm or shunned by your coworkers if you expressed support or optimism about something. In complaining so much about the problems, you end up ensuring the problems don’t get resolved because negativity torpedoes all attempts at change.

Nobody perfectly avoids venting all the time, but try to keep the number of times you complain about something without proposing a solution to a minimum. If you look at your IM history with a coworker and it’s one gripe after another that neither of you have ever brought to management for resolution, you are only furthering your own unhappiness even if it feels cathartic in the moment.”

11. “One of the greatest pieces of advice I ran across on here was to figure out which *tasks* you like, and which you don’t. Rather than think in terms of believing that the work is important and noble. Jobs are made up of tasks, and if you love or hate detail work, or talking to people on the phone, or writing, then having a lot of it or almost none will be a big factor in how you feel at the end of the day.”

12. “I underestimated how important it is for my co-workers to announce whether they are feeling hot or cold at different points during the day. Rookie mistake.”

13. “For me, it took a long time to realize that my criticism of the boss was problematic and short sighted. I always secretly suspected I was sooooo much smarter than he or she, that I saw the obvious answers to all the tough problems, and that the boss’s laziness or stupidity is what kept them from acting. ‘If I were the boss, I could easily fix this by doing A, B or C…’ was always floating around in my head.

Now that I AM the boss? I recognize how many tough decisions there are every day where making everyone happy is utterly impossible … and how much planning and thoughtful work can backfire due to things like bad timing, losing an important staff member, shifts in federal and state budgets, the overall political climate or even just bad luck. What I also never considered: all problems I didn’t see, because my ‘awful’ boss addressed them before they even became problems. Many times the boss was doing solid work that I didn’t understand or see as valuable because I didn’t understand the implications – I only saw the small fraction of the work that did go wrong, and scoffed about their obvious incompetence. The sample size for my observations, as it were, was utterly skewed to only notice the mistakes. I have a lot more empathy and respect for my old bosses today than I did back then.”

14. “You’re going to have to take enough initiative to get the information and things you need. A lot of things won’t be spelled out for you – it’s on you to ask for clarification, find the information you need, etc. You might not get multiple reminders that something important is happening – you might just get a single notification and you need to pay attention to it and remind yourself.”

15. “One of my early career mistakes was that I let my job at the time (daycare) be a bigger part of my identity/life than it needed to be. One very stressful day I got into a little spat with a co-worker/close friend. I went outside, sat down, and started crying. Another co-worker saw me crying, sat down and put her arm around me, and told me, this is your job, not your life. She had come to this country from Belarus for a better life for her kids. She was making about minimum wage working an assistant teacher position here, when she was qualified to be a center director back home. She helped me put the situation in perspective. Of course, everything blew over and work/my friendship was back to normal in an hour. Now I approach work as a means to an end. Ideally, I enjoy it and find meaning in it. But at the end of the day, it’s just my job, not my life.”

boss texts constantly and blows up if I don’t respond immediately, boss refers to my girlfriend as my “roommate,” and more

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

1. My boss texts me constantly and blows up if I don’t respond immediately

My boss likes to text me. A lot. At all hours and even on the weekends. Which normally I would be find with, but she expects a fast response when she texts, justifying it by saying that when she texts, it is because our HQ needs the information quickly and therefore we have to respond. However, some of her messages come in at really odd hours (it is 10 p.m. now and I’ve just received another text from her). She has also made a lot of fuss about how I (and my colleagues) don’t respond to text messages that concern work ASAP and she does it in a very harsh manner with lots of caps in her text messages. And she yells at us, a lot.

I work in the education line. I hardly check my phone unless it is a break time because a second away from watching out for the children may mean someone could get hurt or in trouble. I’ve been really fed up over her insistence that we respond ASAP and today I responded with a message to kindly note that if I was at home, I would not have my phone on hand nor would I respond that quickly, to which I received a scathing message about how I kept on ignoring my messages and it has happened several times, and that she would take it into consideration during our appraisals. Her first text was at 7:46 a.m., and her blow up text was at 7:53 a.m. Uhm? A lot of texts aren’t exactly time-sensitive (e.g. updating information on an internal server system). How do I tell her to stop doing this?

It sounds like you’ve tried, and she’s ignoring you because she’s an unreasonable jerk. I mean, really, blowing up at you because you didn’t respond to an early-morning text within seven minutes? She’s delusional to think that’s reasonable or practical, and she’s power-mad.

You could try again, I suppose, but I don’t have a lot of faith in her ability to see reason. But if you want to try, you could say this: “I’ve noticed that you get upset if I don’t respond to texts right away on the weekends, in the evenings, and early in the morning. Realistically, I’m not going to always be able to respond immediately — I might be sleeping or in the shower or cooking dinner or at a movie, or any of the other things we all do outside of work hours. I will certainly respond once I see the message, but when it’s not work hours, very often that won’t be immediate. I don’t know how to respond when you’re frustrated by that. The alternative would be me never sleeping or having down time away from my phone. I want to make sure we’re on the same page about that going forward, so that you’re not expecting immediate responses when I’m not working.”

You might have more luck getting through if you gather a group of coworkers and say this to her as a group. You also might have more luck going over her head if she doesn’t budge.

But are you sure you want to stay in this job? She sounds deranged.

2. My boss refers to my girlfriend as my “roommate”

I’m a lesbian. Everyone at my job knows that I’m a lesbian. When my boss talks to me or anyone else about my girlfriend, she always calls her my roommate. She refuses to refer to my girlfriend as my girlfriend. What should I do or is there anything I can do? I feel like this is extremely disrespectful and offensive.

Yes, it is. Presumably she’s not calling people’s opposite-sex partners their “roommates,” and presumably she would not be thrilled to have her own partner referred to as her roommate.

You could try directly asking her to stop — as in, “I’ve noticed you refer to Jane as my roommate. She’s my girlfriend, so I’d appreciate you not calling her a roommate, which is a different type of relationship altogether. I’d prefer you call her my girlfriend or my partner.”

It might be useful to find out first if you live in a state that makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against LGBTQ employees (about half do; federal law does not). If you live in a state that does protect you, that might give you some peace of mind being assertive with your boss, who is being an ass.

3. How long should you have to wait to hear about a raise?

I had never asked for a raise before, as we generally get merit increases at the beginning of each year. However, the previous one I got was rather small and I took on a lot of new responsibilities during the year. I got great feedback from my boss and finally decided to ask for a raise. I think I handled the request well, and he responded favorably and said he would see what had to be done.

The entire process dragged out over two months and the answer finally came back as a no. It turns out I am too close to the top end of the range and they couldn’t justify giving me more money.

I’m fine with that answer. It makes sense. And if they responded within a week or two, I would have thought, well at least I made the effort and I know the reason why. But the dragging it out was really demoralizing. Several months later, I am still depressed about it. Like I don’t matter enough that they could have handled this better. What’s a usual amount of time to wait and am I being overly sensitive?

Oh my goodness, do not be demoralized by this. Ideally in this situation a manager will be able to get back to you within a couple of weeks, but it’s not uncommon for it to take as long as it did here. Sometimes that’s because budgets need to be looked at, which can have a domino effect on other people who need to be consulted; sometimes it’s because your boss needs to consult with HR, and they have more time-sensitive stuff they need to field first; sometimes it’s because five different people need to be consulted or sign off; sometimes it’s because stuff can just be slow. Hell, in this case, it’s possible that your boss originally was told no and has been trying to get an exception to the range made, which could definitely take this much time, especially when you throw in the fact that he and everyone else involved have other stuff going on too.

Two months isn’t ideal, certainly. But it’s not a slap in the face.

4. HR manager recommended a hotel bar to me

Is it okay for a HR manager to tell an employee via email, work email, that the hotel they recommend for employee to stay at for a business conference for company has a bar that is really good and put LOL in the email too?

Sure. HR people are humans too. They’re not advocating you get trashed and pass out in the hotel hallway; they’re telling you there’s a good bar there, which is a perfectly fine bit of information for one adult to share with another adult. It’s a detail about the hotel, which can you take or leave as you see fit, just like if they mentioned there was a good gym there or great room service.

5. Including the reason for leaving each job on your resume

I’m currently hiring and I ran across a resume that has the new-to-me process of including why the applicant left various positions as a part of the resume (e.g. left after company downsized, firm was dissolved, company relocated, etc.). These notes aren’t just on tenures of less than two years, but on positions of five years or more. It strikes me as a clever way to address a common question of every hiring manager, and the only thing that seems odd is that this particular applicant included it on some positions, but not others (of course, I’m now wondering about those!). But, assuming it was implemented throughout, what is your take on this practice?

I wouldn’t recommend it as a matter of course for everyone, but there are some cases where it makes sense. Specifically, if you have a series of short-ish stays that were not due to you constantly quitting but rather were due to things like layoffs or relocations, it can make sense to include that so that you don’t look like a job hopper. But I’d only do it in that context, not otherwise.

I want to help my easily frustrated coworker roll with the punches

A reader writes:

I work in the care industry where actual lives are at stake in a very true way, and I’m a shift manager, but looking to move up in to higher roles and in the process of being trained to do so. One of the other shift managers in my position, “Jane,” is a long-time coworker. We worked in the past together at another place of business where she was my direct report, and she is absolutely wonderful at what she does. As her previous manager, I know she has a tendency to be hot tempered, and while she has made massive strides and improvements at our newer workplace, she’s gotten write-ups for her rough attitude, a lot of which happened before I started working there. Now she’s on her final write-up before she’s let go.

In all honesty, I don’t feel like her being on her final leg is fair, as she has a rhyme and reason to be the way she is. Considering the consequences of mistakes being made, I can’t say that I wouldn’t stress about it too. She also has not gotten any hands-on coaching on how to control her temper, or how she speaks to the staff. The last write-up was due to someone purposely targeting her, and it was an employee who was causing major problems across the board. I saw this firsthand and can absolutely attest to it.

However, I do notice moments when she can be seen as angry, domineering, and disrespectful. Since we have a more established relationship, I let it slide off my shoulders, as I know that she’s not intending harm. However, I do see how others would have problems with it.

She harbors a lot of stress from day to day, as it is a stressful position. Her bar is set very high for our staff (she’s very Type A, with high expectations of herself as well), while other shift managers set the bar low. This causes conflict in the way she is perceived. Our general manager also sets a poor example for her of how to handle conflict. The GM flies off the handle, throws stuff, airs everyone’s dirty laundry even when spoken in confidence, but then comes down on my coworker for her poor attitude without coaching her on it or setting an example of how to manage it. The other shift manager, “Bob,” is very type B, makes a good amount of significant mistakes, but is easygoing with people and is always very calm and controlled in how he approaches situations.

I am in the same position as them both, and I don’t want to overstep my boundaries by any means. I’m training for a higher management position at the moment (although not everyone knows) and I see where they could both make improvements. I would like Jane to take it down a notch and get to a point where she cools off before she handles conflict and rolls with the punches a bit more. When she’s stressed, she jumps straight to a “me vs them” sort of mentality, and I’d rather have her see it as a team effort, understand that people make mistakes, and that those mistakes are paramount to learning (so long as they are not a life vs death issue). I want her to think “teach” before she goes to “blame.”

At the same time, I’d like Bob to be more diligent in holding people accountable for their duties, be more detail oriented, give constructive criticism and help support his fellow managers in their goals with the staff, and formulate his own as well.

I don’t have the authority at the moment to really dish out formal coaching, but I’ve been thinking about individually speaking to them one-on-one about what I observe, and giving them tools to handle things. If I involve the GM, Jane will be fired. She does not deserve that, nor do I want that to happen. I also don’t want Bob to feel like he’s doing awfully at his job, or lash out at me. I was thinking about asking our assistant manager to help me out with this, as she is more level-headed than our GM, and if I explain the situation, she may be more confidential about it and take a better approach.

Do you have any suggestions about how to handle this, different ways to achieve these goals without being so obvious, how to evaluate what’s really happening? Should I just leave it alone and wait until I have the authority to do something? I’d really appreciate any advice you have to give. I feel like as a solid team, we all have potential to have a good system, support one another, and have everything flow well, and it’s just how to get there where I’m at a loss.

It doesn’t sound like this is yours to try to fix right now.

If you’re moved into a position where you manage Jane and Bob, at that point you’d have standing to coach them on these things. But right now you’re a peer (despite having managed Jane in a previous job), and it’s not your place to intervene in their performance issues.

Certainly if you have a mentor-type relationship with Jane from managing her previously, you might have some room to give her some friendly advice on what you’re observing and what you think would help … but I’d tread pretty carefully there, because if you don’t have a mentor-type relationship with her, it’ll likely be awfully annoying to Jane to have her former boss who’s now a peer trying to coach her, no matter how well-intentioned you are.

If you do end up becoming her manager, then at that point you’ll have all the standing in the world to give her feedback and guidance. Even then, though, I’d make sure that your sympathy for her doesn’t get in the way of you evaluating her objectively. You note that she has “a tendency to be hot-tempered” and can come across as “angry, domineering, and disrespectful.” Those are big, big deals, especially for people who work with her and don’t have any authority over her. Those characteristics pretty much aren’t okay at work. A one-time slip-up from someone who understands it’s unacceptable and doesn’t do it again? Fine. But someone who has a pattern of it is much different — and it’s not fair to the rest of your staff to keep that person around.

Right now, you sound like you’re downplaying the situation a bit, perhaps because of your perspective that she’s “not intending harm.” But your higher comfort level with her behavior won’t make it any easier for other people to have to work with her. Empathy is a good thing, but you can’t keep someone around who’s apparently been warned repeatedly to control her temper and is still crossing those lines.

my boss wants me to pick up my coworker’s slack

A reader writes:

I work at a company that faced serious downsizing a year ago. I became the head of a newly-formed department, and my old position was dissolved and split among several staff members.

One coworker has consistently avoided the part of her job that used to be mine, which means that suppliers keep contacting me when they don’t hear back from her. I recently approached my boss about this issue, and he told me that I am probably treating her like a baby and that’s why she isn’t performing, and that the only way for the job to be done right is to do it myself.

He places such a high value on getting along that he his happy to let the more efficient, energetic employees carry a heavier load rather than confronting non-performers. Since the downsizing, when lack of performance in this area has become apparent to him, he has turned to ME for a solution rather than the coworker who is now responsible. I told him that I am now taking a hands-off approach even if balls drop, and he has endorsed this strategy. However dollars to donuts he will be coming to me when everything stops working.

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.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • When an interviewer asks if I’m interviewing anywhere else
  • Does it look bad that I leave work at 5 on the dot?
  • Why would an employer check references after making a hire?
  • Should I disclose that my boss is my fiancé?

my coworkers seem to wish I were my predecessor

A reader writes:

I’ve been in an academic department for almost nine years now: four years as undergrad, three years as grad student and instructor, and the last two I have been the administrative support person. I took the job two years ago when the previous admin, “Delilah,” was still working here and I trained with her for about a year and a half. She’s something of a legend in the college. The job involves an outrageous list of different high-level skills, and by the time she retired after 21 years of service, she had the entire department relying solely on her for everything from headache remedies to making decisions about budget cuts. On top of that, she treated everyone who came in the office like her own child or grandchild: with enthusiastic hugs and sympathy. She could do no wrong.

I’ve been doing the job on my own for seven months now, and almost immediately, important tasks started sliding under the radar because Delilah had always taken care of them without telling anybody about it — things that the faculty/division heads should have been taking care of themselves all along. It also became swiftly apparent that she was in hot water with the college fiscal chief because she refused to adapt to best practices and frequently cut corners. She’d done some pretty shady stuff because it was quicker and her time had been consumed with taking care of problems that were not hers to deal with.

Despite the fact that the faculty had a meeting specifically to discuss how they couldn’t expect me to meet her level of service, I’ve been repeatedly reprimanded for not meeting expectations, often right before or after being told “I would never expect you to live up to Delilah’s standards!” Either I’m overstepping my bounds or I’m not doing enough. I’ve been asked to call Delilah when I won’t solve a problem the old, corner-cutting way. I’ve been blamed for not executing a hire they didn’t request (because Delilah would have done it without expecting a request in writing). The same person told me it was “not my job” to prod him for information that he forgot to give me five times in two months, which led to four people not getting paid on time. Just yesterday a colleague berated me for “Not saying it the Delilah way — I need the Delilah way.” Because instead of saying “Certainly, I’ll do that right away” I said “I’ll try, but it might be difficult to get a reservation at this late juncture.”

In the year and a half I worked with Delilah, I got an intimate look at how her complete and slavish devotion to the job drained her and drove her crazy. When I took the job, I resolved that I would be professional, efficient, friendly, and dedicated, but I would not perpetuate the subservient secretary stereotype and I would not become a slave to the job. My department chair is a model of sensible work-life balance and he not only agrees with my resolution, but also that the faculty are being completely unreasonable. But even he is loath to intervene, even when these altercations are happening immediately outside his open door.

Thus far I’ve been advised to either get used to being a punching bag or find a new job. But I actually really love this department when things are going well. But I’m finding I need to be able to be frank with people when there are things I can’t do, and I also need to be able to defend myself somehow when they take their frustration out on me. Are my expectations too high?

Your expectations aren’t too high in general; the way you want this to work is perfectly reasonable. But they might be too high for this particular context in this particular office.

In other words, you’re being reasonable, they aren’t, and ultimately you need to figure out if you can live with the tension between those two viewpoints.

Specifically, I think you need to figure out what the long-term consequences are for you continuing to hold firm about doing the job the way it should be done rather than the way Delilah was doing it. Will people be annoyed but ultimately that won’t really matter? Or will it have real ramifications for your standing and/or your day-to-day quality of life? And will it have ramifications on things like your reputation and your evaluations? Does your boss truly back you up 100%, or will you get a performance evaluation that says that you need to be more helpful with the faculty and/or need to improve your relationships with them?

(And I’m not going to speculate on how the particular weirdness of academia might impact these dynamics, as that’s outside my expertise — I just know that academia is its own weird universe — but perhaps readers in academia can weigh in on that angle in that comments.)

As part of thinking this through, you should talk to your boss and pose some of these questions to him. Ask how he sees this playing out over the next six months or year, if you continue to hold firm to the way of operating that you and he have agreed to. Give him some concrete examples of times that you handling things differently than Delilah has caused problems with faculty, tell him how you handled that, and ask if he thinks you should be doing something differently. (This is important because if there’s a part of him that thinks you should be a little Deliliah-ish, you want to know that so that you’re not blindsided by it later.) Ask him, too, what he thinks the impact will be of having faculty annoyed with you — if he thinks it will make it hard for you to build good working relationships with people, and how it might impact people’s long-term satisfaction with your performance.

Once you do this thinking and this talking to your boss, you’ll be better positioned to make a really clear-eyed assessment of how this situation will work out for you. If you conclude that it’s an annoyance but it’ll get significantly better with time, then great — then it may make sense to just steel yourself for a few months to get through everyone’s period of readjustment. But if you realize that no, it’s actually going to mean supporting people who are chronically unhappy with you, with no signs of that changing, then I’d seriously considering getting out.

But that clear-eyed assessment is what you want here. Don’t focus on how things should be working — focus on how they are working and what you can expect in the future, and I think that’ll point you to the right answer.