all of my 2018 book recommendations

All year long, I’ve made a weekly book recommendation when kicking off the weekend open thread. These aren’t work-related books; they’re just books I love and think everyone else should read. Sometimes they’re books that I’m in the middle of reading, and other times they’re just long-standing favorites.

Here’s the complete list of what I’ve recommended this year (maybe in time for holiday gift-shopping!). I’ve bolded my favorites of the favorites.


Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work, by me. 

99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret, by Craig Brown. I love  a good malcontent, and she was that. This book is gossipy and fascinating (for example: she made even close friends call her “ma’am,” and her husband once left a note in her desk headed “24 reasons I hate you”).

And if you’re looking for more, here are my lists of book recommendations from 2017 and from 2016 and from 2015.

Please note: This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.

update: my boss talks about her kids non-stop

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose boss talked about her kids non-stop and sometimes made judgmental comments about their colleagues’ parenting? Here’s the update.

I took seriously your advice (and the commenters’) to stop the undermining comments and jokes about Lizzie’s child-focused chatter. I found that stopping it myself stopped others doing it, so I didn’t need to have an explicit conversation.

However, I haven’t felt able to have a direct conversation with Lizzie. I had been trying to find a comfortable moment to sit down with her, but our one-on-ones have been cancelled repeatedly, and when we’ve had them we’ve had to deal with issues of the moment rather than having the time to talk more broadly. I had my performance review with Lizzie which went well, but somehow I couldn’t raise the child-chatter issue there, as it would have seemed a bit defensive or reactionary.

Unfortunately, since I wrote to you, our team has been the recipient of a few organizational barbs; one staff member was poached by a senior manager, and their transfer processed by HR without even letting Lizzie know. We also moved desks to a more coveted spot, and people who ended up in our previous ill-lit noisy area have protested by obstructing our work. As well, Lizzie has been dealing with a performance issue, and it looks like the staff member isn’t going down without a fight. So, all in all, she has enough on her plate at present.

But there’s hope on the horizon; as we head into the holiday season, Lizzie has expressed her disapproval of parents who give their kids “plastic rubbish.” When another team member shopped at lunch for little stocking stuffers for her children, Lizzie said in my hearing “MORE presents for your kids!?!” I think this gives me a legitimate ‘in’ to raising the issue, and I will do so when we next have a catch-up.

update: how can I brace myself for my toxic new job?

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer this fall asking about how to brace herself for a new job that she’d been warned would be very toxic? Here’s the update.

I’ve only been here for two months, so there’s not much to report but here’s what has happened so far.

The atmosphere is just as toxic and dysfunctional as I was warned. Staff morale is quite low still and everyone is wary of management. There are a lot of grumblings about leadership and, as a result of decisions they have not agreed with, staff question everything – said or unsaid. Many are looking to leave as quickly as possible and it is no secret. The tenseness also affects peer-to-peer relationships, since people aren’t sure if they can or should trust each other.

During my first 3 and a half weeks here, several times a day, I got some type of remark from my new colleagues about not letting negativity or bad attitudes affect me, keeping my head up, being sure to maintain a good work/life balance, and the like. People would seek me out to tell me so or, when I was going through my orientation and being introduced, would repeat their specific “warning” several times. It was quite overwhelming but it has lessened, thankfully. I also got more pointed warnings regarding my immediate boss, which was also a bit jarring. Those have lessened too, but some of the stories I’ve heard about issues (almost 20 direct report resignations or department changes in 5 years, all of whom have cited my boss as their reason for leaving is just one example) have stuck with me and I am keeping my guard up.

In an interesting development, however, I do believe that I am being shown favour by management that has stopped me from personally experiencing a lot of what others complain(ed) about. I believe that this stems from my being chosen as an international representative for the country shortly after starting the job. This, the CEO and several other senior managers have told me personally, makes them very “proud” to have me as an employee. I do believe that for these and a few other reasons, I am being treated with kid gloves, so to speak. It is an interesting development and one that I am trying not to get caught up in, just as I am not trying to fall into other workplace drama. Neither would bode well for me and I am trying to keep my wits about me.

In the midst of all of this, I have made a new friend. Despite being burned out, she still has a pleasant attitude and has been very good at helping me to navigate the temperaments of my new colleagues. I appreciate her no-nonsense, matter-of-fact way of speaking and her refusal to gossip about workplace drama. She really does live above all the things that are happening around us and I admire that. We check in on each other, eat lunch together, and have hung out outside of work as well. I really do think we’ll be friends long after we both leave here and I’m very happy to have met her.

Also, being able to work again has allowed me to begin to build my savings back up. I am on my way to having a decent down payment for a car and I begun saving for and working on two entrepreneurial ventures. Thing at work are not perfect, but I’m making the situation work for me how I can.

The AAM commenter community was incredible and is still very helpful. I have most definitely taken your and their advice to heart and I am doing my best to not get swept up into drama or take sides. It is difficult not to (sometimes I want to vent to whomever is closest to me) but I’m trying. I have re-read the comments on my original post several times, especially during moments of frustration, and will continue to do so. Also, as was suggested by numerous commenters, I am still on the look out for another job.

open thread – December 14-15, 2018

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

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

my intern’s academic credit was revoked, boss keeps emailing on maternity leave, and more

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

1. My intern’s academic credit was revoked by his professor

I just found out that one of my unpaid interns is not going to get academic credit for the 100+ hours he worked for us this semester. He was one hour late on an assignment for his university’s internship class. He said that this professor granted extensions to some students, but not to him. I have since learned this is the second time this has happened to one of our interns with this university’s program.

I see it as an added injustice to an already inequitable system. One of the only arguments for unpaid internships is academic credit, and now this person has essentially worked four months for no benefit. My boss, who is also the supervisor for internships, has said he will not write a letter to the university. He says internships are supposed to mirror “real world employment,” which includes real consequences. However, no employer is allowed to withhold benefits you have already earned for minor infractions. I hurt so badly for this student, and I am more furious because this might mean he won’t graduate on time.

Also, does this open up our organization to legal ramifications, since the student is no longer is receiving credit? We are a nonprofit, if that makes a difference.

If you’re a nonprofit, you’re allowed to use volunteers (in most circumstances) so legally you’re fine. But ideally your boss would raise hell with the university — saying that your organization took on this intern with the understanding that he’d be receiving course credit and wouldn’t have done so otherwise, and that you feel it’s unethical to accepted his labor for four months if he’s getting nothing in return, and strongly urge that the decision be revisited. Unfortunately, your boss is being a real ass here — as you note, there’s no “real world employment” where being one hour late on something would result in your compensation for four months of work being pulled. Assuming you can’t change his mind, you could ask for his permission to contact the university yourself since the intern was working for you (perhaps pointing out that “real world employment” also means the intern’s own manager would have some say). And you should definitely make sure the intern knows you will bend over backwards to be a reference, etc. But otherwise your boss may get to make the (crappy) call on this.

2. My boss keeps emailing from maternity leave

My boss recently left to have her baby, and we’re all so happy for her! She’s scheduled to be out until mid-February and things are running smoothly so far. We have weekly meetings with her manager, but for the most part we are managing ourselves (which has been working fine so far).

However, she’s recently been sending work emails out and messaging us on Skype a fair bit from her maternity leave. For example, she IM’ed me the other day asking why a certain announcement post hadn’t gone live yet, but what she didn’t know was that we’d already planned to launch it a few days later.

I totally get that she might be feeling a bit isolated but it’s getting to feel like she doesn’t trust her team. And even besides that, I believe that she may actually be breaking some rules by accessing her work emails and files while she’s on maternity leave. How can we let her know (in a polite but firm manner) that we’ve got things handled?

Two options: One is that the most senior person on your team or the person with the best rapport with her can talk to her about it, pointing out that it’s actually making your team less efficient because you don’t know when she is or isn’t going to want to weigh in on something and that because she’s not fully in the loop, she’s asking people to spend time responding to things she wouldn’t be asking about it if she were at work — and that there’s a plan in place to keep things running while she’s away, and she should trust it and take full advantage of her leave. Or, the other option is to say something to her boss, the one you’re meeting with weekly while she’s away. You could explain to that person what’s happening and the issues it’s causing, and ask if they can intervene so that you’re able to keep work moving forward without having to guess when she might pop up with queries that she doesn’t have full context for.

3. Attending the holiday party after being laid off

I was recently laid off unexpectedly from my company a few weeks ago. While employed, I made a wonderful group of friends that I still get together with on the weekends.

The company party is coming up and one of my friends wants me to come as their guest. I’m unsure if it’s appropriate for me to go. On one hand, I don’t harbor any ill will towards the employees who are still there, but it would be awkward to see the department head and CEO involved in my layoff decision. On the other hand, It would be a great opportunity to see my friend group and other current employees that I miss. Should I go to the party or decline?

Well … Some companies would welcome a laid-off employee at a staff party, and at other companies at least some people would feel awkward about it. So to some extent, this is about knowing your company.

Did former employees ever come to the company’s parties in the past? If so, I think you’re fine showing up, as long as you’re willing to deal with any awkwardness you might feel. But if you’ve never seen that happen, it’s possible that it will feel uncomfortably awkward to some people there (or even be sort of a downer — part of the reason employers often have laid-off employees leave immediately is because it can make it hard for the remaining employees to move forward otherwise). I’m sure some people will tell you that you don’t need to worry about that and that it’s the company’s problem, not yours, but most people want to navigate this type of situation with grace, and so it’s a reasonable thing to factor in.

But if you decide not to go, you can always reach out to the people there who you’d like to see and arrange some kind of outside-of-work get-together of your own.

4. My employee gave me a gift

A few weeks ago, four people started reporting to me after a reorg. Previously I only had one direct report, so I decided to have a team kickoff meeting to introduce everyone. A couple days ago, one of the new employees gave me a book (on leadership) as a holiday gift. I have never given or received personal gifts at work and don’t want to start. How do I acknowledge the gift without encouraging repeat or treating my employees unequally?

Yeah, ideally your employees wouldn’t give you gifts (for all the reasons I talk about here), but some people are going to do it anyway. As long as it’s something small, it makes sense to just accept it graciously so you don’t make the person feel bad. So “thank you, this is really kind of you!” or another expression of thanks is all you need.

However, next year, you can try to preemptively ward it off by saying something to your team in early December like, “I don’t want to assume anyone is thinking of getting me a gift, but just in case, I want to say that while that’s very kind of you, please put that toward family and friends instead. Doing your jobs well is enough of a gift for me.”

5. My company wants me to pay for a parking citation received in error

I travel frequently for work, and a couple of months ago my company had rented a car for me to use for a day trip to a client’s city. This week, two months after the trip was uneventfully completed, I received a notice from my finance department that there was a parking citation billed to the company for this rental car, and my company wanted to deduct the cost of the citation plus the rental company’s administration fee for paying it out of one of my upcoming expense reimbursements.

The accompanying information about the citation included a link to CCTV footage of the parking citation, which had been issued via an automatic remote camera, and after viewing it, there is no question that the citation was made in error and no illegal activity had occurred. (I asked several other people to view it and all agree on this matter.) The problem is that due to the rental company preemptively paying the fine and the amount of time that passed before I was made aware of the issue, there is no longer any way to challenge the fine.

Who should be liable for paying this charge, amounting to about $100? Should we try to go back to the rental car company, should my company take care of it, or am I responsible? If the answer isn’t “me,” how do I gently but appropriately push back on this with my company? (If it matters, I have never received any other citations or charges like this while driving a company-hired rental car, which I do frequently.)

Ideally you and/or your company would push back with the rental company, pointing out that the footage clearly shows that you weren’t at fault. If they’re going preemptively pay people’s fines without first communicating with them, they should have to eat that cost when they get it wrong. But if the rental company won’t budge, then your company should cover it for you. You shouldn’t be on the hook for a fee that you didn’t do anything to incur, simply because you were on a business trip. You shouldn’t lose money when you travel for work, and your company should consider this a cost of doing business.

update: my manager told us we were going to be laid off — but she was wrong

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose manager told their team they were going to be laid off in a few months and that they should start looking for other jobs — but then turned out to be wrong, after they all had taken lower-paying jobs? Here’s the update.

My boss told us in February (of 2017) we would be laid off in June, that there would be no severance and our last would likely be the same day we were told about our lay off. She repeatedly told us this for months leading up to all of us leaving. Given this, myself and my coworkers did what we could to find jobs elsewhere so we wouldn’t end up jobless and possibly running the risk of still being unemployed when unemployment ran out (taking a job with a pay cut, moving back home etc). The company policy as appearing in the handbook is that if someone resigns it is final and there is no going back. My boss spoke to HR but they held firm and some of my coworkers had already left to their new jobs. Our company doesn’t do exit interviews, we didn’t all quit on the same day and since our boss had told us it was a secret we just said we were leaving for other opportunities.

Layoffs never happened. As each of us left our jobs were posted and the salary range given was the same as we were paid with the same benefits. By the time I found out layoffs were not happening all the interviews had been completed for my job and the company said it was too late for me to reapply. While we were leaving and the new people were being interviewed other employees were brought in to cover our jobs and then sent back once the new people were hired and trained. All of us were replaced and the department was not cut or downsized in any way. The company has not laid anyone off and has even opened another office in another city a few hours from here. It was not somewhere I wanted to relocate as the cost of living is too high and I have no family here so I didn’t apply.

My boss presented the layoff as a fact. We never questioned her because she told us repeatedly and she had never done anything untrustworthy before this. She is still managing my old department even though everyone knows what happened. She has never apologized or shown remorse. I am still at the job I got when I thought I was being laid off. The pay is 75% less than what I made before, I had to move to a cheaper place and sell my car to pay off my lease to avoid a black mark on my record and I take a 45-minute train ride from the station across the street as opposed to my 10-minute drive before. According to LinkedIn, my former coworkers are still in the same jobs.

Many of the comments thought we overreacted or should not have listened to our boss. We did what we could with information that was given. She was in the wrong. As I mentioned in the comments I heard from several people above her (c-suite, executives, board of directors and great-grand boss) no layoffs were planned and she misunderstood the papers she found on the printer. This wasn’t an excuse for anyone to leave or not move in with their girlfriend as a few of the comments had suggested. The layoffs were never planned.

I try to look on the bright side. I still have a good place to live. Taking the train has given me time to read more than I have had in years. The people and my boss at my new job are decent. I walk more since I don’t have a car. I wish things didn’t happen as they did but I can’t change it so I try not to think about it.

I would like to thank you for your great advice and all of the comments that offered support and didn’t question my actions. I read AAM every day because of the great advice and people who comment.

updates: the insulting gift, the employee born on Leap Day, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are five updates from past letter-writers.

1. Telling an employee born on Leap Day she can’t have her birthday off (#3 at the link)

I just wanted to give an update and to clarify a few things. I am the employee’s manager. For some reason some people in the comments thought I was a “coworker” or “team lead.” 

One person guessed I was not American. I don’t know why they were jumped all over but they were correct. I am Canadian. I live and work outside of North America.

Some people mentioned Jehovah’s Witnesses and not being allowed to celebrate birthdays and the legality of this in the comments. This is not relevant to the situation with my employee. Also, it is considered a cult here and is banned. No one who works here is a Jehovah’s Witness.

People seemed to be unclear on the policy even though I stated it. Employees must take their birthday off. This is mandatory and not voluntary. They are paid and don’t have use their own time off. If their birthday falls on a weekend or holiday, they get the first working day off. There is no changing the date. They must take their actual birthday or the first working day back (in case of a weekend or holiday). People love the policy and no one complains about the mandatory day off or the gift card.

She had worked here for 2 years. She did get her birthday off in 2016 as it was a leap year. She did not get a day off in 2017 as it is not a leap year and didn’t get this year either. If she is still employed here in 2020 she will get a Monday off as the 29th of February is on a Saturday. This is in line with the policy. Some of the comments were confused about whether she ever had a birthday off.

The firm is not doing anything illegal by the laws here. She would have no legal case at all and if she quit she will not be able to get unemployment. She is not job hunting. She has known about the birthday policy since February of 2016 and has been bringing it up ever since. She has complained but has not looked for another job (the market is niche and specialized). Morale is high at the firm. Turnover among employees is low. Many people want to work here. Aside from this one issue she is a good worker and would be given an excellent reference if she decides to look elsewhere in the future.

Alison here. I don’t usually add anything of my own on to updates, but I want to state for the record that this is insane.

2. I feel slighted by my work anniversary gift (#2 at the link)

Thank you for publishing my letter and for your great feedback. And thank you to all the commenters. I am grateful to you all for helping me feel justified in my sensitivity!

Despite everyone’s advice, I didn’t speak to my boss. I thought I’d gotten over it but now I’m helping plan a 5-year celebration for a colleague and it’s all coming back to me (not in a good way!) … so now I’m thinking I should broach the subject with my boss at my mid-year review next week. I’m still thinking about it…

The thing is I have a VERY tough time having conversations like this and I’m afraid I’ll cry. I cannot do that in front of my boss! How do you have a conversation like this when you’re prone to crying and boss is uncomfortable with these things? Last week I was attacked by someone first thing in the morning and I came in very upset (I tried to hide it best I could)- my boss avoided me like the plague all day.

The stuffed toy was spotted under my desk by my four-year-old and now lives with us in our home. I make a concerted effort to treat him like one of the family… ;)

Thanks again Alison & AAMers!

3. Do I have to tell my boss I applied for an internal job(#5 at the link)

This is kind of a weird follow-up, but I ended up not taking your advice, but I did take the advice of a couple of the commenters and it turned out ok? Not a total success, but not a disaster. A couple commenters said maybe I could reach out to the hiring manager (who we will call Sansa) and see if she would be ok with holding off on talking to Cersei until after the initial screening process, if it turned out I was a strong candidate. Sansa had indicated in our meeting that I was one of her top three candidates and she was going to schedule additional interviews with other staff members in her department in the next month.

I ended up sending a follow up email to Sansa a couple weeks later, and basically said that I wanted to follow up on the timeline for the additional interviews and I let her know that I had not notified Cersei of my application yet and as long as she was comfortable with it, I wanted to wait until the interviews were scheduled, to avoid putting undue stress on Cersei because we had a big event coming up. Sansa asked me to give her a call, which I did, and she told me they had decided to interview people with MBAs (something I don’t have) and had chosen a final candidate (not me). She was very kind, but also apologetic.

I am not entirely happy with how things went down with Sansa – I went from being a top three candidate to not eligible for formal interviews in a two week period and the only reason I found out is because I sent a follow-up email. I am very glad I did not sit down with Cersei and have the conversation though, before finding out if I was really a top candidate. There was maybe a 2% chance that she would have reacted normally or even advocated for me to Sansa and helped things in my favor. Those are terrible odds though, so I feel like I’ve probably avoided making my toxic workplace even worse by clarifying the situation first.

4. Telling a low-performer we’re not giving her a new project she wants (#2 at the link)

The train-the-trainer project my low performer wanted ended up stalling out due to issues with our contractor, but I have had some much more blunt conversations with my employee about her performance limitations, particularly around communication. I’ve invested a lot of time and effort into trying to get this person up to speed, paid for training for her, but realistically she simply isn’t suited for the job. She doesn’t have a strong knowledge base despite over a decade in the office, shows poor professional judgement regularly, and has very poor communication skills.

I had a serious conversation with my boss just this week to ask if I could move towards firing her. I was told, very flatly, no. It’s a government agency under a civil service commission that makes firing people very difficult and he doesn’t want the headache.

5. Can I leverage a job offer for more hours at my current job(#5 at the link)

I did not get the job offer, but was invited to join the board, so I’m still pretty involved in their nonprofit. It’s a relief I don’t work there now that I have a “behind the scenes” look at their operations.

At my current job, everything has a happy ending! The new fiscal year started September, and a new position was carved out for me. I’m now full time, negotiated a 20% pay increase, and negotiated a new title. I’m actually making more then I would have at the other place! It’s amazing to be appreciated for my skills.

Thank you Alison for maintaining this blog daily(!) and for all your thoughtful feedback.

can you have close work friendships when you’re in HR?

A reader writes:

I work at a company with a large number of employees under the age of 30 (myself included), and because of that, there’s a very social atmosphere. I’ve become quite close with a woman in a difficult department (let’s call her Linda) who is very fun to be around but will often incessantly talk about work. Because I work in HR, it often puts me in a precarious position and I’ve learned to just nod my head and listen to her complain.

Linda’s boss recently resigned and left quite a bit of uncertainty for that department, which was already in a state of turmoil. Because Linda was a high-potential employee (and someone made the mistake of telling her that), she took it as an indication that she was now in a position of power to negotiate a salary increase and promotion, because the department wouldn’t want her to resign as well. She talked quite a bit outside of work about this situation, with me mostly nodding and listening, and I always stayed impartial. I did try to give her some advice on how to go about asking for the raise so as not to sound aggressive or demanding, so she didn’t end up shooting herself in the foot. Linda told me the amount she was going to ask for, which was way above what her job was worth, and I told her, as a friend and without invoking any specifics of company, that she could certainly ask for it but it was unlikely she’d get that much of a raise.

About two weeks later, Linda’s promotion went through, and I got called in to my boss’s office. Turns out that Linda told the VP of her department that I had told her that she was going to get $3k more than what she received. I did no such thing, nor did I ever indicate an exact number, I just told her that what she was asking for was unreasonable. It caused a huge headache, and made me look bad not only to my boss but also to that VP.

I thought about my options and determined that I really couldn’t say anything to Linda or it would make it even more difficult to find out what was really going on with her group in the future. So I moved on and learned my lesson to keep my mouth shut in the future (and did my best to subtly distance myself from someone who was clearly not a friend).

I’m curious – what would your approach to this situation have been?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago. You can read it here.

update: employer will only reimburse interview travel expenses if I accept their offer

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer who applied for a summer teaching job and was told the employer would only reimburse her interview travel expenses if she accepted the job? Here’s the update.

I’m the college student who wrote in about a teaching summer job. Thank you for your advice, and all the commenters for their input! I wanted to give you an update of what went down and, as I have a feeling I may get internet-stoned in a minute, preface this email by saying that I did indeed take your advice seriously and assess my options with this organization and their proceedings carefully.

When my letter was published, I had already gone to the weekend-long interview-seminar. In hindsight, I remembered that there was already something minor red-flaggy during the application process besides the unreasonable time investment, namely that the organization explicitly asked for a headshot to be submitted. Although having a photo of yourself on your application is common in the country I live in (not USA), especially young people and less traditional industries don’t do so anymore (because it’s irrelevant to your skill set and your looks shouldn’t at all determine if you get an offer, etc.). Anyways, I brushed it off as ‘weird but whatever’ and went to get headshots, but reflecting on the whole process, it just added another layer of questionable requirements.

About a week after you published the letter, I received an offer from the organization. Because of all the issues you – and the commenters – raised, I was reluctant to do any work with them. However, they were short with applicants for another position that I didn’t apply for initially and offered me that one, too. It was better paid and would only take three weeks, with the same kind of work but under different circumstances (group to teach, location, etc). For context, as this came up in the comment section: the salary they offer for any positions is always fixed. The listing I applied for seemed to pay not too bad originally, but they kept adding on duties which made the compensation sink far below minimum wage when broken down to the hours needed to accomplish the tasks. Because these additional duties were apparently just ‘common sense’ (their words, not mine), they weren’t included in the job description and offer or considered for pay. The new position included the same duties, but also more pay, which made it worthwhile for me.

As the new offer’s pay was good enough that I decided to go for it under specific terms. First, I made sure that all of my travel and accommodation costs would be covered. For readers who didn’t catch up with all the comments: the teaching takes place in different places around the country, and I had hoped to get placed near where I (or friends or family of mine) live but wasn’t. However, the organization only provides a very, very limited housing budget (about $250/month, independent of the area you get placed in – in the country I live in, it’s very hard to find a place for $250/month, and impossible in any larger town or city, which is where most people were placed. Additionally, the $250 are also supposed to cover commuting costs from the rented place to your actual workplace, which is just not doable). Summer-jobbers were expected to cover expenses that exceed this budget, which I was not willing to do because I believe that if you hire people to do jobs hundreds of miles away from where they live, you should provide them with a place to stay that they don’t have to pay for themselves. Especially given that they hire college-students exclusively.

By the way, there were some other curiosities in the contract/job duties, for example that there would be no pay when you’re sick (which is illegal where I live, and they would get in major trouble if you took them to court for it) or that us teachers are supposed to host meetings with parents, including a BBQ with both parents and students (36 people in total), but without being given any budget (?? I guess we’ll have air-burgers with invisible hotdogs, then). Anyways, they found me a shared apartment to stay in, which I was fine with, and sent out letters to the families asking them to bring their own food and beverages to the meetings and BBQ, which was also fine with me. As for the no-pay-when-sick-clause, I thankfully don’t get sick often and also have legal protection, so I knew I would be safe there. Less high-stakes yet noteworthy, they also sent out emails at very odd hours (hand-crafted ones, not automated messages).

What really irked me, though, is that they told us (after signing the contract, of course) that we would only be paid after we send back all the materials. Which, you know, I get, but it was expressed in the same tone you would tell your 5yo “You can only have dessert when you finish your veggies!”. Of course, I wasn’t planning on keeping their materials and I understand that they need them back; I just think we’re all adults and I felt it was somewhat inappropriate to hold people’s pay above their head like this. Also, we were expected to “bring from home” (aka, buy from our own money) many of the required teaching materials. And there were other things like this, e.g. there is a certain amount we’re allowed to spend on lunch for the students, but we’re instructed not to spend the whole amount. Like, what’s the purpose behind instructions like “You are allowed to spend a maximum of $50. But don’t spend all of it!”?

The work itself was fine – all the students were nice and the families were kind enough to chip in and bring food for everyone so we still had fun gatherings. In the end, I filed the summer job under “experience” rather than “job”. After all, I still didn’t get minimum wage when you break down the work… But I wanted the students to have a good experience and learn something, so that’s on me. Anyways, I got my school to credit me part of the job as an internship, so I would say it was worthwhile for me. I don’t think I would do it again, though.

Some commenters mentioned that they perceived the application process/organization as cult-like, which, looking back, I can kind of agree with. There is a lot of “but we are non-profit!”-talk (a lot like the “but we’re faaaaamily”-logic) albeit that’s not a reason to pay people badly or pressure them with not reimbursing expenses/withholding pay whilst expecting them to go out of their way for your organization. All in all, the organization people I was in contact with were nice, but it was overall unorganized, inefficient, and too red-flaggy. For a three-week summer-job it was bearable but I certainly wouldn’t do any long-term work with them. Furthermore, the experience made me aware of what to pay attention to during application processes and how to spot questionable work places. Thank you very much, Alison, for giving me a reality-check. Thanks to all the commenters who took time out of their day to offer suggestions and input, too! And in general, thanks for this blog which is so super helpful, especially for people who are new to the working world and don’t have a good feel for what’s normal/reasonable yet.

ending a looooooong-term business trip, ensuring a religious new hire won’t proselytize at work, and more

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

1. Ending a looooooong-term business trip

I am the assistant manager for a store on the west coast. About three months ago, I was asked to be the interim general manager for a sister store on the east coast while they recruited a new permanent GM, and my answer was hell yes! It’s been an incredible experience so far. I’ve been put up in a super fancy resort (an incredible view, king sized bed, and bath tub so deep I’ve almost drowned multiple times), I get an incredibly generous per diem, my Uber’s are totally covered, and I’ve been bumped up to a pretty great temporary wage while I’m in this role — and they even let me stay hourly, even though general managers are salaried, because they wanted to make sure I was compensated for the oodles of overtime I’ve been working. And boy have I been working — I have been busting my butt, accomplished some great things, learned a ton, and have gotten huge amounts of great exposure. I’m now on friendly speaking terms with many high level managers and executives who I barely knew existed in my permanent role, and I’ve been offered the GM role at the store I’m currently covering, as well as a few other new locations that will be opening across the country over the new year. I turned these opportunities down, because I really have no interest in leaving my hometown, and am hoping something will open up closer to home eventually. Anyways. That all sounded like the ultimate humble brag, but I really wanted to emphasize how supported and appreciated my company has made me feel in the last couple of months, and how I am truly happy with my current situation and how things have played out so far.

That being said. I’ve now been living out of a hotel, away from my husband, ferret, and friends for a quarter of a year. When I came out here, I knew it would be for an unspecified amount of time, but I was also under the impression that I would be gone for one to three months tops. And yet the three-month mark officially passes tomorrow, and (as far as I know) we don’t have any real leads for the position I’m covering. While I strongly want them to find the right candidate, even if it takes time (because the wrong candidate could mean I’m out here again in six months!) I also need to know that I will actually get to go home to my own bed, where I have a husband and a car and friends and a life.

I’m zero percent involved in the search for the new GM, and while I am happy not having any real say or sway, is there a tactful way to ask HR if I can be kept more in the loop on the progress of this search so I can have a real idea of when I might get to go home? And if it does go on much longer … while I really don’t want to leave before a new GM is found, at what point do I open up the conversation that I really need to go home? I could definitely survive four months … I would be incredibly antsy at five months … but six months is where I think I would draw that line. At what point to do I tell someone that I can’t be out here forever? And how do I even approach that, knowing what a massive headache it would be to establish another temporary manager? I don’t want to spring this on them last minute if it comes down to that, but I also don’t want to damage the stellar reputation I’ve gained by appearing to not be a team player.

Not only can you asked to be kept in the loop on the progress of the search, but you can tell them right now (or whoever you want) that you are approaching your limit for how long you can stay. You can say, “We’d talked about one to three months and since we’re now at the tail end of that, I’m hoping to set a timeframe for heading back home.” Or, “I can stay one more month if you need me to, but would want to head home at that point.” Or pretty much anything else you want! A reasonable company (and this sounds like a very reasonable company, based on how well they’ve been treating you) is going to understand that you won’t want to stay there forever and that you might be itching to go home by this point. They might be hoping you’ll stay longer, and they might be disappointed that you can’t, but they’re absolutely going to understand that it is a very normal thing that you’re ready to go home. So this isn’t something you need to dance around; you can come right out and say it, and you can set whatever limits you want, including “I need to start packing up in the next few weeks.” This isn’t going to damage your reputation; you’ve already gone above and beyond by uprooting your life for as long as you have.

Speak up right away, though, so that you’re giving them the maximum possible notice.

2. How to ensure a religious new hire won’t proselytize at work

I am a hiring manager with a retail chain. My company is a national brand that is very diverse and I am proud to be a part of that! I have a tricky situation that has come up. I just completed a second interview with a job candidate who is looking like a great fit. Which is awesome! However, she doesn’t have much recent job experience, so has utilized her very demanding and rigorous volunteer work with her religious organization very heavily to highlight her strengths and flexibility. While I am impressed, some of our fellow managers have reservations about whether she might either proselytize at work or be intolerant of her coworkers (i.e. we have associates who are gay, we have others who are atheists, etc). I haven’t seen evidence that that would be the case with her. Plus, people who don’t talk about religion during interviews can still turn out to be zealots, so her candor isn’t something that is a red flag to me.

I know that it is absolutely illegal and wrong to consider her religion or religious activities during hiring. That being said, if she passes the last interview with my boss and we make her an offer, is there a discussion we should have preemptively (i.e. here is your employee handbook, which by the way states that [store] is a diverse workplace and respect and dignity in the workplace for all employees is taken seriously) or would the right/legal/best thing to do be wait and see what happens? ALL of my employees deserve to have their workplace be one of respect and dignity, and that will include her if she is hired. I want her to be happy and feel welcome, and I know that singling her out for her religion is not the way to do that. Am I overthinking this?

Unless she said things in the interview process that sounded intolerant or you’ve seen other evidence of that from her (like a Twitter account that’s full of bigotry, for example), you shouldn’t assume she’ll proselytize or be intolerant at work. It doesn’t sound like she was bringing up religion inappropriately in the interview; it sounds like she appropriately referred to volunteer experience, which just happened to be for a religious organization. (You also didn’t note that the religious organization itself is known for intolerance, so I want to flag that the mere fact of it being religious in nature is not equivalent to it being one that promotes intolerance.)

So absent something specific that she has said that gave you pause, I wouldn’t bring it up with her preemptively. If you see or hear anything concerning after she starts working for you, definitely address it swiftly at that point, but I wouldn’t assume you need to preemptively fend it off.

3. Should I warn someone away from the University of Phoenix?

I’m a very recent graduate and recently had a networking meeting with someone I hadn’t met before. She’s a very nice lady, and we chatted for a bit about ourselves after finishing the business talk. She mentioned she plans to get her master’s from the University of Phoenix. I know this is a terrible idea, but I just nodded and smiled at the time.

It’s too late now, but should I have said something? Is it possible she doesn’t know the university’s bad reputation? I’m about 15 years younger than her and very new to the work world so it might come across as arrogant, but if I were about to make a very bad career/education/financial decision, I’d want someone to give me a heads-up. If I should have said something, what would be a good way to say it?

This is complicated by the fact that you’re new to the work world and she’s more experienced than you, because that changes the dynamic. Without that context, I’d say yes, please do warn her — because many, many people who got degrees from for-profit schools wish that someone had warned them about how poorly those schools are perceived, and feel cheated and scammed. (I have literally heard people say, “Why didn’t someone warn me?”)

It’s worth saying something for that reason, but the difference in age and experience means that you probably need to be especially thoughtful about how you go about it. One option is to refer her to other sources. You could say something like, “I hope this isn’t overstepping, but I’ve read a lot about how many employers are skeptical of degrees from for-profit schools and won’t give them the same weight they give nonprofit schools. You may already be well aware of this, of course, but I’ve heard so many people say they wish they’d known that beforehand that I felt it might be helpful for me to speak up!” And then, if you’re doing this in an email since the conversation is in the past, you could attach a couple of links about the problem. She might ignore it, or she might bristle at you advising her when you’re straight out of school, but given the stakes, I think it’s worth risking the awkwardness to just make sure she doesn’t end up as another “why didn’t anyone warn me?” person.

4. I haven’t heard back about an internal interview, and I think they’ve made an outside hire

I am an intern in a small firm (about 40 people) and have been here for about four months. I am out of college and looking for a job. The entry-level position in the office recently opened and I and one other intern were given the opportunity to interview for the position. Several other interns who would have liked to try for the position were shut out of the interview process because of “time constraints.” So far, the process seemed fine. Not everyone gets an interview even if they have been interning in the office for months.

However, it has been two weeks and we now know that someone from outside the office has gotten the job. We know this because they came into the office to meet people and clearly said to some of the other junior people that they were looking forward to working together and would see them Monday. It was clear that many of the other interns saw this happen and thus know I or the other intern were not hired. We are a friendly intern group so it’s clear we would both have been told. It’s now been three days and no one has told us officially that we have not gotten the job.

To me, it seems incredibly unprofessional to not tell us we didn’t get the job and basically attempt to ghost us in the application process despite us coming in to work and working in this office from 9 to 5 everyday. Our last day of our internships is also this Friday so we wouldn’t overlap with this person, making it seem like they expect us to leave the internship without any confirmation either way. Is this unprofessional?

Yep. It’s fine that they didn’t interview all the interns; sometimes it’s clear from working with someone that they won’t be right for a position or won’t be competitive with other applicants who are in the mix. But if they’ve made a hire, they absolutely should have informed you and the other interns who applied and it’s rude that they haven’t. That said, are you 100% sure the the new hire you saw is the person hired for this particular role? Unless they specifically said “I’ve been hired to be the new X,” it’s possible they’ve been hired for something else.

Either way, there’s nothing wrong with you following up with the hiring manager for the job and saying something, “Is there any update on the X job I interviewed for?”

5. Is this job posting warning of terrible hours?

I’m currently job hunting and came across a posting that looks great and fits well with my background. However, under “Requirements,” it includes “Commitment to working beyond traditional working hours and schedules.” Is this a huge red flag? Is it even worth applying if I value my work-life balance? For reference, this is not a field where long hours are the norm, or where salaries are high to compensate for that. However, Glassdoor reviews for the company are generally good, and most mention a relaxed workplace culture. If I did apply for the job and get an interview, what would be a good way of probing into this?

Their wording certainly sounds alarming! But while it’s possible that means “you will be expected to work insanely long hours,” it’s also possible that it means “this is a 40-hour/week role, but some of those hours will be nights or weekends.”

You can ask directly about this in an interview! You’d just say, “The job posting mentioned the role involves working beyond traditional hours — can you tell me more specifically what that entails?”