new hire wants to print everything, how can I make myself look less qualified, and more

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

1. New hire wants to print everything and not use screens

I work for a digital creative agency, and we recently hired a contractor, Ann, who says she is unable to read anything on screens. She has to print everything — schedules, deliverable matrices, design outputs, emails — before she can review or give feedback. This is particularly challenging because half our internal team and our client are all located across several cities. We have to review all content, both internally and with our clients, via teleconference.

Ann has derailed pretty much every review meeting we’ve had, including with clients, because she has to check the screen against the materials she’s printed or because she has not had an opportunity to print the materials to be reviewed. She complains constantly about the fact that we’re creating and tracking all of our work digitally (five or six times in every meeting, plus another eight to 10 times throughout the rest of the day). And she has asked if she can schedule multiple trips across the country to work in person with people, because she has trouble doing the work via her laptop. While we have some budget for travel, it was not intended to be used as a prerequisite to complete our daily work, and I have concerns about her ability to be seen as trustworthy by the client if she shows up every other week complaining about having to work on a laptop, expecting them to work with her on a stack of disorganized papers instead.

This is not the only issue with her, but this is one I’ve never encountered before and am struggling to address. I want to make sure I’m being sensitive to any physical reasons she might not be able to the work and offer what accommodations I can (although from her comments to date, I think this is a preference, not a physical limitation), while also making it clear that part of the ability to succeed at this job is the ability to effectively telework with remote teams.

Be direct about what you expect and ask if there are any obstacles to her doing that. For example: “We do most of our work electronically here, especially since so many team members and the client are spread out across different cities. We don’t typically work with many print-outs. I know you’ve mentioned that you prefer printing things out, but that isn’t always practical or efficient with the way we work. While I know it’s not your preference, is working mainly digitally something you’re able to do?” The idea there is to spell out how you’d like her to operate and to give her a chance to tell you if there’s a medical issue behind this.

If there is a medical issue in play, at that point you could brainstorm with her about how to accommodate that while minimizing the impact on the work and the client. Be clear about what you can’t do (like flying her around the country to meet in person), and what she can’t do (like complaining to the client or complaining throughout the day about your office’s digital tracking systems).

But if it’s just a preference, it’s reasonable to say, “To succeed in this role, you need to get comfortable with working on screens. Is that something you can do?” … and then hold her to that.

2. How can I make myself look less qualified?

I’m guessing you don’t get this question very often: how do I make myself look less qualified? I am a freelancer still working on building my client base. Until I get sufficient workflow to keep my bank account happy, I’d like to find part-time work, just for a regular paycheck. There are zero jobs in my field where I live—I held the one available job I could find, until I was laid off and the company closed—and I’m not in a position (nor do I want) to change fields into something more marketable around here (medical support, welding, industrial). So I’m hoping to find a simple, part-time office assistant position. I honestly want to just go to work, do my job, and go home.

My problem: I am seriously over-qualified. I have a master’s degree in my field (publishing) and worked for almost a decade at a prestigious publisher in another city. I don’t want employers in this small-city adjacent rural area (think small towns with lots of cows and corn in between them) to see my resume and roll their eyes or feel intimidated by my “big-city experience.” I just want to show that I have office experience and can do the work. Is there a way to adjust my resume to deemphasize my positions as Managing Editor and Associate Editor for Prestigious Publisher, and demonstrate my experience with the mundane tasks of an office environment? Do I leave my master’s degree off my resume? I don’t want to leave the job off, because eight years is a big gap; I left there about four years ago, though, so well within the time period normally covered by a resume.

You could leave your master’s off, but I don’t think you need to. The key here is going to be your cover letter, where you’ll need to make a compelling case for why you want an assistant position and why you’d be great at it. Otherwise employers will see your resume, be confused about why you’re applying (and figure that you’re either resume-bombing and applying for everything you see, or that you’ll leave as soon as something in your field comes along). So your challenge here is to address head-on, very explicitly, why you’re applying despite your background and what’s in it for them — i.e., why you’ll be awesome at the job.

And remember that you’re not necessarily overqualified … you’re differently qualified! Someone with your background could be a kind of crappy assistant, after all, just like anyone could be — so you need to demonstrate that that’s not the case with you, and in fact that you’d be great at it.

This is the kind of situation cover letters are made for!

3. Interviewing post-pregnancy when I still look pregnant

I have seven-month-old twins. I returned to my full-time job after maternity leave, and while it’s going ok, I’ve started to look for a new position with a shorter commute and more growth opportunities. I had a phone interview with a company I’m interested in and it seemed to go well.

Assuming I get called in for an in-person interview, there’s something I’m not sure how to handle. See, I still look a bit pregnant. Growing two human beings tends to really stretch you out and I also have some muscle separation that gives me a belly pooch that looks like a pregnant woman who’s recently started showing. I’m most certainly not pregnant and have no plans to become pregnant again any time soon, if at all. But I worry they’ll see me and assume I am, and not ask about it either out of politeness or because it’s illegal for them to ask about those things.

I feel like it would be a really weird thing to bring up. And I don’t usually bring up personal stuff in job interviews so trying to casually mention my twins so they can connect the dots seems inappropriate. But I don’t want to miss out on a job because they’d rather not hire someone they think is going to then go on leave in a few months. Which I know is actually illegal, but let’s be real, that 100% happens all the time.

Yep, I hate that you have to worry about it, but you’re right that could be a thing in interviewers’ minds. Which sucks and is illegal and is still a thing anyway.

I think the easiest way to mention it would be to mention your maternity leave in past tense and drop it in organically when talking about your current job — something like, “Before I went on maternity leave last year, I did X — and blah blah blah project X.”

4. Email signatures when you’re changing your name

I’m just starting a FTM/gender queer transition and have been changing my name, but won’t be doing so legally, at least for now. I understand that there are situations where I will have to go by my old name, Cecilia: doing stuff with the government, HR, etc. However, I want to go by Clive in daily situations and with my peers. When I talk to people it is easy (albeit an anxiety type of easy) to say, “I go by Clive now.”

My question is about work email signatures, though. I’ve seen a lot of examples on how to use nicknames (haven’t been able to find advice related to preferred names) in signatures, and there are so many options.

Cecilia (Clive) LastName – Linkedin
Cecilia “Clive” LastName – random online articles
Cecilia LastName (Clive) – Facebook
Clive (Cecilia) LastName – random online articles

Any advice on using my preferred name in my work email signature would be so great.

You could do any of those! I think you’re finding conflicting answers because there really isn’t any one “right” way to do it, so I’d just go with the one you like best. That said, I think you’re better off going with one that has Clive first, since people are more likely to assume that whichever name you put first is the one you’re going by.

Think of it sort of like how married women who changed their name will sometimes present their old last name at the end, like “Jane Warbleworth, née Bumbridge.” You’re not using “née,” but the idea is the same in that you’re present the name you now go by first.

5. How to explain an incomplete master’s degree

So I have a bachelor’s in Computer Science. I decided to do grad school and go for a masters at the same school as my bachelors. I have a part-time retail job and live with my parents. During the second year of my master’s, my dad got sick, really sick. Hospitalized for several months. After he got out, I was basically the live-in caretaker for him for quite a while. So this threw a major monkey wrench into school. After he recovered enough to not need me as much, I did go back to my thesis, but my momentum and focus were destroyed and I burned out. The project also ended up being this beast of a thing that I think everyone underestimated the size of.

So now I’m probably looking at not being able to finish. I’m in the middle of year six after already having gotten an extension for two semesters. Let’s say the worst happens and I don’t complete my master’s. What do I put on my resume and what do I tell prospective employers?

On your resume: “Coursework toward master’s in X, (year) to (year)”

To interviewers: “I had intended to get my master’s, but my plans were disrupted by a family health crisis, which ended up taking priority. I got a lot out of my program, but at this point, I’m itching to focus on full-time work.”

That’s it! You’ll be fine.

open thread – May 18-19, 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.

sharing an office when people are fasting, IT remotely accessed my laptop when I asked them not to, and more

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

1. Sharing an office when people are fasting

I am the supervisor of a team of four (counting myself). I have been a member of this team for 10 years, while the other three have only been here one to four years. The four of us share a tiny office that’s really not meant for more than two people, so we are pretty much all up in each other’s personal space all day, but we’ve developed a pretty great working relationship.

All three of my teammates are Muslim and take their religion seriously. It is currently Ramadan, meaning they are all fasting from sunrise to sunset. I always try to be very respectful of this, and try not to eat or drink anything in our shared office, but as a regular water drinker, it’s difficult. I’ve gotten in the habit of going to the water cooler every so often and chugging a plastic cup of water because I feel as though I can’t keep my usual bottle of water on my desk during the day. I also always eat lunch at my desk, at the same time every day, and they all know this, but I feel like it’s unfair for me to do so when they are fasting, even though they’ve said it doesn’t bother them.

Everyone in our office suite uses a conference room to have lunch together at noon each day, and I cover the receptionist during this time. I always take lunch when she comes back at 12:30, but the conference rooms are in use then which is why I eat at my desk. The only other option would be to eat outside (which isn’t doable in bad weather) or to go the campus cafeteria, which results in my spending most of the half hour break just looking for a place to sit. I guess I’m just wondering am I going too far out of my way? I’m trying to be respectful of the fact that they can’t eat or drink anything during the day during this holy time, but at what point can I say it’s my office too and not feel guilty about having a cup of coffee and my peanut butter and jelly sandwich at my desk?

You are being really thoughtful and considerate here, but I think you’re probably taking it too far. I agree that if you can easily avoid eating in front of people who are fasting, that’s a kind thing to do, but I definitely don’t think you need to take it as far as not drinking anything at your own desk — and if they’re assuring you that food is fine too, it’s okay to take them at their word. It sounds like you’ve made it very clear to them that you want to be thoughtful and accommodating — which is lovely — and you have good relationships with each other, so I think you’re safe assuming that they mean it when they tell you it’s fine! I still would probably not spread out a whole buffet of exotic fruits and fancy cheeses and cakes across your desk, but it sounds fine to eat a PB&J in the same space as them.

2. IT guy remotely accessed my laptop when I asked him not to

Today at work I was experiencing some technical issues, and raised a ticket with our IT support team who are based in another location. Later in the day, I was having a VERY busy hour when a member of the team instant messaged me in response to the ticket. I told him that it was a really bad time and asked if we could look at the issue a bit later, but he remotely accessed my computer anyway! (As in, he could see my screen and had taken over control of its function.)

Am I in the wrong for feeling like this out of order? Not only was it a bad time, but I actually had my online banking open in my browser which I would have preferred to have kept private. And what if I had been halfway through a presentation with an important client?!

On the other hand, I guess his job is to fix things — not to wait on a time that’s convenient for me, and I suppose I have no right to any real privacy on a company computer. I don’t know — I’m torn! What do you think?

I’m with you. If he absolutely had to do it right then because of his own schedule, he should have said something like, “This is the only time I’ll be able to look at it this week — okay for me to go ahead or would you rather wait until next week?”

As you pointed out, not only does this raise privacy issues (and sure, you don’t have real privacy on a work computer, but you’re still entitled to at least say, “Hold on, let me close my banking info”), but it could have been far more disruptive to your work than waiting would have been to his (like if you were presenting to a client, or dealing with a work crisis, or so forth).

3. Resigning when my boss is on an overseas trip

I have a second interview for a job this Friday, and while I know nothing is ever guaranteed, I really hope I get an offer. Things are moving quite quickly (I applied just over a week ago, had a first interview yesterday afternoon and got a call back first thing this morning) and I know that they’re hoping the successful candidate will start by the beginning of June. I told them during the phone interview that I would need to give my company two weeks notice, as is the norm.

However, I just realized that if I were to get an offer in the next week or so, the timing will be awful. Both my bosses, along with the rest of the senior team, leave next Tuesday for Europe and will be gone for over two weeks. The way I see it, two things could happen here — I get an offer before they go and resign but my two weeks will end before they get back, or I get an offer while they are away and have to resign while my boss is in Europe. (And, of course, the third thing is that I get no offers, in which case this is all moot!) There will be a significant time difference while they are away so it would be hard to call, although I know that would be better than emailing.

Honestly, neither option sits well with me! I don’t like my job and I’m not that fond of my boss, but I would feel very bad leaving without even seeing him. I would also feel bad having to resign via email or an international phone line (notoriously crackly!), especially considering this is my first professional role. We are a small team (only about six to seven full-time staff) so unfortunately I can’t just slip under the radar. How would you go about this?

This is totally normal, and the sort of thing that happens all the time! Sometimes resignations come at inconvenient times, like when your boss is away. People make do! And your boss will understand that you don’t have the luxury of telling your new job that you need to push your start date back to wait for someone’s European travel to end.

So once you’ve accepted the offer and it’s officially a done deal, tell your boss. If it’s right before she leaves for Europe, so be it. If it’s after she’s already gone, call her on a crackly international phone line; she will still be able to hear you, crackles and all. If you’re unable to reach her, send her an email saying, “I normally would never do this by email but I want to give you as much notice as possible.” And however you contact her, you can also say, “I realize the timing isn’t ideal — what’s the best way for me to make the transition as smooth as possible since you’re away?”

This will be fine!

4. Asking a coworker not to joke about suicide

I’m hoping you can help as I’ve found no easy answer amongst my support group. My coworker, a nice guy, makes jokes about “you’ll want to kill yourself if you do this or that” and I’m not sure how to discuss it with him that it bothers me. The main reason it bothers me is that I’m an attempt survivor and I lost my brother to suicide. No one at my workplace knows about my attempt as it occurred before I was with the company and I don’t want the perception of me to change. Any assistance would be appreciated.

Be direct! “Please don’t joke about suicide.” That’s really all you need to say! A polite person will immediately stop, but if he pushes back in any way, you can say, “It’s a difficult topic for a lot of families, as I’m sure you can understand.”

5. My boss is the hiring manager and HR rejected me before my resume even made it to her

I recently applied for a position inside of my work group that is essentially my current role with some larger project and mentoring responsibilities added in. I went through the proper channels, filled out the excessively long application, submitted my cover letter and resume tailored for my boss (who is the hiring manager), took the mysterious personality assessments, and then received a nicely worded email saying that HR would not be passing my resume on to hiring manager (aka, my boss, who would obviously know nothing about my work ethic, skills, and personality … even though we work closely together and see each other five days a week). And I’m now somewhere between livid and devastated.

I know people get passed over all the time, but I was expected to apply for this job by everyone on the team, including my boss. Because of degree requirements that were added to the position (upper management’s decision), I’m the only member of the team who was eligible to apply. And after being informed by the powers that be that they are no longer able to advance … well, my coworkers aren’t pleased with having to train someone from scratch in our niche field where the standards we design to are company-specific, not industry-specific. (This is a job you learn over years, not months.)

Should I even mention to my boss that I applied? Or just let it go? My company is so worried about the possibily of appearing discrimatory that all HR decisions are final, so there is no chance of being reconsidered even if I talk to my boss. I’m torn because I was expected to apply and I don’t want my boss to feel like I’m unwilling to step up and take more responsibility. But I’m also ashamed of the fact that I somehow didn’t make it past HRs filter when the position is so closely related to what I’m currently doing. Logically, I know the rejection isn’t a reflection of the feelings of any of the people I actually work with, but it still makes me feel like a failure when my boss updates us at a team meeting that she has 30 resumes to sort through and I know mine isn’t one of them.

Yes, you absolutely should tell your boss that you applied and were rejected. First, it’s possible that the rejection was an error; errors like this do happen. Second, it’s possible that this will indicate to your boss that there’s something wrong with the way HR is screening candidates. Third, even if there’s really nothing your boss can do (which would be weird, for the record), she needs to know because this is something that affects you, her, and your team.

Say something like this: “I applied for the X job, and I got a rejection from HR a few days ago saying they’re not going to pass my materials along to you. I’m obviously disappointed, but mainly I wanted to let you know so that you’re aware that I did apply.”

my contact won’t stop pressuring me to volunteer while I’m on medical leave

A reader writes:

I am a part of an international volunteer organization that is not doing very well at the local level. I am also disabled with a number of conditions that have all chosen the last few months to give me trouble, leaving me unable to contribute. I really like participating in this organization and the people there really like me, so I want it to succeed but I cannot give it the effort I normally would. I was last able to participate at the end of February. Traveling to and from the organization is difficult because I rely on public transportation and if one of my conditions flares up, I don’t have an easy way home.

I have a colleague who is at the same level as me in terms of structure, but with different responsibilities. She has been contacting me regularly, over social media, messenger, email, and text about me not participating. I’ve told her very clearly that I am not well right now and I don’t like leaving the house alone for long periods of time.

Her contact has included the following:

– asking me to write, direct, and produce a “viral video” of a meme from two years ago
– signing me up for events without contacting me to confirm I can attend
– asking me to host meetings in my own home on my own private time
– asking me to organize events and meetings that I cannot attend.

She also accidentally included me in a messenger conversation with higher-ups in the organization asking them repeatedly to do something they told her was not part of the organization. She applied this sort of passive aggressive social pressure to me as well, telling me that I am “unsupportive” and not acting in the spirit of the organization.

The last straw was her sending me an official email from the organization asking me if I am even interested in participating anymore. When I said I was, and would be back as soon as I was cleared from my disability leave (I am on what amounts to temporary disability in my country). She replied to me heavily implying that the local branch of the organization would fail due to my inaction.

At this point, I don’t know what to do. I have tried very hard at establishing boundaries with her, and for the most part she respects them until she finds a reason to contact me and then lay on the guilt trip after I respond. Her boundary issues started long before this and I’d normally be able to handle her but I’m just exhausted after being extremely sick for months. I talked to my husband about quitting before I got sick because I didn’t want to deal with her, and I’m fine with letting the local branch fail because there’s nothing I can do right now.

She’s also applied this guilt tripping behavior to members, by posting public guilt trips to our Facebook page, which is turning people away. It’s normally my responsibility to update the Facebook page, which I can do from my phone on my couch as I rest, but she’s bypassing me to do this herself.

I’m sorry if this got long, I’m just at my wits end about what to do about her.

Tell her clearly one final time that you’re not available for the foreseeable future and that she needs to stop contacting you, and then ignore all future messages from her.

Use wording like this: “I’m currently on disability leave and not available to participate in any way. I’ve explained this previously, but you’ve continued to contact me. I’m requesting that you stop contacting me about XYZ Organization activities until I inform the organization that I am formally off disability leave.”

That’s it. Then ignore anything she sends after that. If you’ll have trouble doing that or if it stresses you out to see her messages, block them or set them to bypass your inbox and go straight to your trash. You have zero obligation to allow her to mess with your state of mind this way, particularly when you’ve clearly told her to stop.

Frankly, since it sounds like you’ve already told her to stop, you could even skip sending the message above and just go straight to ignoring her messages.

You might also consider emailing the organization’s leadership and let them know that she’s continuing to contact you after you’ve told her not to, and that her behavior is likely to drive away volunteers altogether. Cite those Facebook guilt trips in particular. You could say that you’re happy to continue maintaining the Facebook page (if you really are) but that you can’t do it if she’s going to be posting unauthorized, obnoxious messages there.

But you have no obligations to continue dealing with her. None. Zero. That’s an advantage to volunteering; you get to set up whatever boundaries you want and can walk away at any time if those boundaries are repeatedly disrespected.

A good organization is one that leaves people alone when they request it.

13 actually effective ways to handle difficult/awful/frustrating coworkers

I wrote an article for BuzzFeed about 13 actually effective ways to handle your most irritating coworkers — from know-it-alls to the person blowing up your phone with texts — without making things tense or awkward (hopefully). It has fun graphics! You can read it here.

The piece pulls content from my new book, which you can buy at AmazonBarnes & NoblePowell’sBooks-a-MillionIndieBoundTarget, or anywhere books are sold. (In the UK: Amazon UK or  Waterstones. In Australia: Booktopia or Mighty Ape.)

the 18-month coffee debate, and other stories of office coffee wars

A few weeks ago, I asked for your stories about office coffee wars (or tea/milk/etc. wars). Here are 10 of my favorites.

1. “We share our space with other organizations and there used to be one of those touch-screen made-to-order coffee/espresso things on each floor. Then one of the lease holders signed a non-compete contract with another company (who served coffee and espresso drinks) that was moving in and we were going to have to get rid of them. Except … we weren’t a party to the non-compete so we bought all the fancy machines and moved them out of public areas and into ours.

At which point people from all the other companies started casually walking into our kitchenettes (we share other things like meeting rooms so there aren’t restricted access issues) and using the machines. There were polite reminders. There were pointed, ‘OH ARE YOU NEW TO [OUR COMPANY] WHICH SECTION DO YOU WORK FOR?’ barbs. There were Post Its. There were signs. Signs got torn down. There were new signs. Someone in [other company] took a picture of one of them and sent it to their entire distribution list inviting them to come drink our coffee. There were executives talking to executives about how to stem the invasion. There was talk of PUTTING BADGE READERS ON THE MACHINES. It was bananacrackers.

And it’s not over yet. We have no resolution. I think most of them have just gotten bored but we still see people furtively ducking into the kitchenettes periodically.”

2. “My company provides coffee machines on every floor but charges 20 cents per cup (except for ‘meeting coffee’ which is free). There are lists. People on every floor whose responsibility it is to refill coffee, sugar, and milk. Deputy people for this job. Monthly bills. Cash boxes on every floor where you are supposed to pay your bill. People who manage the cash boxes. Somebody in housekeeping whose responsibility is to manage cash logistics. Some other person in sales who hands out coffee, sugar, and milk (but needs a receipt for everything). Probably substitutes for these people too, I don’t know – you get the idea.

At some time someone made an official ‘proposal for improvement’ to eliminate the charge for coffee, the lists, the cash boxes and the whole system. Have a single person whose job it is to refill the coffee machines daily and be done with it. There was a short calculation how much time and effort could be saved. (A lot.)

That proposal has gone through the improvements committee (yes, that’s a thing), the sales people, the union, the CEO and back to the improvements committee. It is still under consideration after 18 months.”

3. “As has often been the case in my career working in a fairly male-dominated field, I was the only woman in an office. When I started I would make a pot of coffee in the morning and then have some. After a couple weeks I noticed nobody else would make the coffee – they would just wait until I came in to make it.

So I started bringing my coffee from home because I didn’t want to be the office coffee maker. The first day they just waited…and waited…

‘So there’s no coffee.’
‘Guess you have to make some then.’
‘You do it so well!’
‘I sure do – this cup is delicious!’

It was all passive aggressive as hell. Nobody made coffee that day. The next day someone finally did it.”

4. “I bought my own coffeemaker/pot to keep in my office after the brutal territorial battles of the teacher’s workroom became too much for me. Word got around, and now many of my colleagues (in my department, who have access to my office) share my coffee, most of them contributing creamer and coffee.

People around campus are outraged! Outraged that I keep my office locked at all times due to FERPA laws that require student documents to be secured. I’ve found sticky notes on the door, asking me to bring coffee to people in their classrooms, had people say rude (and quite stupid) things to my face and had multiple administrators come by my office to say: we’re investigating your office coffee pot on the basis of a complaint. Keep your coffee pot.

The people who want my coffee are not my friends or close colleagues – they are people I barely know! And nothing is stopping them from using the break room or bringing their own coffee pot. When people complain about people acting ‘like they’re in middle school’ sometimes I think they are talking about the staff.”

5. “We just got an all-staff email sent around to say that someone had taken some other team’s milk from the fridge and it had not been returned. Our building has been consumed by milk wars because the kitchen is shared by a university department and a bunch of charities who all have different rules and milk clubs (especially since the university USED to provide milk for staff for free but now does not). The fridge is literally stuffed full of half-used, meticulously labelled milk bottles to the point where you can’t put anything else in there.

I mean, I know the British love their tea but it’s reaching levels of parody.”

6. “In our tiny office there’s a Keurig and a pot. Only two of us use the pot daily, but we do make coffee every day and drink it (a third person drinks it as well, but flies under the radar). When I was going to be out on vacation, the office manager asked my coworker if she could refrain from making coffee that week so as not to waste it. Keep in mind none of us have had raises in several years. I now pride myself on making financially ruinous pots of coffee.”

7. “My dad was a middle school teacher. As the first one in the building most days, he was usually the one to get the pot of coffee going. I think at some point, a group of teachers wrote a note on the coffee maker that requested using half the number of scoops that he normally used.

Then … my dad’s coffee sent someone to the hospital. Another teacher drank a cup from a pot that my dad made, and he started getting heart palpitations. This guy went to the school nurse, who suspected that he was having a heart attack. She called 911 and the teacher got taken to the hospital in an ambulance. Testing revealed that he thankfully hadn’t had a heart attack. He was just REALLY not used to the strength of my dad’s coffee. My dad got some sort of comedic ‘Dumb Ass’ award for doing the stupidest action that month. I think he slowly gave up coffee making at work after that.”

8. “LastJob had a coffee club. I was not a member.

There was one coffee maker. There were coffee wars over caffeinated vs. decaf coffee. Regular coffee vs. flavored coffee. Regular caffeinated vs. flavored decaf.

This was slightly mitigated when the company expanded to another floor of the building and we gained a second break room and a second coffee maker. One floor’s coffee maker was designated for decaf only, and the other for caffeinated. The flavored vs. regular battle waged on.

Two employees ended up getting disciplined (separately) for spending too much time each day ‘making coffee.’ They were in the kitchen for hours, cleaning the carafe, waiting for coffee to brew, organizing the containers of coffee, walking around polling people about what flavor of coffee to try next.”

9. “I work at a small college, the pretentious kind that loves to call itself ‘elite.’

About two months after I started, I walked into the kitchenette to get my lunch and found 3 faculty members puzzling over the Flavia coffee maker – none of them could figure out how to get it to work. I don’t drink coffee, but I walked over to offer my assistance.

There was a sign, with pictures, hanging on the wall over the machine with instructions. I followed the instructions and voila, coffee! None of the faculty said thank you; instead, they all loudly exclaimed to each other how ‘complicated’ it was and how ‘you need a PhD to operate this thing!’

Between the three of them, they had at least three PhDs. I had had my B.A. for less than a year. I still wish I had pointed that out to them.”

10. “Ok so there is this guy at my work who is a contractor, he develops this particular bespoke computer system that my organisation uses. He is kind of an asshole, doesn’t come to team meetings, doesn’t really consider himself one of us.

Anyway he has for the past couple of years planted his personal espresso machine in the shared kitchen. With its own coffee grinder and shit. He also brings his own milk in (the organisation provides milk). But he gets very angry if someone uses his gear. Once someone used his milk and he hung the bottle in a noose from a shelf with a big sign DO NOT USE THIS MILK.

Anywho one day he really lets rip at a new guy who used his coffee machine, really balls him out in front of everyone. He puts up a sign saying THIS EXPRESSO (sic) MACHINE IS A PRIVATE APPLIANGE, DO NOT USE. This really pisses me off.

So I bring in my own espresso machine from home and plonk it on the counter next to his with a big sign YOU ARE MOST WELCOME TO USE THIS ESPRESSO MACHINE. I even provided some coffee. People use it and leave a donation and I buy more coffee, it’s a great system.

So he puts up a little hand written note on his sign THE OWNER JUST WANTS HIS WISHES TO BE RESPECTED AND FOR PERMISSION TO BE ASKED BEFORE USING THIS MACHINE. Haha, what a baby.”

my noisy coworker won’t mute himself on conference calls, checking references after someone’s hired, and more

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

1. My noisy coworker won’t mute himself on conference calls

I have an etiquette question today that is driving me nuts. I work on a team where most of us are remote. We have a lot of daily check-in calls on Webex or Skype where the entire team gets together to talk about project work or issues we are having. Most of the time, this process works well and everyone mutes until they want to talk, which cuts down on the background noise and makes it easier to follow the conversation.

We have one coworker, however, who will never mute himself upon joining a call, despite people asking point-blank for him to do so. The background noise around him is one thing, but he’s also constantly making bodily noises (coughing, snorting, throat clearing, etc). Sometimes he’s even eating on these calls — unmuted! It makes it so hard to pay attention to the person presenting, and it’s disrupting to the meeting to need to consistently stop and ask him to mute. When people ask him to mute, he will do so, but it’s only effective for that one call we are on. During the next call it’s the same song and dance.

Do you have any advice on how to get it to stick that he needs to go on mute so that I can regain my sanity?

You have a few options:
* You could ask the person who most often convenes/moderates these calls to address it with him: “Hey, could you ask Roland to be more vigilant about muting himself? He usually forgets and it can be really distracting on the calls.”
* Depending on the dynamics on your team, you could say something yourself at the start of the call: “This is a reminder for everyone to mute themselves.” Or even, if you have a decent relationship with this dude that allows for some ribbing, “Roland, this means you.”
* You could message him during the call: “Hey, can you mute yourself? I’m hearing a lot of distracting noise.”
* You could address it with him directly outside of a call: “Hey, I’m having a lot of trouble hearing clearly on conference calls and I think it’s because you don’t reliably mute yourself. Could you make more of a point of doing it?”
* If you try all that and none of it works, you could ask his manager to address it.

People are weird.

2. My company is checking references — after someone is hired

Due to my role, I support every function of our HR team. One of my tasks is to check references for candidates who we have extended offers to. However, lately the recruiter who sends me the references to check has gotten in the habit of sending the references to me after the person has already begun working for us! She will tell me no rush on getting it done (because the person is here already) but send her the feedback when I get it. This puts me in an uncomfortable position when I call said references because they usually know we have already hired this person and they have started and they call me out on this. What can I do to avoid this? I have already told this recruiter about some unfriendly encounters with references due to this, but nothing has changed. Also, from emails I am forwarded, she is not asking for candidates references until after they join either. Should I approach this uncomfortable situation with my boss since it has happened multiple times?

Yes, absolutely you should. At best, this recruiter is making your company look ridiculous to new hires and their references — as if the reference-check process is such a bureaucratic rubber-stamp that it’s not even getting done until after someone is hired. (And there’s really no point in checking references at all if you’re waiting until someone is hired; the idea is that it’s supposed to be part of the hiring decision, not some sort of dotting of i’s and crossing of t’s after the fact.) But worse, and more likely, she’s probably causing your new hires a lot of angst and concern — because they’re going to wonder what the hell is going on and whether this means their new job is not in fact a done deal.

So yes, talk to your boss, tell her that you think this is making the company look terrible to references and freaking out new hires (and that you’ve already had some references respond badly, as well they should).

3. I think I know who the office pee-er is

I have a question that isn’t exactly Earth-shattering but I’m curious on your take. I feel weird asking this, but we have a coworker who pees all over the seat and floor around the toilet on a regular basis. I work in an office with 120 employees that is a retail location. While there are no issues in the public customer restrooms, someone keeps peeing all over the seat and the floor around the toilet in the mens’ and womens’ bathrooms reserved for employees. It’s the norm here to use the other bathroom (mens/womens) if the other is in use. The bathrooms are only 1 room with a locking door and don’t have stalls, so you are never in a bathroom at the same time as another person.

It’s been a source of frustration in the office and the HR Director has sent emails and posted signs about how to appropriately use a bathroom. I have gone to the bathroom after one woman who I think is doing it. My reasons are: (1) I have used the bathroom before her, and then shortly after her and the pee mess wasn’t there before but it was after. Sorry for the TMI, but I had just drank a 32-ounce water so it was only about 20 minutes between each trip and the office wasn’t very crowded. (2) The woman wears a very strong perfume that lingers for some time after she leaves the bathroom so I know that she has just been there.

Now, I wouldn’t normally bother with this except that I know the HR Director (also a woman, as am I) was trying to figure out how to stop this. Everyone thinks it’s a man. I still think that the correct action is to keep my mouth shut, because I’m not 100% positive and also, pee in general isn’t something I want to talk about with my coworkers in the first place. I don’t have an obligation to report this, do I? Can I just ignore this whole thing without guilt?

You do not have an obligation to report on your coworkers’ bathroom habits! I free you from this burden.

4. My company made me a counter-offer so I turned down another offer — and now they’re not coming through

I was recently offered another job in a similar position for a new company but for slightly more money. When I informed my manager, she informed me that she didn’t want me to leave the company and would work on a counter offer. The counter offer included a pay increase (more than the salary I had been offered) and the chance to transfer into another department of the company that would allow me the progression and growth that I am ultimately looking for, as my current position doesn’t have any scope for growth. However, the managing director was away on holiday for two weeks so was unable to sign off on the department transfer, but as a managing team they had the ability to sign off on the pay.

Now the director is back and the transfer hasn’t been mentioned since. I asked for an update from my manager and she told me that they would be creating the position and will be interviewing. I hadn’t been informed that I would be required to interview, or that there would be other candidates.

It’s been almost four weeks since I turned down the other offer, and I’m starting to give up a little. I am now unsure that I made the right decision to stay. Should I inform my manager that I shall be continuing my search for another position if the transfer doesn’t materialize, or should I just cut my losses and go?

Your company screwed you.

You turned down another job offer because they offered you a different position, and now they’re telling you that other position isn’t a sure thing at all and that you’ll need to interview for it along with other candidates?!

They really screwed you. You took them at their word and gave up something of value to you, and then they changed their story.

There’s no real point in telling your manager that you’ll go back to job searching if they don’t come through for you, because they’ve already shown that they’re operating in bad faith and can’t be trusted.

Absolutely do resume your search — but even if they ultimately give you the position they promised, these aren’t people you want to be dealing with in the long-term.

5. Will I miss out on my bonus if I give extra notice of my resignation?

I am planning on quitting my job this fall in order to attend school, specifically, I am taking a CNA course. I want to provide my employer with as much notice as I can, but I also want to make sure that they are not going to use it against me. My concern is the company has not announced the bonuses yet. Bonuses are normally paid around the middle to end of July, and I won’t leave my job until late August or September. If I do the nice thing and give them plenty of warning so they can hire and fill my spot, can they use that to not pay my bonus?

They can, unfortunately. And some companies don’t pay out bonuses to people who are leaving (with the thinking being the bonuses are a retention device and you’re already leaving). Your best bet is to check your employee manual to see if this is addressed in there and, if it’s not, to see if you can find out how they’ve handled this for other people in the past. If you can’t find out for sure, then it’s a gamble based on what you know of them and how they operate — but you wouldn’t be wrong to decide to play it safe and wait until bonuses are paid before giving your notice.

On the subject of giving more-than-usual notice in general, you’ll find people who will tell you never to do it, that you only owe two weeks, etc. But there are cases where it makes sense to do, will generate significant good will, and you know you won’t be penalized for it. But it really only makes sense if you’re sure your employer won’t penalize you in some way — push you out early, deny you a bonus, etc. When you’re not sure about those things, err on the side of caution.

my boss has delusions of grandeur about our website — do I have to burst his bubble?

A reader writes:

I work as a personal assistant to a retired broadcast journalist who made the transition from analog to digital but hasn’t been able to make the leap to the internet. Much of my time is spent teaching/explaining basic tech things such as how to bookmark internet pages or why Facebook pages are different than regular web pages.

My stated primary role is helping him run a news website, which in reality is him sending me articles he likes and me posting them to his blog and social media accounts; no commentary or original writing just a news aggregation site. He seems to think this site will one day be a major news site and spends a great deal of his day, and my time, talking about the future impact of this site. Our site is a WordPress blog that gets no traffic, and the only people that follow his social media accounts are his children and grandchildren. On top of that, he changes the name and intended audience of his site every other week.

My question is, am I under any obligation to try and explain to him that this site isn’t going anywhere?

I provide him with metrics from the Facebook and the blog, I make sure what he wants posted gets posted, and I do my best to make the blog and Facebook pages look professional but I’m left with a bad feeling that he’s paying me to essentially shout into the void. I’m living at home while going to school and this is a good part-time job that pays well and works with my schedule.

Yeah, I think you have some ethical obligation to try to explain it to him if he’s pouring time and money into it, since you’re seeing evidence that he doesn’t understand the landscape he’s dealing with.

That doesn’t mean that you’re obligated to successfully convince him, or to quit if you can’t.

But I do think you owe him at least one serious attempt to say something like, “I really enjoy doing this work and may be shooting myself in the foot by saying this, but I want to flag for you that based on the metrics we’ve seen so far, there aren’t any indicators that the site is attracting readership. To attract an audience, I think you’d need a more robust marketing plan, including SEO.” Assuming that you don’t feel qualified to put that together, you could add, “That’s not something I’m qualified to advise you on, but you can hire consultants who specialize in this and can tell you what you’d need to do to expand the site’s reach.” And you could say, “I’m happy to continue on with the work we’ve been doing, but I didn’t feel right not flagging that for you.”

Once you do that, I think you’ll have met your ethical obligations to ensure he’s clear on what you’re seeing. (Theoretically, he should already be clear on it from the metrics you’re sending him, but sometimes people need things contextualized for them — especially since this is a medium that he doesn’t seem to have much frame of reference for.) From there, it’s up to him. If he chooses to continue on after that, I don’t think you’re obligated to keep trying to burst his bubble.

The exception to this is if he seems to be losing his faculties — like if he’s suffering from age-related dementia — in which case I don’t think you can ethically continue taking money for work that you know has little value. But otherwise, once you explain it to him, it’s his call.

when the job you’re interviewing for keeps changing

A reader writes:

I am currently interviewing for a job and I think I may get the offer. I just finished up my third and final interview and expect to be notified soon.

However, I am struggling because the position has been described differently by different interviewers and does not seem to match the job description. The job description states that the position is primarily administrative. It was made clear to me, when I met with the executive director, that actually it is a fundraising position, including grant-writing and soliciting major gifts. But in my second and third interview (with a board member and the organization’s founder, respectively), they stated that it was less focused on fundraising, more on administration, with some overlap. In my last interview, when I asked the founder for clarity, he said he would have to speak to the executive director.

If the job description says one thing, the executive director says another, and other staff say something else, what do I do? I need more clarity before I accept the role. I’d be happy with it either way, as I enjoy and am good at both administration and fundraising, but I want to know what I’m getting into. How should I ask for this clarification? Should I ask for an updated job description? Or for something written into my contract?

I answer this question 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.