team lead wants us to have weekly group meetings to air problems and grievances

A reader writes:

At work, I have several coworkers with the same job title as me, but our supervisor has recently designated one specific person as “lead.” They are more experienced than the rest of us and have been here the longest, so this makes sense. She is to organize training for new members, be the point person for questions, take over scheduling, and restructure how we run our meetings, etc. She is essentially in the role of managing us on a day-to-day basis, but she’s not really a manager. She is our coworker and does the same job we do; she just has extra roles that she has taken on. She’s struggling with how to do this effectively.

In reorganizing our meetings, she has eliminated a couple of them and instituted an informal but mandatory meeting where we can all talk about what is going on in our week. The idea is for us to discuss things that we want to change or work on in the office environment, clients who are difficult or causing problems, things coworkers are doing or not doing that affect our ability to work, etc. She wants to give people a forum where they can talk about things, to manage the office culture in a proactive, ongoing way, rather than being reactionary when problems happen, and to foster ideas that might benefit everyone, but that we wouldn’t have come up with on our own. We are located in the Midwest, and everyone here is (notoriously) passive aggressive and doesn’t like to talk about their feelings. Our lead is a very kind, smart, personable character, but is very direct and was hoping to change this part of the office culture to facilitate more open communication. Behind the scenes drama drives her nuts.

Today we had our first meeting, and nobody wanted to say anything. We basically all sat there like we were in trouble. When the lead gave an example of what types of things she’d like for us to be able to discuss–a coworker of ours behaving unprofessionally in response to a comment–he got really offended and emailed her later to tell her that it was untactful and that he was upset. They’ve worked it out, but I don’t think a group setting is going to work well for our office. I think we all (except our lead) prefer to handle things quietly and one-on-one. She understands this, but thinks it is dysfunctional on some level and impedes our team growth and coherence. She wants to help move people to be more open about what is going on in the office so we can talk about issues and resolve them, rather than pretending like they aren’t there. Plus, many concerns affect more than just the two people immediately involved, and this meeting would provide an opportunity for everyone to be involved in the resolution.

Do you have any suggestions about how we might construct this meeting or approach this goal? How can we use this time for this purpose, given we’re all a bunch of really sensitive, introverted perfectionists who earnestly want to please people and have everyone be happy? How can we engage people to talk about problems or concerns, but not offend anyone? We’ve already established that we use “I” language, and that if you have a concern, you also need to come forward with a proposed solution, or at least some idea of where you want to go with it, so we don’t just complain or point fingers. So we’re trying to be really respectful about this. Would one-on-one office hours be better? Will it just be a tough transition, but eventually work out? Do you think this is even a good idea to begin with?

No, it’s very much not a good idea.

If your office genuinely needs weekly meetings to discuss difficult clients, problematic coworkers, and things you need to change, something is pretty damn dysfunctional. That kind of thing might come up here and there, but in most offices it’s not going to be a weekly meeting type of frequency, and most of that stuff isn’t going to be best addressed through a group meeting anyway — and especially not an unstructured, free-flow, “raise any random concern you have about a coworker with the whole group” type of meeting.

In fact, that’s a recipe for either uncomfortable silence (which is what happened) or demoralizing and upsetting people (which also happened).

Frankly, it sounds a bit like the idea of someone with little experience managing other humans coupled with grandiose ideas about what can be achieved by people just talking things out.

(To be clear, I’m a big fan of people talking things out. But not in this format with these prompts and this structure.)

Maybe you could say this: “You know, I don’t think we need a weekly meeting for this kind of thing. I’d like to just address issues as they come up. And I don’t think a format where the group addresses issues with one person will be constructive; I think that’s a recipe for tension and even drama. I’d like to propose that we continue handling those things one-on-one, as most offices do.”

If her concern is that people tend to pretend like problems aren’t there, well, she can certainly take the lead in raising them with the people involved to get the problem resolved. That’s what good managers do.

I hear you that you want to be respectful of her and open-minded to her ideas, but you also get to speak up when you think something’s a bad idea — and as long as you do that politely and respectfully, a good lead will welcome that input.

5 phrases managers should stop using

Managers’ words carry enormous weight with employees – usually more than most managers realize. The wrong words tossed off casually can ruin someone’s day, lower their motivation and morale, or just plain miscommunicate what’s intended. For example, think about how many people get a little panicky when their manager says please come into my office” (with no explanation of why), and how many managers have no idea that that’s happening.

At Intuit QuickBase’s Fast Track blog today, I talk about five phrases that managers use all the time but which drive their staff members crazy. You can read it here.


my employee keeps giving me instructions

A reader writes:

I have been working for a small department of two in a large firm for nearly a decade now. The second member was hired about one year ago, after I requested it, since my workload was too much for one person.

She is a wonderful person, conscientious and careful with her work. My senior manager – along with the rest of the firm – has actually congratulated me for my choice (I was part of the interview process).

We get along very well, but there is something that is driving me crazy: she regularly gives me instructions as to how to proceed on tasks for which I neither ask nor need advice. I’ll go to the shredder and she’ll say “use the one on the first floor, it’s better.” I’ll get an assigment, and she’ll say, “Tell [the person making the assigment] it’ll be ready by then.” Or “save the document in such and such folder.” It’s all imperatives, no “maybe you should”s or “it would be better if”s or “if I were you, I would”s.

How do I communicate to her, in the most polite of ways, that while we do get along fine and like each other very much, I am the head of the department and it’s really annoying to be given such instructions on a daily basis and on things that are part of set procedures and that I really really know how to do?

My original impulse when reading this was to tell you to let it go, but the reality is, it’s a weird thing for her to be doing and it’s okay for you to let her know that. But having a major conversation about it, or at least starting there, would be overkill, I think. You’re better off just giving her your natural reaction in the moment when she does it. That natural reaction might be “I’ve got it,” “yeah, of course,” or “what’s going on that you’re asking me that?” — and all of those are appropriate to respond with.

For example:

Employee: “Use the shredder on the first floor; it’s better.”
You: “I’m fine, thanks.”

Employee: “Save the document in the shared folder.”
You: “Yeah, of course … have you had trouble finding documents I’m putting on the server or something?”

Employee: “Don’t forget to tell Fergus the work he just assigned you will be ready by Monday.”
You (giving her a strange look): “Well, of course — is there some reason you think I wouldn’t?”

If she’s not entirely oblivious, a few repetitions of this will make her realize she’s giving you unnecessary instruction.

But if she doesn’t, at that point you could ask her what’s going on. For example: “Jane, I’ve noticed you’ve been giving me a lot of instruction on things that I have under control and that I’d expect you would assume I have covered, like where to save documents or reminders to let Fergus know a document I’m working on is coming by the deadline. I’m wondering what’s going on — have I done something to make you think I don’t have my work under control?”

In broaching this, be open to hearing that there really is something going on here that you don’t realize — for instance, that she’s noticed you not doing things that you should be doing (or that she thinks you should be doing) and she’s trying to manage you from below. That still wouldn’t make it appropriate for her to say some of this stuff, but it would at least give you some insight into what’s going on.

Alternately, she might just have a busybody instinct that’s running out of control, in which case calling her attention to it and asking her to stop should take care of most of it.

someone stole my phone charger, chronically late unpaid intern, and more

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

1. Dealing with an unpaid intern who’s chronically late

I have a couple years of work experience, and I am currently managing an intern on my team. Interns at my organization are unpaid, which I do not agree with, for the record, but this does not seem to be changing any time soon. She has very poor timekeeping and is constantly late, often by a significant amount of time. The fact that the position is unpaid is influencing the way I am dealing with this, as I feel a bit uncomfortable about being too stern as she is not being paid. What are your views on this and how can I broach the subject? Should I make it clear that I understand she is not being paid but that constant lateness is unprofessional and would not be acceptable in future roles she may have?

Even unpaid internships have requirements that you can and should hold people to. You presumably chose her over other candidates; are investing time in training her, giving her feedback, and helping her get work experience; and will potentially be a reference for her in the future. All of that means that it’s reasonable to be clear with her about your expectations and to hold her to them.

In this case, I’d say to first figure out whether the work she’s doing requires being there on time. If it does, you should be direct with her about that: “Jane, I’m counting on you to be here no later than 10 a.m. on the days you’re scheduling because of XYZ. When you’re late, it causes problems A and B. Can you commit to being on time going forward?”

If the work doesn’t actually require her to be on time, you could instead say this: “Jane, I’ve noticed you’re often late to work. This particular role actually does have some flexibility to it, but I need you to give me a heads-up when you’re running late so that we’re not counting on you being here before you will be. Since you’re at the start of your career, I also want to make sure you understand that regular lateness would be a problem in most roles, especially early-career roles. I don’t want to our flexibility to give you the wrong idea about what might be okay in future jobs.”

2. Someone stole my phone charger off my desk

I work at the front desk. I was previously in the habit of leaving my phone charger plugged in at my desk all the time, whether my phone was charging or not, whether I was at my desk or not. Two days ago, I noticed it was gone and since I use it daily it probably disappeared around that time. I have no idea who would have taken it. My feelings are hurt and I’m worried now about all my other personal property I bring to work. It’s possible it wasn’t a coworker but instead was a visitor or an employee of one of the other companies that rents out space in our building. Regardless, I’m not sure what action can be taken, if any. I’m pretty upset, maybe disproportionately, but it’s made me feel unsafe, like I can’t trust my coworkers. I haven’t told my bosses or HR yet and I’m not sure if I should. What do I do?

One of the hazards of working at the front desk is that people are weirdly prone to thinking that anything on your desk is available for borrowing. So it’s very possible that that’s what happened here: someone spotted it there and just intended to borrow it, not thinking through that it was someone’s personal property. That doesn’t make it okay, of course, but might be helpful context.

If your office is small, you could send an email around asking whoever borrowed it to return it. If your office isn’t small, you might be out of luck, unfortunately; there probably isn’t much that your boss or HR can do about it. Your better bet might be to clearly label anything that you don’t want walking off (for example, if you bring in a new charger, label it “Jane’s personal charger; please do not remove”).

3. I’ve been asked to set retroactive goals for the past year

I work at a small organization that has not had a formal evaluation process in place for several years. I’ve been here 2-1/2 years and have never had a performance review myself (although I do get regular feedback from my manager). Management has finally rolled out an evaluation system and is now starting to do reviews.

To prepare for my review, I’ve been asked to check over my job description and make sure it’s accurate (which makes sense) and come up with four goals for myself…. for the PAST year. I’m guessing that this is because whatever performance system has been chosen hinges on completion of annual goals. But how am I supposed to set retroactive goals for myself, and is there anything useful about doing that? Do I just pick four things I achieved and call them completed goals? To me, it seems like the only reason I need to do this is because of the review format requiring goals, and it feels like a waste of my time.

It’s not a waste of time; it’s a way of assessing what you were expected to achieve this year with what you actually did achieve. Pick the four biggest things that you worked on this year.

And yes, ideally goals are forward-looking — but in a case like this it’s not unreasonable to lay them out retroactively as a way of talking about how your performance compared to the expectations for your role this year. Ideally, from here on out, their new system will have you set up goals at the start of the year for the next 12 months.

4. Employer wants me to repay notary certification cost

About six months ago, my employer sent me to get my notary certification. This is something that she wanted me to do; I did not ask for this training. We had no contract saying that I would need to pay this back. I have given notice at her office and she is demanding that I repay her. She threatened to take it out of my pay check. Can she legally do this? I’m in California.

No. If you didn’t have an agreement that you’d pay her back if you left within a certain period of time, she has no standing to require you to repay her. I’d say this: “I obtained a notary certification at your direction, as part of my work for you. I would not have done it otherwise. It was part of my job duties, and there was no agreement to repay the cost. For that reason, I do not give you permission to take it out of my paycheck, and please be aware that state law would prohibit you doing that.”

5. Factory has banned wedding rings

I work in a cabinet factory and do not use the machines, such as saws, nailers, etc. Two weeks ago, our compay started a policy that we are no longer allowed to wear rings, watches, etc., including our wedding rings.

The ladies in the office get to wear their rings and do not take them off when they come out to the plant. I could understand this policy if I was working with machinery where my hand, ring, etc. could get caught, but I do not.

This issue has a lot of employees upset and we have even been threatened with write-ups, termination, and even cutting the ring off our finger.

Well, it’s presumably for safety reasons, so that you don’t lose a finger or a hand, right? And I’m assuming that the threat about cutting the ring off your finger is a statement of what might need to happen if you were to get caught in a machine … not a threat of what they’d do to you as punishment.

But if you don’t ever work near the machines, I’d point that out and ask if you can be treated the same as the office workers who occasionally come to the plant without removing their rings. Otherwise, though, this is probably a pretty reasonable safety policy. And of course, reasonable or unreasonable, your company has the right to make this a policy if they want to, so ultimately if you push back and don’t succeed, all you can really do is go along with it.

should I tell job candidates I’m a lesbian in case it’s an issue for them?

A reader writes:

I’m hiring my first-ever direct report, and I work in a conservative industry in a conservative part of the U.S.

I’m also an out, happily married lesbian, but most people assume I’m married to a man until I correct them. I’m used to dropping a comment about my wife into casual conversations with new acquaintances to keep people from embarrassing themselves, and it works well.

So, should I mention to job candidates that I am a lesbian / I have a wife?

If someone has a major issue with my sexuality, I would like to give them the opportunity to factor that into their decision-making, but I’m not sure at what stage to do that.

I can imagine that even over email it could come off as weirdly defensive for 90% of the job candidates for whom it’s not an issue.

Any ideas?

Do you want to give candidates the opportunity to factor it into their decision-making so that you don’t end up having to deal with possible bigotry or awkwardness from someone working for you, or because you’re genuinely concerned about their comfort? The first is certainly reasonable, but if it’s the second, I’d say that there’s no onus on you to prevent discomfort for bigots. Let it be their issue to deal with.

But if you’re concerned that it will become your issue because it will cause problems that you’d prefer to avoid by having them self-select out, and thus you’re doing it for your comfort rather than theirs, I think you could use your traditional strategy of referencing your wife in conversation. It’s harder to do in a natural way in a job interview, yes, but still doable (“I see you went to University of Wisconsin — my wife went there as well,” or “ah, you’re from Denver — my wife and I just traveled there; what a great city,” or “I always tell my wife that one one of the toughest things about this work is X”). Of course, make sure that you don’t do this in a way that sounds like you’re fishing for information about the candidate’s own marital status or family situation — but it should be pretty easy to avoid that.

Another option is that you could display a wedding photo or a photo of you and your wife on your desk in a place where it will be visible to people you’re interviewing. (Although if it’s not obviously a wedding photo, someone might not realize it’s a spouse photo; they might assume she’s your sister or friend, so that may not be foolproof.)

But again, if the main motivator here is their comfort rather than yours, let them deal with that themselves. You don’t need to cater to bigots.

what’s up with HR? and when should and shouldn’t you talk to them?

You may have noticed that I frequently tell people here that HR isn’t the right place to take their concerns about their job or their boss. Too often, people mistakenly think HR is a neutral referee that’s there to mediate problems with coworkers or managers. In most cases, though, it’s more effective to try to resolve problems with the person causing the conflict, and a good HR department will direct you to do that.

But there are some situations where it does make sense to talk to HR. At U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about when you should and shouldn’t. You can read it here.

In addition, the wonderful Ben Ebanks of upstartHR recently asked me a bunch of questions about my take on HR. You can read my interview with him here.


my older coworker won’t stop mothering me

A reader writes:

I have been at my job about six months and am by far the youngest person in my office of 10-15 people. I am in my mid-20s (second job out of college) in an office where everyone else is 40+. For the most part, everyone works together well and the age difference doesn’t matter. But I have one coworker, an older woman we will call Sue, who insists on “parenting” me and getting involved in my personal life. She often brings in “treats” to the office and will email everyone that they are available, but will insist on bringing some to me at my desk “since she knows how much kids eat.”

The first time I took a day off, the next day Sue asked me if I got sick unexpectedly. In confusion, I told her, no, I took a pre-approved vacation day. She said that she was “surprised I didn’t tell her about this beforehand” and proceeded to ask if “I was visiting my boyfriend.” We are on totally separate teams and our work does not overlap at all! There is literally no work-related reason she needs to know everything I do, and even if she did, she doesn’t need to know what I do outside of work.

This pattern has continued. If I take some time off, she will either ask about it before or after (depending on if she notices it on my calendar beforehand) and pry into why I need time off (“are you visiting your parents/visiting your boyfriend/taking a personal day/sick?”).

Recently, I went in for a kidney surgery and was out of office for a while. Sue, via Facebook, decided to contact my mother! She asked my mother to keep her up-to-date on my surgery and progress. My mother, thinking it was a nice gesture, agreed to do so. During the time I was off, see texted me regularly to ask how I was doing, and if I didn’t respond within a few hours, she would contact my mother.

Now that I have returned to the office, Sue keeps monitoring me and asking health related questions such as “Are you feeling okay? You’re drinking a lot of water today” and “I noticed you’ve gone to the restroom a lot today. Everything still working down there?” I asked her to please stop asking me because it makes me uncomfortable and informed her that I would come to her if I had an issue I wanted to discuss. Afterwards, Sue messaged my mother on Facebook to ask her if I was okay because I was unusually rude to her!


Sue is out of her gourd.

The “I know how much kids eat” thing is pretty amusing. Does she think you’re 14 and having a puberty-induced growth spurt?

But amusement aside, she’s crossed multiple lines here. Being mothered by coworkers is annoying in general, but Sue is going way beyond the usual annoying parenting that 20somethings sometimes have to deal with. Contacting your mother?! Monitoring your bathroom use?! She’s so far out of her gourd in this area that the gourd is in another solar system.

From today onward, cut Sue off cold turkey. You’re no longer going to entertain even mild remarks or inquiries about your personal life from her. She needs to hear, clearly and repeatedly, that this is unwelcome and not okay. That means:

* Tell your mother immediately not to have further contact with Sue. Ideally, if Sue tries to contact her again, your mom would say, “Jane is an adult and manages her own life. I’m not the right person to contact about this.” But if your mom won’t do that, she needs to at least ignore Sue and not respond to her. (Also, if I’m inferring correctly that they’re now connected on Facebook, ask your mom to sever that connection.)

* When Sue asks about your time off, say, “Why do you ask?” If she continues to pry (“are you visiting your boyfriend?”) or does anything other than back off, say, “Sue, I’d rather not discuss it. Please don’t continue to ask me about how I’m spending my days off. Thank you.”

* If she expresses surprise that she didn’t know about your planned days off or anything else about your life, say, “I’m confused. Our work doesn’t overlap at all. Is there some reason I’m missing that you would need to know?”

* If she continues to ask questions about your health, say, “I’ve got it under control.” If she continues to ask after that, say, “As I said, I’ve got it under control. Please stop asking.” And/or “it’s weird that you’re monitoring how much I’m drinking / using the bathroom. Please stop doing that.” (If that feels too rude to you, please know that it’s not — she’s the one being rude and it’s perfectly appropriate for you to assert boundaries with her. But if you know that in reality you’re not going to be able to use that kind of wording, then you could just stick with “I’ve got it under control.”)

* If she makes more weird age-related remarks like the one about bringing you treats since she knows how much kids eat, say, “Sue, I’m an adult. That’s a really weird thing to say to a colleague.”

(In fact, that frame — “that’s a really weird thing to say to a colleague” — should be your positioning on all of this. What she’s doing is super weird, and it’s totally reasonable to let your face, tone, and words convey that.)

You might be able to get it under control this way — if you refuse to let her mother you, hopefully the lack of gratification will eventually get her to stop. But you might need to have a big-picture conversation with her as well, either now or if doing the above for a couple of weeks doesn’t stop it. That would sound like this: “Sue, I’m not sure if you realize how differently you treat me than the rest of our colleagues. I’m an adult and I don’t need mothering. I’d like you to stop monitoring my health and my days off, asking about how often I’m drinking water or using the bathroom, or generally acting like my mother. And speaking of my mother, please don’t continue to contact her. I need you to treat me like you would any other colleague, rather than a young person who needs your assistance. Can you do that?”

Ultimately, whether or not Sue stops isn’t fully in your control. But your response to her is, and you have a lot of power to starve of her of the info and responses that make this rewarding for her. Try that, and I bet that even if it doesn’t stop 100%, she’ll pull way, way back. And meanwhile, colleagues who see you handling it this way will see you being mature and reasonable and her being … quite strange.

family members stopping by work, should I say goodbye to coworkers when I leave, and more

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

1. EAP’s gatekeeping procedures scared me off

I called my company’s EAP hotline. I was hoping to make a quick, discreet inquiry about local health service providers and maybe come away with a list of network-approved counselors who might offer me a referral to a proper doctor. (Yes, I’m well- insured, in case anyone was wondering, but it seems that one practically has to beg for a referral to any sort of specialist these days, at least in my experience.) The hotline staff pretty much grilled me, though. They wouldn’t let me access any services until I gave them my name, birth date, address, phone number…plus department, title, duration of employment with the company, and other exceedingly specific and potentially confidentiality-compromising stuff that I can’t see anyone willingly volunteering.

I understand that EAPs are supposed to be confidential, and that confidentiality doesn’t require anonymity, but their questions scared the hell out of me. I hung up crying and wondering if I’d already gotten myself red-flagged in some way just by calling. I don’t want my situation to come to my employers’ attention at all, let alone reflect badly on me.

If EAPs are really confidential (as they are), and prepaid by the employer (as this one is), why do EAP providers feel the need to gatekeep their services to death unless/until they have every scrap of their potential users’ personal info? I understand that they need SOME identifying info to confirm that any given would-be user is actually entitled to take advantage of the brnefits, and I can see why they’d like a few more details in order to report to their clients about the demand for, and efficacy of, their services. But it seems to me that demanding major-league personal stuff about employees goes way beyond the realm of professional competence and into that of a) the EAP provider’s greedy curiosity about the demographics of their clientele, or–I really doubt this is the case, but it struck me as horribly plausible at the time, prima facie–b) the employer’s greedy curiosity about their employees.

Is there an anonymous way to tell an employer that you chose not to use their EAP benefits because the providers were so disconcertingly nosy and gatekeeperish?

Yeah, I can see why that unnerved you. EAPs are supposed to maintain strict confidentiality, and this one probably does — but its practices are guaranteed to make at least some people feel uneasy, which is a deterrent to people actually using it. If nothing else, they should have prefaced the questions by explaining why they were asking and how the information would be used. (It also would have been okay for you to say, “Before I provide this information, can you tell me how it will be used?”)

If your employer has anything set up to take anonymous feedback and suggestions, you could mention it in that forum — but I actually don’t think this would mark you in any kind of bad way if you just tell them without worrying about the anonymity. You don’t need to tell them WHAT you contacted the EAP about, only that you found the process off-putting. It’s probably HR who coordinates the service, and you could simply say, “I contacted our EAP recently for assistance with something but ended up not talking to them because they required such a large quantity of detailed information from me before they’d talk to me that I had trouble trusting that the service was really confidential. I realize I could be wrong, but I wanted to bring to your attention that it might be deterring others from using it as well.”

2. Am I supposed to say goodbye to my coworkers when I leave work?

I am a new employee in a hotel. I am the front desk clerk. Should I go around and see goodbye to my coworkers when I clock out? If they did not look at me, do I still have to say goodbye to them? If they are busy doing things, do I have to say goodbye to them?

It really depends on the culture of your workplace. In some workplaces, it would be odd not to say goodbye to people as you left — at least the ones in your immediate vicinity. In others, it would be odd to make a particular point of it. I’d pay attention to what other people working around you do, and follow their lead.

In general, though, and especially if people are busy, simply saying goodbye as you’re passing them on your way out is usually fine — no need to make a special point of finding them or stopping to talk as you leave.

3. Family members stopping by my office

I work in an office. Sometimes, maybe once a month, an immediate family member will come by for a short visit line to discuss a family matter. Can my supervisor prevent them or even reprimand me for them stopping by?


In some offices, this would be no big deal. In others, it would be no big deal if it happened on rare occasions but would feel odd or unprofessional (or simply distracting) if it was happening regularly. In others, it would be frowned upon generally.

In any case, if your manager has asked you to stop letting family members stop by, you should comply with that.

4. Adjunct teaching work keeps getting cancelled at the last minute

I am an adjunct at a school that I love. I enjoy that it is part-time; I don’t want full-time work now, but when my kids are older I will, and this would be the school for me.

I teach some short-term classes that get cancelled if there is low enrollment. Unfortunately, they don’t tell me until the day before class was supposed to start, so I am suddenly out all the money I would have made freelancing or adjuncting somewhere else (there are three schools where I teach) and I turned down opportunities to be available to teach the short-term classes.

Here are my choices: (1) stop accepting jobs at School A because they only make about 50% of the time, or (2) continue accepting at School A and know that they will only make about 50% of the time, but with such short notice I won’t be able to accept other work.

I have asked repeatedly to know if the classes are cancelled, but they leave enrollment open until the day before class starts. They schedule the classes months in advance, so they are asking me to commit to spring classes now, but so is School B, and they are a less nice facility but they have never cancelled a class that they offered me.

I really like the school where the classes cancel. The people and the facilities are so nice at this school, they pay me to attend training and develop curriculum, and in general they are just really lovely. Is there an option I am not seeing?

Nope, it sounds like those are the two options. Knowing that part of the deal with School A is that half the time your classes will be canceled the day before they’re set to start and you’ll have given up other work that you could have filled that time with, you’ve got to decide if you like them enough to make that worth it to you.

5. Boss is asking me to commit to staying if he makes me full-time

I’m in a bit of a predicament at my job of 18 months. My manager has been promising for several months to promote me from part-time receptionist to full-time. I’ve been given a couple of different time frames on that, and they all came and went, and we stopped talking about it, so I started secretly looking for full-time career positions. I’m moving along well in a couple of interview processes and am a finalist in one, but out of nowhere, my manager asked me to start full-time almost immediately and wanted to confirm that if I went full-time, I’d stay for awhile. There will now be one part-time and one full-time receptionist.

I have to talk to him about it further on Monday morning, and I’m not sure how to reject a full-time position I’d previously told him I’d accept. But I can’t take it in good faith either, especially when I know one of the jobs I’m a finalist for will be making a decision very soon and I could be leaving by the end of the month. Even if the jobs I’m interviewing for now don’t pan out, I still can’t imagine staying there answering phones full-time for long, now that I’ve seen what else is out there. How can I gracefully skirt around this and stay part-time, allowing him to hire someone more committed for the full-time position while not insulting him with the fact that I’ve been interviewing elsewhere?

Tell him that you’ve changed your mind and would like to stay part-time. Be prepared for a reason for that in case he probes for one (but since you originally accepted a part-time position and have been part-time for a while, you can probably come up with some credible-sounding reason for why this arrangement is working well for you).

weekend free-for-all – October 3-4, 2015

Eve and Olive sleepThis comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand. (This one is truly no work and no school. If you have a work question, you can email it to me or post it in the work-related open thread on Fridays.)

Book Recommendation of the Week: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, by Mary Roach. This will answer questions about life in space that you never knew you had, like how astronauts handle personal hygiene, sex, life in incredibly close quarters, and zero-gravity Coke dispensers.

new boss barely talks to me, the ethics of gathering info from competitors, and more

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

1. The ethics of gathering information from competitors

I work in marketing research and a large part of my job involves tracking the activities of our competitors. This typically involves gathering information from their public websites/all social media pages/publicly available revenue information/etc.

Recently, however, I was unable to find pricing information on a specific product line on this particular competitor’s website. A potential customer would have to call to find that information. Which is exactly what my supervisor asked me to do: call pretending to be a customer and find out the pricing. This feels really unethical to me. Information that presented publicly is one thing, but this feels like intentional manipulation and I feel like it crosses a line. No one else seems to feel like this is a big deal, but I don’t think its right that I’m being asked to do this.

Is this a common thing and I’m just unaware of it, or am I right in thinking this is unethical behavior? And if it is wrong, how do I tell my boss no?

I think it depends on how deceptive you’d need to be to find out the pricing. If it’s as simple as just calling and asking and getting an answer on the spot, I don’t think that’s a big deal; it’s not all that different than getting the info from a website or from price-shopping a competitor’s store. But if your competitor would need to do real work to pull together a quote for you, you’d be wasting their time, and I think that’s unethical. Or if they ask you for a bunch of information about you/your company and you lie, that’s pretty shady. But a simple “can you tell me what X costs? okay, thanks very much” call isn’t a big deal.

If you do conclude that what you’d be doing falls on the shady side of the line, you could say to your boss, “I think we’d be crossing a line by asking them to spend time pulling together a quote. I’d suggest we look at X instead.” (X will depend on factors about your business I can’t predict, but ideally you’d want to have some alternate proposal to make here.)

2. My boss at my new job has barely talked to me and I have nothing but filing to do

I am a senior in college, and I was just hired at a company in their accounting department. Of course it’s a great opportunity to learn. The woman who hired me just came back from medical leave, so she’s trying to catch up on her end and in the office. In the interview, she said I would be learning how to handle the 401k accounts. The first day I worked there, she wasn’t there. So I asked her assistant on what I should do, so she told me to file. I have been filing for the past three weeks, and every time I try to talk to my manager, she’s always in a meeting or talking to someone. I don’t know if I should talk to her assistant or what to do.

Yes, talk to her assistant and ask her to help you get a meeting with your manager on her calendar. Then, in that meeting, say, “I know you’ve been very busy, but when I took this job, my understanding was that I’d be doing XYZ. Can we talk about what the timeline for getting me trained to do that will look like?”

3. Asking about an employer’s financial troubles at a job interview

I was just invited to interview at a college where I have been applying for the past several months. I’m committed to finding a job there, partially because it’ll get me much closer to field I’m most interested in, but mostly because I’m enrolled in a master’s program there and would receive free tuition as a full-time employee.

The problem is that I have several classmates who work at the college, and they (along with professors, advisors, etc.) have been openly discussing the college’s financial troubles for quite some time — budget cuts, changes to benefits packages, sporadic hiring freezes, and some layoffs (but not many, and not affecting the departments I’m applying to). Is this something I can or should bring up during the interview, when it’s my turn to ask questions? Or is it taboo (or just weird) for a candidate to ask the company about its rumored financial troubles?

Nope, you can bring it up. I’d say something like this: “I’ve heard that the college has had some layoffs and budget cuts lately, as have other schools. Has that impacted this department, and do you expect it could affect this role in the future?”

Keep in mind that they genuinely might not know the answer to that, or might give you a PR-ish answer rather than a real one, but it’s still worthwhile to ask the question, since you might have something that seems sincerely reassuring or that gives you more reason for caution.

4. Making people take the same week of vacation each year

Can a company make an employee take the same exact week of vacation each year? I can understand black-out days and the same month but the exact same week? This person can never take a family vacation because their spouse’s black-out days began on the same week.

Yes, they can — although it’s a pretty bad policy and will harm their ability to be competitive and attract good people, because people with options are likely to prefer to work somewhere less restrictive.