having a boyfriend meet you at work for lunch, dealing with Boss’s Day, and more

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

1. Do I have to organize a Boss’s Day gift?

That time of the year is coming up again: Boss’ Day. I am a huge proponent of the “gifts flow down” mentality and usually don’t contribute to a gift, but I have a particular dilemma this year.

I recently took over as Administrative Assistant for my department, and our old A.A. moved into a different role within our office. Since she’s still here, she’ll occasionally reach out to me with things to keep on my radar. Well, today, she emailed me to remind me to coordinate a Boss’ Day gift. The only problem is I hate the idea of Boss’ Day gifts. I think asking people to contribute money or gifts to people who make vastly more than the rest of us do isn’t appropriate and I don’t want to send out the “give me money” email.

It’s become a tradition in the past couple years, though, and I don’t know what to do about it. If the bosses (we have two) have come to expect this and I don’t do it this year, I don’t want there to be any kickback. But if they ascribe to the same mindset that gifts should flow down and are uncomfortable with the tradition, I would absolutely love to put an end to it.

Do you have any advice as to how I could ask them about this? I don’t know how to broach this without looking like I’m saying they don’t deserve recognition or accolades for the hard work they do here. I think they do, but I don’t believe that needs to be expressed in a monetary manner.

I’d default to assuming that you don’t need to do it; it’s far more likely that your manager won’t care than that they will. But if you’re concerned, why not ask the old AA who mentioned it to you? You could say something like, “I usually don’t do stuff like this and have heard some convincing arguments that gifts shouldn’t flow upward in a workplace, but I wanted to check with you: Have Jane and Fergus ever said anything that indicates to you that they expect this or would be upset if it didn’t happen?”

Or you could simply thank her for the info and then ignore it.

2. Is it weird for my boyfriend to join me at work for lunch?

My boyfriend is on an alternative work schedule for the summer and gets to take off every other Friday. Today, we met up for lunch, and when the small cafe we frequent had run out of seats, I decided that it wouldn’t be so bad for him to come back to my office with me. Our building has a seating area outside and it’s not heavily used, but the weather was good and there were a few colleagues already eating their own lunches. (A note about my office: people keep to themselves or at least their departments, so the only people I socialize with are the other three I work with. I know the people on the patio but not well. Also, I’m 23 and one of the youngest in the organization; most people who work at my company are 30+ with families.)

Anyway, I was a little apprehensive because the surprise lunch at my office meant my boyfriend was wearing a t-shirt, some basic blue cotton shorts, and sperries–not exactly office-like. I hoped that just a quick in and out lunch wouldn’t be a problem, but as soon as we sat down, the entire table of colleagues to one side looked over at us (very obviously) and one or two kept looking at us as we ate. I felt like the attention was unwarranted as we were just sitting and chatting and eating–zero PDA. But I still left feeling like I had crossed some sort of line in having my boyfriend join me for lunch.

Any advice on whether this is something that’s okay to do in the future or should I just avoid it? It wouldn’t happen often but I’d like to be able to have him stop by once in a blue moon (better dressed, of course). Admittedly, I think part of my apprehension comes from being the youngest at an organization and new to the working world in general.

I wouldn’t worry about this. If he were joining you constantly, it could come across as a little immature (like you couldn’t get through the workday without boyfriend contact), but on occasion, like once a week or less? In 99% of the offices out there, totally fine, as long as you’re meeting him outside your office, which you were. (If you were bringing him in to eat with you at your desk, that would be weird. And obviously, PDA is out but it sounds like you know that.)

Also, there’s no reason he has to put on a suit to meet you for lunch; he’s not the one working at your office, and he’s allowed to dress however he wants, as long as it’s reasonably inoffensive.

I’d bet money that people were looking at you just because people are interested in seeing coworkers’ significant others. We are a gossipy species.

3. Having employees write up formal complaints to sign

A question came up between my manager and me, and I thought I’d bring it to you! We are an HR office (the two of us). I had an employee come in to make a complaint about another employee. We agreed to take the issue to his manager and I wrote down his complaint, typed it up, he signed it and all that jazz.

The reason that I wrote down the notes was because some of his complaints were very valid (there is some funny budgeting going on), but some of his complaints would NOT be something to put on paper (for instance, that he suspected this employee was a lesbian – I told him that was not something that we could file a complaint about but he didn’t seem to agree).

But my manager said that we should never write the notes up – the employee has to do it himself. She said it was inappropriate for me to do it even if I got his signature. What do you say?

I say y’all are making this more bureaucratic than it needs to be and you don’t need to have employees sign formal written complaints at all, unless you’re in a context where people routinely deny saying things that they said to you earlier. If for some reason you’re committed to doing it this way, though, it’s really up to you whether you want to write it up for them or have them write it up themselves; there’s no real “best practice” around this because you don’t need to be doing it this way at all.

(Also, this particular employee sounds like an ass.)

4. Asking a friend to refer me after I’ve already been rejected

I applied online for a job yesterday, and at the same time sent an email to a friend who just got hired there, asking if she had the contact information for a recruiter there so I could send a quick follow-up email.

I got a rejection to my online application the next day, but my friend also got back to me and said she could forward my resume along as a referral. Should I go that route, or would it be weird since I already got rejected?

Ask your friend. She’s in the best position to know. Let her know that you’ve already been rejected and ask if she thinks it makes sense for her to pass your resume along anyway. In some cases, that’s reasonable to do and can result in you getting a second look. In other cases, she might prefer to defer to the judgment of whoever did the original screening. (The latter is more likely to be true since she’s new, but let her make the call.)

5. Can my boss find out about my side earnings?

Due to my current low pay relative to my career field at my current job, I am contemplating doing side jobs to earn some extra money. To save you a large email, you will need to trust me when I say that these jobs would never become clients to my current employer anyway. But I have plenty of free time outside of work to do these jobs, which are also outside of my employer’s current client area.

I am worried, however, that when my boss files taxes, he can see my earnings as an independent contractor. While I don’t really *NEED* to continue working at this current job, I enjoy working here for the most part, except the low wages. Can my employer see my earnings from being an independent contractor?

Nope, he cannot. The only people who can seeing your earnings as an independent contractor are the IRS.

my coworker keeps making snide comments about my hours

A reader writes:

I work in a small office (less than 10 people), with several colleagues being out in the field during the day. There are typically only three of us who are in the office during the entire workday (myself included). I typically get in 10 minutes before I am supposed to be in, and leave within 10 minutes of my day being “done.” I stay past that if I need to wrap something up or if I am working on something with colleagues.

However, every day without fail, another office worker, Jane, will make a comment about how “It’s barely afternoon!” or “There she goes, it must be time for her to leave!” or “Must be nice!” Jane typically gets in 10 minutes before me and leaves up to an hour and a half after me. She has been at the company 20+ years and is several decades my senior. I am the office manager, and Jane is in a different department. My boss has said nothing, but will make mention of me staying late, usually with a “thanks for finishing this through” note or email on days when I leave past my scheduled time.

My question is, should I say something when Jane makes these remarks? I typically laugh, or say something non-committal. I do not want a confrontation – one of the key aspects of being hired here was how well a new hire “gels” with the team. Should I just keep smiling? It’s getting to a point where I intentionally stay later and later every day to avoid hearing Jane’s remarks.

I’d appreciate your thoughts, even if you just tell me I am blowing this out of proportion. Thank you!

Ugh, that’s annoying. Jane saying “must be nice” when you’re leaving could be just an obnoxious way of saying “I wish I was leaving soon too,” but “It’s barely afternoon!” or “There she goes, it must be time for her to leave!” sure sounds a lot like open disapproval. It’s also really rude — if she has a legitimate issue with your hours, she should raise it, but just making snide comments when you’re leaving is pretty jerky.

You have two different options here:

1. Say something to Jane. Take what she’s saying at face value, act as if she must be expressing concern for a reason, and ask her sincerely if the time you leave is causing problems. For example: “Hey, I’ve noticed that you comment a lot on the time that I’m leaving. I’ve arranged my schedule with (manager), but I want to make sure that my leaving time isn’t impacting you. Is there something that you’ve been needing from me after I’m gone?” It’s very likely that the answer to this will be “no,” but by putting the issue right out on the table and dealing with it in a mature, straightforward manner (which she is not doing), you make it a lot harder for her to continue making those remarks in the future. (And if she does say “yes, actually it’s causing X problem,” it’ll be good to learn that and figure out a solution, but I suspect that’s unlikely to happen.)

I’m a big fan of this approach for situations where someone is making snide comments rather than speaking openly about whatever is bugging them. A lot of the time, by just nicely and straightforwardly asking if they’d prefer you to do something differently, you can nudge them into realizing that they’re being unreasonable, and thus shut them up. It doesn’t always work, but it’s worth a shot, and you’re certainly not going to look bad for asking — to the contrary, you’ll look reasonable and considerate.

2. Ignore her. If you’re sure that your manager is fine with your hours, it’s not unreasonable to just write Jane off an office annoyance and ignore her. If you’re not sure that your manager is fine with your hours, verify that first, but once you have that confirmation, internally roll your eyes at Jane’s comments and know that it’s none of her business.

By the way, you mentioned that you sometimes laugh when Jane makes these comments. I think some people would endorse that approach (and treating what she’s saying as a joke is sometimes the opposite of defensiveness), but I’d argue it’s not really funny and your laughing may be giving her implicit permission to continue her comments. I’d rather have you calmly say “Yes, I’m done with my day” or just not respond at all.

how to deal with a coworker who won’t stop talking

One of the questions I hear over and over from people is, “How can I get my long-winded coworker to stop talking to me?” Our workplaces are apparently rife with coworkers who rattle on about their relationship troubles, diet challenges, wedding plans, the movie they saw last weekend, work complaints – anything and everything, without realizing that other people are trying to work.

At U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about how to politely assert boundaries with chatty coworkers. You can read it here.

my manager was escorted out after resigning, and I’m freaking out

A reader writes:

My supervisor (who was in upper level management) gave his notice two days ago. We found out yesterday, and this morning around 10 a.m. he was apparently escorted from the building. I don’t know the details because I didn’t find out until around 1 p.m. We haven’t been told anything, and our team lead was supposed to have a meeting with our new supervisor at the end of the day, but instead she went to a management meeting, so we know nothing.

It’s great to know how the company is going to treat us should we try to leave (which makes me want to make that sooner rather than later, just to get it over with), but this has completely shaken my faith in the company. I thought this was one of the best companies I’d ever worked for, and now I just feel like a naiive fool. Our yearly reviews are a little over a month away, and how is our new supervisor supposed to evaluate us if she’s worked with us less than a month? Our one chance at a raise for the year is at stake. But mostly I’m worried because I was told by that supervisor that I was doing well in the company. I have no idea if that’s true any more, or even if it is are they going to hold the fact that he praised my performance and apparently recommended me for a lead position if they held him in such contempt? What am I supposed to do now?

Reserve judgment.

You say yourself that you know very little right now, so it doesn’t make sense to panic. While it’s possible that your company did indeed treat your manager poorly and/or that they routinely do this to people who resign, it’s also possible that there was good reason for it. There are times when it makes sense to have someone sooner than planned when they resign (for example, if he was sabotaging the company in some way, stealing client lists, watching porn at work, told the CEO to F-off, or tons of other possibilities).

There are also some fields where it’s routine to do this is someone is leaving for a competitor and everyone involved understands and expects that, and where often your notice period is paid out but they just don’t want you working during it. (I’ve never understood that practice, because presumably anyone planning to steal intellectual property would just do it before resigning, but it’s a common and understood practice for some fields regardless — and isn’t taken as insulting but as just the way those fields work.)

In any case, we just don’t know what happened here, and so it doesn’t make sense to jump to assuming he was mistreated. Wait until you know more.

As for being evaluated by a new manager or knowing how you’ll be perceived now that your boss is gone, hold off on panicking on that too. Managers do leave, and sometimes they leave right before evaluations. It’s occasionally a disaster, but more often than not everyone figures out a way to deal with it. (It will help if you take the initiative to give the new manager a self-evaluation ahead of time, laying out what your goals were for the year and what your progress was toward each of them, as well as any additional achievements you’ve had this year. In other words, you can play a role in supplying her with information, and most new managers will be grateful for that.)

It’s very likely that you’re going to get more information over the next few weeks about how all of this will be handled. The best thing you can do is to accept that there are a bunch of unknowns right now, but that (a) there’s no current reason to freak out over any of this, and (b) if there is really cause to be concerned, that will become clear soon enough. But wait until you have more facts.

I misunderstood the schedule for my new job, former manager wants me to host a product party, and more

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

1. My former manager wants me to host a product party for her

My former supervisor has been extremely helpful as a reference for me numerous times and I feel indebted to her to some degree for that. Perhaps she is aware of that, too.

Apparently she is “starting a business” with Premier Jewelry. She wants me to invite my friends/family/whomever to my house and host a “party” for her to build clientele who would be willing to buy overpriced costume jewelry. She says I would get a lot of free jewelry out of it. I quickly picked up that this is one of those pyramid schemes that preys on vulnerable, low-information women. A quick internet search confirmed my suspicions. Furthermore, numerous reviews online confirmed the actual jewelry is garbage; my friend told me she bought a $99 watch from them that broke the first time she wore it.

I told her I will see if I can get any interest from people I know to come to the party and get back to her. Even if I agree to host, I am honestly not sure that I know enough people in my area period (I’m a few hours from immediate family and only have a handful of close friends around), much less with expendable income who would be interested in something like this. What do you think? Should I agree to this and try to get people in? I really don’t like the idea of making people feel pressured to buy things, particularly friends/family.

Noooooo. She’s asking you to do the marketing for her business for her, and to annoy your friends and family in the process, and to help her promote a product that you know is crappy. Under no circumstances. You don’t owe her for being a reference for you; that’s a normal part of what managers do for good employees. (I mean, sure, you owe her normal professional courtesies, like taking her calls and congratulations her on professional successes or whatever, but a good reference does not obligate you to do something that makes you uncomfortable.)

Tell her that you decided it’s not your thing and you’re not interested in hosting. And stand firm if she pushes back.

2. I misunderstood the schedule for my new job

I recently started a new job (yay!). One of the awesome perks, for me, is that the job is four 10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days. I’ve been here for almost a month, but I could not start my normal schedule (four 10’s) until this week, because I did not have full security access to the building. Previously I always needed someone to sign me in and out during the standard Monday-Friday working hours.

Well, this week my new schedule started, and I’ve already failed miserably. For starters, this job is a little less standard as far as hours go. We need people working 24/7. I agreed to working weekends, but I thought the work week started on a Monday, and assumed Monday would be my first day. Well, as it turns out, Sunday is the first day of the week as far as payroll is concerned, so I received a call Sunday asking where I was. That sucked. I arrived late and sent out an email apologizing and explaining where my confusion was, then worked as usual and didn’t think much of it.

Unfortunately, I messed up a second time. So with working weekends, I thought my days off were Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. In fact, I wrote this down and remember talking about it. But I received a call again on Tuesday asking where I was. At this point, I’m mortified. I love my new job and I was so excited to start my new schedule but I’ve already messed it up twice. How can I recover from this? I know they’re stupid mistakes but that just looks worse in my mind. I hate messing up something so simple this early on in a new job. Any advice would be appreciated as now I just can’t get rid of this pit in my stomach like I’m going to mess up something else in no time.

It sounds like they messed up, rather than you. People’s default is generally to assume that they’ll be working Monday-Friday, so if that wasn’t the case for you, they needed to tell you that up-front, and they should have clarified when your “weekend” would be. And certainly after the first mix-up, they should have made sure that you were clear on the schedule, not just assumed. (It’s also true that after that first mix-up, you should have confirmed that you had the rest of the schedule correct, but really, the burden to communicate this correctly from the start was on them.)

Anyway, at this point, I’d just let your manager know that you had misunderstood the schedule at the start but that you’re clear on it now, and show up reliably. If you do that, no one is going to think much about this.

3. Company didn’t announce a promotion for “privacy” reasons

Recently, going through an online professional website, one of my coworker found out that one of our coworkers (let’s call this person Mr. W) was identifying himself with a title above the one that the rest of us were assuming he had. The issue was brough up to HR, and less than 24 hours later, an email went out announcing that Mr. W was in fact promoted few weeks ago. The reason that was given for not disclosing his promotion at the same time as the other promotions was that Mr. W was a private person.

This just seems weird to me. Why announce some people’s promotion but not others? How come even the peers of Mr. W were not aware of the promotion? I have the feeling that the whole story is leading to a lot of gossip and is not creating an healthy environment, but maybe I am missing a point.

Yes, it’s weird. Promotions aren’t generally considered private information; they’re company business, especially if Mr. W’s job responsibilities were changing (as opposed to simply getting a title promotion). But unless there’s more to the story (like shadier reasons for deliberately hiding a promotion), I don’t see a whole lot to gossip about here. It was weird that they didn’t announce the promotion, but not really scandalous.

4. Which is more important, test or interview?

I recently had a job interview which was half interview and half task. I feel like I performed some parts much better than others. Throughout my interview I flubbed a few answers which knocked me off my game and left me feeling like I’d blown the interview. However, the I feel like I performed very well on the writing task afterwards.

When it comes to interviews, which is more important to an employer, the outcome of the one to one interview or the candidates performance on the task?

They both matter, so that’s really hard to answer. I can say that no matter how well someone does in an interview, if an actual assessment of their work skills (a test or exercise) is weak, a great interview won’t overcome that. How much “blowing the interview” matters really depends on exactly what the issues were. If you seemed nervous or gave a few rambly answers, there’s a much less big deal than not being able to cogently describe your experience or engage on substantive issues. All of which is to say, there’s no way to really answer this from the outside.

5. What laws are different for smaller companies?

I am a exempt salaried employee, I recently had a emergency and had to be out for a day. I had used all my PTO, so they paid me for four days instead of five. While I do know that normally I would have to be paid my full salary for any week I work any hours, I do know that the laws are different if the company has less than 50 employees, but I have no clue how they differ.

I know my company was recently wanting to hire another employee but the higher-ups put a stop to it because we are really close to having 50 employees, because it would put them under “a whole new set of laws.”

Laws about exempt and non-exempt employees apply to employers of all sizes, as does the rest of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Federal anti-discrimination laws apply to employers with 15+ employees (except for age discrimination, which applies at 20), although you should note that some states’ discrimination laws kick in earlier. FMLA covers employers with 50+ people. Some provisions of the Affordable Care Act differ for employers of fewer than 50 and fewer than 25 employees. And there are probably more than I’m missing, but those are the big ones.

In your particular situation, even though they’re covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act (and thus need to follow the rules for exempt employees), they may not have done anything wrong by deducting a day of pay. The law actually allows employers to dock exempt employee’s pay when they’re absent from work for a full day for “personal reasons, other than sickness or disability.” (However, they can only deduct full days, not half days. So if you were absent a day and a half, they could only deduct for the one full day.)

weekend free-for-all – August 29-30, 2015

Olive and EveThis 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:  Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English, by Natasha Solomons. A German immigrant tries to become a proper English gentleman after World War II (including writing his own list of manners and customs to follow), which eventually turns into a quest to build a golf course (since English gentlemen must play golf). This book will make you feel cozy and in need of tea.

how flexible should job candidates be about interview times, employers finding online dating profiles, and more

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

1. Should job candidates be more flexible with interview requests?

I have been scheduling phone screenings and in-person interviews with job candidates. For calls, I offer two days, allowing them to tell me a time that works best for a brief chat. For interviews, I provide a few options for days and time. I’ve had a few candidates respond saying they can’t take personal calls at work (no breaks?) or suggesting an entirely different day and time for a call or interview. While I understand a current job takes priority, I am surprised to see that these candidates aren’t more flexible, considering they are the ones seeking a new career. What are your thoughts on accommodating such requests and could they be an insight into work behaviors?

You should absolutely attempt to accommodate those requests. People have lives outside of interviewing — they have work meetings, deadlines, and other obligations that they need to schedule interviews around. As for breaks, many people don’t get breaks at all, or their breaks are too short to interview during, or they need to, you know, eat during that break. Also, remember that they are the ones who probably need to be discreet and hide from their employer that they’re talking with you at all; your schedule requires no such contortions in the name of discretion.

Offering two possible days isn’t going cover all the different scheduling conflicts people will have, and it’s reasonable for them to write back and explain those times won’t work for them and request a different one.

Keep in mind that you’re proposing a business conversation that will benefit both of you. Be flexible with people and don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you’re doing them a favor and they should drop everything to make it work.

2. Company says I need to move before they’ll promote me

I’m getting promoted, and I live with one of my potential staff members. The company says I need to move because I will be her direct supervisor. I’ve been her boss before in the past and never had any conflict. Can they fire me or demote me if we continued to live together?

Yes, and they’re smart to refuse to allow you to manage someone you live with. There’s too much potential for conflict of interest or favoritism, or perceived conflict or interest or favoritism. For example: Will you truly be objective about giving her tough feedback or a critical performance review or firing her if you need to, knowing that you’ll be returning to a shared home with her that evening? Will other people believe you’ll be able to?

It’s totally reasonable for a company to say you need to preserve professional boundaries with people you manage. And if they didn’t, the rest of your staff would rightly have a beef with it.

3. Employers finding online dating profiles

Would it be unprofessional or inappropriate if a potential employer (I’m a college senior) saw me or a dating website or app? There are no racy pictures, rough language, etc, but it is part of my personal online presence that is less controlled than my Facebook or Instagram.

No. You’re allowed to online date; there’s nothing inherently unprofessional about it, assuming your profile isn’t explicit or otherwise … alarming. (And really, assuming your profile isn’t linked to an identifiable name that an employer might be googling, someone who stumbled across your dating profile is presumably on the dating website themselves, so it would be a bit hypocritical to hold it against you.)

4. Employer limits time off, even when it’s unpaid

I work for a small company (fewer than five employees). I am part-time and work around four hours a day. My boss, the owner, has decided that we are only allowed to have two weeks off per year. However, we do not get paid for time off, vacations, sick time, holidays, etc. Is she allowed to limit the number of days we can take off if we give her proper notice of the absence? Again, we are all part time, non-exempt employees.

Yes. In fact, it’s pretty normal for employers to only allow a certain number of days off per year, even if the time is unpaid. After all, they hired you expecting a certain degree of availability and reliable presence; it’s reasonable to say “I need to be able to rely on you to be here most days, except for X days off per year.”

But I agree that this tends to go down more easily if an employer offers paid time off, especially for sick time. And if she’s placing unusually heavy limits on the amount of time you can take off, that would be irritating as well.

I feel “meh” about working — am I supposed to be more passionate?

A reader writes:

I read all the letters here, and it feels like everybody loves their job and are passionate about it. need to be honest: I don’t love mine. I fell into it and just kept going with it because it paid decently and allowed me to not to have to worry about what I was going to do after college. Now, 15 years later… I feel almost stuck, like it might be too late to change what I am doing with my life (and to be honest, I have no idea what I want to do with my life; I work to live, and that’s fine by me).

However, I am okay with that. I am not particularly ambitious with my work. Middle management is fine with me, and I dream of the day I can retire. I like my coworkers, my job is fine. However, I feel guilty that I am ok with “fine,” like I should I be ambitious, and wanting more, more, more.

Nobody ever admits to this and it even seems bad to admit out loud, but am the only one out there who doesn’t really love their work and their job? Who just… does it because they have to? I even googled books but it’s all about being career-oriented and professional goal seeking. Is there anything out there to validate my feelings of being “meh” about work?

I guess I just want validations that there are others like me out there, and since I read your blog every day, I thought I would turn to you.

You’re so very, very normal! In fact, as far as I know, you’re actually in the majority.

Most people work to live, aren’t especially passionate about their jobs, and aren’t super ambitious.

Most people work to get food and housing, not for emotional or spiritual fulfillment.

There are people who are passionate about their work, but they’re the lucky exceptions, not the norm.

Keep in mind, too, that that the people who read and comment on a work-related advice site are more likely to be particularly interested in work and career issues than the general population. So you’re not necessarily seeing a representative sampling here.

If you are reasonably content and able to earn a living that allows you to support your life outside of work (and it sounds like you are), go on doing what you’re doing.

Related:
“do what you love” is not great advice

open thread – August 28, 2015

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 :)

should managers always know their employees’ salaries, an insulting job offer, and more

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

1. Should managers always know the salaries of the people they’re managing?

Is there ever a situation in which a manager should NOT know how much his or her direct report is making? Should every manager, even a first time manager, be entitled to know the salary of the person he/she is managing?

Yes. If you’re truly managing people (and not, say, a team lead with only limited supervisory authority), part of your job is to ensure that your people are being appropriately compensated. Another part is to to work to retain high performers, and salary is a big part of that. If you’re being asked to manage people but told you can’t know a fundamental part about their employment relationship with your organization, that’s a problem and indicative of a pretty weird philosophy somewhere above you.

2. Should I be insulted by this job offer?

I was flown into town for an in-person interview following a successful phone interview. During both interviews, we went through a round of hypotheticals in addition to detailing the specifics of my past experience on my resume. I flew home feeling really good about my chances (I also have never interviewed for a position I didn’t get, so I had that bit of confidence going for me, though I know that’s no indicator of future success.)

However, a week later (today), they called me (the executive director along with the rest of the team on the call) to say that they absolutely loved me, they thought I would bring great value to the organization but that they had concerns about my experience and that I didn’t have the same familiarity with the organization as their current team (?). Now, keep in mind, my experience hadn’t changed from the moment I applied to this phone call (in fact, it had recently been enhanced because one of my top accomplishments was signed into law this past week). She said instead of hiring me for the position they’d been interviewing me for for weeks, they’d like to offer me an entry-level position in the same department. The pay would be significantly lower than the original position (which was both already lower than my last position and would result in me making less than I have since I was 19) and would essentially knock me down about three rungs from where I am already professionally. They also said they wouldn’t hire anyone for the original position if I took the entry level one, but maybe in a few years, I could work my way up.

I have seven years of work experience and have operated at a director-level position the last year at a similarly sized organization, and haven’t interviewed or been offered less than that same level in a couple years by anyone until now. I have a ton of questions and I feel absolutely terrible about myself at this point, but I guess the one I’d like you to answer is: should I be insulted?

I don’t know about insulted; it’s such a ridiculous-sounding offer (take an entry-level position when you’re well above entry-level and maybe in a few years, you might be able to work your way up?) that it’s hard to take them seriously enough to be insulted. Also, calling to have this conversation with the entire team on the phone is weird, which is another point on the side of “there’s no point in feeling insulted by people who operate strangely.”

But it certainly doesn’t sound like a job you should take.

3. I’m nervous about carpooling with a coworker who I’ve heard is an unsafe driver

I work in a state government agency, and my coworkers and I occasionally carpool to out-of-town meetings in state-owned vehicles. After traveling to a meeting, one of my coworkers told me privately that another coworker, “Joe,” was a dangerous driver and kept picking at his nails instead of keeping his eyes on the road while he was driving a state-owned vehicle on the interstate.

Now I am nervous to carpool with Joe to meetings. We often have to drive six hours in one day for these meetings (three hours each way), and I know he always volunteers to do some of the driving, so it would be hard to justify why I or someone else in the car needed to drive the entire six hours. Should I say something to him or his supervisor about his driving, even though I haven’t ridden with him to witness it myself? I suppose I could drive my own car to these meetings, but he would still be putting himself and my other coworkers at risk.

Well, first, have you ridden with Joe yourself? And if so, have you observed this same issue? If you’ve ridden with him and didn’t see problems with his driving, I’d trust your own first-hand impressions over someone else’s.

If you haven’t driven with him yourself but you trust the judgment of the coworker who shared it with you, go back to that person and say that you’re troubled by what he shared, but that since you haven’t witnessed it first-hand, you feel a little stuck. Ask if it’s okay for you to discreetly mention your coworker’s observations to Joe’s manager, who can then figure out how to navigate it from there. (And really, this is not likely to result in Joe getting in big trouble or being yanked off the road; it’s more likely to result in his manager getting more information or observing it himself.)

Also, if you ever are driving with Joe or someone else who’s making you feel unsafe, you can say something in the moment! It’s perfectly reasonable to say, “Hey, pay attention to the road and stop doing other things,” followed by “I’m really uncomfortable with your level of attention to the road and would like to take over as driver” if they don’t stop.

4. Applicant tracking systems that don’t allow for context

I will be completing my BA this December. I have already started applying for jobs. Many employers specifically ask if you have a bachelor’s degree. I’m worried that by answering no, my application is being rejected as soon as I complete it. How can I avoid this? Is it too early to apply for positions? There is a position that I really want but at the end of the application, the very last question was “do you have a bachelor’s degree?” I feel like the tracking system will kick out my application and resume. What should I do?

Yeah, one of the problems with automated application systems is that they often don’t allow for the judgment that a good hiring manager would bring to screening. If you’re going to have your degree by the time you’d start — or very close to it — it would be silly to screen you over not having it this very instant.

When you’re using an electronic application system, it’s reasonable to answer questions in the spirit in which they’re intended so they don’t screen you out over something that you’re pretty sure wouldn’t be an obstacle for a human screener. In this case, it’s reasonable to just answer “yes,” as long as your resume makes it clear that the degree is expected in December, but not yet completed. It’s unlikely anyone will think you misrepresented anything, but if you’re asked about it, you can explain your thinking. More on this here.

5. I share a last name with someone I don’t want to be associated with

I’m in my 20s, and currently undergoing a job search after being laid off a few weeks ago from my job of over five years. So far, no one has contacted me as yet, which I can understand. But a couple of days ago, I happened to google {my last name} {my city} in that exact format…and to my shock and horror, the top search results were several news articles about an impaired driver with the same last name and from same city as me, who caused the death of a pedestrian (about 15 years ago; I was under age 10 at the time)…and yet due to shoddy police work and legal loopholes, never faced criminal charges nor jail time, and instead got slapped with only a temporary license suspension, which caused an outrage in the community.

My last name is uncommon enough that I’m sure many in my city would automatically assume I’m related to the impaired driver. For the last 15 years, no one ever brought the incident to my attention (I only learned about it by googling). But I now have fear that maybe this may hamper my job search. Should I be worried? How should I handle something like this?

I wouldn’t worry about this at all. First of all, an employer who googles you is generally going to google your full name, not just your last name. Plus, we’re aware that there lots of people share the same last name and aren’t all related … and even if this was your relative, few employers would hold you responsible for a crime you obviously had nothing to do with.

I’d assume this is a non-issue and not worry about it.