how to delegate last-minute work without a mutiny

by Ask a Manager on July 24, 2014

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No matter how well you plan out your team’s work, you might occasionally need to delegate an urgent project at the last-minute.

At Intuit QuickBase’s Fast Track blog today, I talk about how to do it without sending your team into rebellion or causing anyone to have a panic attack. You can read it here.


is it weird to eat throughout the day at my desk?

by Ask a Manager on July 24, 2014

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A reader writes:

I am currently trying to put on some weight. I try to eat roughly every 2 hours. I work in a very small office that has a relaxed setting and in my own cubicle. I will get to the office early to prepare a quick breakfast of a banana and a small bowl of oatmeal that I finish before the work clock starts. While I’m preparing my breakfast, I also prepare a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to have sometime before lunch. Lunch is 12-12:30. I typically will eat my sandwich around 10 am (or whenever our meeting with the boss ends) and slowly finish my sandwich while continuing to work. After lunch, I will snack on almonds, peanuts, greek yogurt, and cheese sticks.

One person (who views himself as a superior but isn’t a manager) is giving me a hard time, saying “lunch time is from 12:00 to 12:30.” Is what I am doing a no-no in an office setting? I am in no way stopping my job duties to prepare food or eat.

It depends a little on your office culture — there would be some where this would be frowned upon, but in the majority of offices, it would be totally fine. And statistically speaking, it’s probably fine in yours.

If you were regularly eating particularly smelly foods or constantly chomping away on something crunch, it might not be unreasonable for someone to politely bring it to your attention and see if a compromise could be found. But the stuff you’re eating isn’t loud or smelly, and your coworker seems unduly focused on whether you’re adhering to an appropriate lunch time or not, which is really none of his business.

It would be entirely reasonable to just tell him to butt out, but you might get better results if you allude to there being a reason for what you’re doing (although you don’t need to share that reason, which is none of his business) and ask him why he’s concerned. For instance: “You’ve mentioned that a few times. I’m deliberating eating throughout the day for a reason. Is there some reason I shouldn’t be?” Or: “You’ve mentioned that a few times. How come?”

If his answer is just that lunch is at a specific time, you can respond, “Well, I’m eating throughout the day for a reason, but if it ever causes some specific issue, please let me know.” That last part shows that you’re open to a reasonable discussion if the smell of something you’re eating is making someone ill or if the constant chewing is wigging someone out (although based on what you’re eating, that seems unlikely), but that the general fact of you eating isn’t up for continued debate.

 Note: I tweaked the suggested language above to reflect feedback from commenters.


how should students pick a college major?

by Ask a Manager on July 24, 2014

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I’m throwing this one out to readers to weigh in on. A reader writes:

I work in higher education. I am changing from Admissions to Academic Advising. I really enjoy your advice and would love to know your opinion on something. How should a student go about choosing a college major? I was at a community college and I learned that most students do not have a very broad concept of what is out there for them to pursue. They mostly only know about careers in education, medical, what is popular on television, and what jobs their parents have.

My thoughts on this one: Do some serious reflection on what you want to do after you graduate. Talk to people who are in those fields to reality-check yourself. Figure out if your degree is actually going to prepare you for that field. Too often, students are surprised when they graduate and discover that their degree hasn’t put them on the path they want, or that they misunderstood what it would do for them.

I majored in English, but I wish I had majored in something like business. I was already reading and writing a ton on my own, publishing articles, etc., and I’m not convinced my English classes had that much of an impact. And yeah, there’s obviously more to it than reading and writing, but I wish I’d followed a path that would have taught me something entirely different than what I was already self-teaching myself. (But then again, I was also in a fog at the time as far as long-term impact of choices, and I’m not sure I could have figured out what was going to make sense for me down the road.)

Readers, what do you say? Do you wish you’d done things differently when picking your major? What do you know now that you wish you’d known then?


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

1. Did I violate work-friends protocol?

I’m fairly new at a job in a smallish company, less than 9 months. The city is also new to me. I’m trying to meet more people and make more friends. I have no problem inviting people to chat and get together if I think they are cool. I realize how lucky I am to like my direct coworkers, I haven’t always had that before. But of course liking coworkers doesn’t mean you want to hang out with them outside of work, necessarily. Basically there are work-friends and then there are friend-friends. I’ve had a few friends make this transition in other jobs, so I feel like I know the basics. Not being overly “loud” about your friendship, blabbing about a crazy party or whatever at the office. Anywho- I really like one of my coworkers and made several overtures to get together. We did, outside of work, and I thought it went well. But then I felt lame when I realized I was the one who initiated all of them, and then I felt bad when I realized perhaps the weirdness of being coworkers meant she felt overly obligated to be nice… I feel like this could be really paranoid thinking, but maybe not?

Re-reading this now I realize I should state – this is not romantic. I’m not trying to date my coworker. Friends only. Oh and I should also state that my “hang out” requests were normal. I didn’t ask her to help me move (Keith Hernandez) or ask her to a sleepover. I didn’t ask her to be my bridesmaid or to hang out over Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday.

Is she warm and friendly to you? If so, I wouldn’t worry about it terribly. It sounds like you suggested hanging out in normal ways rather than suggesting she move in with you. And you invited her to hang out a few times and she accepted a few times, which means that she had multiple opportunities to decline or come up with an excuse and she didn’t. Some people aren’t plans-initiators but are happy to do things other people suggest. I wouldn’t worry about it unless you notice she starts walking the other way or pretending to be on fake calls when you approach.

2. Where’s the promotion I was promised seven months ago?

When I was hired, my new boss-to-be and I discussed promoting me in one year (HR didn’t want the position to be at the level that both my boss and I wanted initially). In December, shortly after my year anniversary came around, I set up a meeting to discuss the promotion and we started rewriting my job description, etc. My boss’s boss okayed the promotion, and she got verbal approval from HR.

Fast forward seven months and nothing has happened. I got an exemplary performance review in the spring, but my boss still hasn’t submitted the revised description to HR. I sent her an email in May asking for an update and if there’s anything that she needs from me. Nope, it’s “at the top of” her list. I just sent her another email reminder (two months later) and got the same response. Is there anything else I can do? Normally, I’d start looking for another job, but I’m pregnant and I need the maternity leave. (I don’t have any reason to believe that my pregnancy is impacting the promotion.)

Stop emailing about it and talk face-to-face. (This is nearly always step one when you’re getting the run-around on something.) Say something like this: “It’s been seven months since you approved my promotion. What needs to happen for it to be official?” Say this in a serious, concerned tone. If your boss again tells you that it’s at the top of her list, say, “I appreciate that, but it’s been seven months, and I hope you understand why I’m getting concerned. Can you let me know when you think it will move forward, realistically?”

3. Will reference-checkers get my current salary when they call my manager?

I am currently job hunting. Thankfully, I am currently employed so I am taking time to carefully re-craft my resume and write detailed cover letters. My supervisor, with whom I am very close, knows about my search and has agreed to serve as a reference. Like you, I believe that what I currently earn is my business, and if I am asked in any upcoming interviews about my salary I have no intention of giving an exact number. Can the person who calls for references just ask my supervisor for this information? Is she obligated to release this to them? The two of us have spoken about this and she agrees that what I make now has no bearing on what another employer would offer for a position in their company. Would it be odd if she refused to answer?

No. Plenty of employers refuse to provide that info without a signed release from the employee. Plenty of others don’t, but it’s would be entirely reasonable for your manager to say, “I’m sorry, but that’s not information we release.”

4. My manager thinks I leave early when I don’t

I am a salaried employee and have been with my employer for several years. I switched my hours to 7:30am-4:30pm in order to better accommodate a medical need several years ago. The medical reason has since changed somewhat, but I kept the 7:30-4:30 schedule. I don’t watch the clock and it’s not uncommon for me to walk out the door a few minutes late at the end of the day or to work through lunch if I need to do so. Several coworkers have modified hours to better suit their needs and my employer’s policy is that we can work any 8-hour period that works for us as long as the scheduling does not interfere with complete our work.

I recently started grad school in the evenings. I asked to leave early on the first day of classes thinking I would need to extra time to commute to school. I used PTO to leave early, but realized that I would not need to continue doing so in the future as long as I was able to leave right on time (at 4:30pm).

A new coworker recently joined us and I overheard my manager advise that I leave early twice a week for classes after work. I am concerned that my manager thinks I am leaving early when I am actually leaving on time. I have received great reviews in years past and I have never been coached or approached in any way regarding tardiness or leaving early by my manager or anyone in HR. Should I assume my boss is aware that I am not actually leaving early? Is this an issue that needs to be addressed in any way?

First, “leaves early for classes” in this context doesn’t mean “takes off before she’s supposed to.” It means “she works a schedule where she leaves earlier than other people for classes, with permission.” But since it’s no longer accurate, just remind your manager of that. For instance: “Jane, I wanted to make sure you know that it turned out I don’t need to leave early to get to class after all, so I’m working my normal schedule.” That said, I wouldn’t worry about it too much — it sounds like flexible schedules are fine in your workplace and your manager doesn’t care either way.

5. How can I tell recruiters “no thanks” while maintaining good relationships?

I have started to get a growing number of recruiters reach out to me via linkedin about possible job opportunities. I am currently not looking for a new position, as my company is giving me some amazing experience and I feel like I still have a lot to learn from them. Of course, the reason that I am getting such great experience is because we are in a declining market and they have experienced a lot of turnover (people leaving by choice, without being replaced, and layoffs – though the layoffs have not been in my department – yet) company-wide in the few years that I have been here. I certainly do not expect this company to be a long term place for me, but I feel as if I have a good solid year left, at least.

How can I respond to recruiters in a way that doesn’t waste either of our time, but still doesn’t burn bridges? I was thinking something like, “Thank you so much for reaching out to me. I am not currently looking for a new position but Company X sounds like it would be a great fit, and I would love to talk to you in the future about available positions?” I know that I am walking a fine line, and that it might be start to just start interviewing at new places, but I am so happy and work with such a great team at the moment.

Be more straightforward. In your proposed wording, it’s not clear what “in the future” means. It sounds like it could mean anything from “in a few months” to “a year or more” to “right now, if you’re persuasive enough.” Just let them know that you’re happy where you are right now but might be interested in talking in a year. If you really want to maintain the relationship, you could tell them you’d be happy to be a source of candidate referrals for their open positions.


was this email condescending or territorial?

by Ask a Manager on July 23, 2014

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A reader writes:

I work in a small public library and am in charge of coordinating displays, though everyone contributes to them. Recently, when things are slow at the desk, some of my coworkers have taken to helping fill displays or help deal with the new flux of items we’ve recently gotten. I don’t mind this, as long as they are not doing it because they feel I have not done what I’m supposed to. One of the biggest culprits of this has been my manager. When I have noticed these changes I have emailed her to tell I had noticed the changes and to thank her for doing them (as they are ones I had on my to-do list, and I know she was just doing them due to the reference desk being slow).

The other day, two of my coworkers decided to shift around a few displays and sent an email out to let everyone know. I replied “Love it! I definitely think this will work, thanks for doing this ladies” as a way to let them know I appreciated them thinking of ways to improve the collection. My boss saw this email and pulled me into her office to have a very odd conversation with me.

She reiterated that as display coordinator, my job is literally just coordinating the displays and everyone can contribute to them. She also wanted to reassure me that the job of handling displays was not being taken from me, and that they had cleared the display switches with her first.

I said I had been surprised but pleased with the changes and was not upset. I also told her the only concern I have is that all this switching is being done because they feel I am not doing what I’m supposed to be doing. As long as that’s not the case, I reiterated I am fine with them helping with displays.

My boss proceeded to imply that the email I sent said otherwise, and that it was okay to be upset as I had not been told about these changes (she said in my position, she is not sure she wouldn’t have been a bit upset). She also said she wanted to make sure others felt comfortable helping with the displays, as they “don’t really know me yet” (her words) and that usually just replying “cool” or something to a email like this would suffice in most of these situations.

I am totally baffled by this conversation, as I try not to be territorial or seem high maintenance or whatever she is thinking. I simply reiterated that I was not upset, and that I did not intend for the email to come out that way if it did. I even mentioned an email I had just sent her before our conversation that suggested that perhaps we could have a spot to indicate display change ideas people want me to do, and that my coworkers be given the displays in the Children’s area to do (as they do all the children’s programming for our library). She said she would ask them about it, but seemed pleased with the idea.

Any advice about what to do next? I can be a bit anxious, perhaps, but I am really just trying hard to make sure I do my job well and get along with everyone I can. I am tempted just to not ever mention this conversation again, as it seems others didn’t interpret my email the same way my boss did.

I’m baffled by how your boss could read all that into your email. I can think of three possibilities:

1. She has odd ideas about what people really mean and will read thing into emails (and perhaps other communications) that aren’t there. If this is the case, it’s good to be aware of, so that you can pay attention to her patterns and try to figure out what she’s likely to interpret oddly and then hopefully head it off. (A subset of this: She reads into other people’s communications how she would feel if she were them, and assumes that they feel like she would — and then sees that in their responses, even if it’s not there.)

2. You’ve said or done other things previously that gave her the impression that you’re feeling defensive or concerned about others helping with your work. As a result, she read that into your email when it wasn’t there … or didn’t even read it into that particular email, but was concerned about you feeling that way overall and just used the email as a way to address it (which would be an odd choice, but people sometimes do things like that). Is it possible that you’ve bristled a little or seemed uncomfortable about other people stepping into help with your realm? You don’t sound like it in this letter, but it’s worth asking yourself — because that could explain this.

3. This was a weird fluke and isn’t indicative of anything more broad going on with her or with you.

Which of these three possibilities sounds most likely to you? If #1 resonates with you, based on what you know of your manager, consider this additional useful information about her. If #2 resonates, it might point you toward making a point of being more welcoming of other people’s help (and truly welcoming — because if you’re saying “thanks for your help” while stiffening and looking displeased every time if happens, no one thinks you really welcome it).

But beyond that, I’d be inclined to just let this go and move on. If it comes up again in the future, it might be worth digging into more (“I must be doing something that gives you the sense that I’m feeling territorial — can you help me figure out how I’m giving off that impression?”) … but I’d wait to see if there’s more of a pattern before worrying too much.


is it legal for publications not to pay their writers?

by Ask a Manager on July 23, 2014

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A reader writes:

After being unemployed for 8 months, a friend suggested I look at volunteer websites to do writing and design for free, just to start doing it again. I felt a bit reluctant, but did. Eventually I found a city magazine in my area looking for writers, but they couldn’t pay them, just “incentivize” them (i.e., you get into magazine-hosted events for free).

I’ve since quit doing this because other things have finally worked out, but I wondered the whole time if it was legal—the whole thing that they weren’t paying their writers. It wasn’t a situation like the Huffington Post where you contribute one story, then kind of go on with your life. If you were a writer, you were expected to meet a quota of x stories per week and they’d give you a “strike” if you didn’t schedule your posts in time. There were compulsory staff meetings. Your title was, in fact, “staff writer.”

I know the publishing industry as a whole is suffering, but I guess what always rubbed me the wrong way is some people there were getting paid. The editors and other management positions were getting paid, some of the photographers, and some of the writers. The magazine has been around for 10 years—I see that it’s suffering like everyone else, but it’s not exactly a fledgling thing. They put on shows and events in the region that draw in money. I feel like it’s such a gray area because no one really respects writers anymore and people feel like they should get content for free, but is it actually legally for a publication like this to not pay?

Writing for free has become A Thing. Like every other blogger on the planet, I get emails all the time from various websites and publications asking me to write for free. When I explain that I charge for my work, they tell me with an inexplicably straight face that they don’t pay but instead can offer “exposure.” They, of course, will be profiting financially from what they want written for free.

The frustrating thing is that if you want to write professionally, sometimes it really can help to agree to do a small amount of this early on. I did used to write for free when I was trying to build my reputation — and the reality is, it helped. I was careful about which assignments I said yes to, but it did give me more exposure and more credibility. That makes it harder to issue a blanket “never do this,” because I know that it benefitted me and helped me get to the point where I now get paid for what I write (and now can happily turn down the people offering exposure as payment).

But people who want to earn money from writing are in a tough position when they’re starting out. You can take a principled position that you won’t write for free, but often that just means that other people will write for free while you don’t get published anywhere at all. Having published clips has always been the way to get writing work — you need them to get most writing jobs, so it’s hard for an inexperienced writer trying to break into the field to turn down offers that will provide those clips but don’t pay. As a result, profit-generating enterprises are getting tons of talented young writers to provide free work to subsidize their businesses and offering very little in return.

But that’s not your question. You want to know if it’s really legal. To get you an answer, I turned to the awesome Donna Ballman, employment lawyer extraordinaire and author of the excellent Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired. She says:

It does seem like there’s a fine line between employee and volunteer writer these days. The Huffington Post suit was dismissed because the court found that the bloggers knew they weren’t getting paid, and that what they got was exposure. On the other hand, HuffPo didn’t treat these writers like employees. I’d say this situation sounds more like an employee/employer situation. Where the company is making the writers meet deadlines, issuing discipline, and requiring attendance at meetings, then those writers may well be employees. I’d suggest this reader contact an employee-side employment lawyer or the Department of Labor to explain more about the situation and explore her options.

In other words, this is similar to the laws on independent contractors. If an employer is treating you like an employee, then the law probably views you as an employee regardless of what the employer calls you, and thus you’re entitled to minimum wage and other worker protections. But if the employer truly treats you like an independent contractor (which is often the case with freelance writers), then those protections don’t kick in, and that means that you can in fact legally work for zero pay, “exposure,” thrills, or any other arrangement you want to agree to.


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

1. How can I get an employee to try to solve problems on her own?

I have an employee who’s been with me for 6 years in an entry-level researcher position. Late last year, my senior researcher went out on leave, so my two entry researchers have had to pick up some of that workload. Also, early this year we switched to a new computer system that is completely different from what we’re used to.

Lately, one employee has started to come into my office using the phrase, “I haven’t done this before” or “this is new to me” and then looks at me as if she’s expecting me to detail her next steps. Yes, some things are new, but with her being here 6 years and having helped out the senior researcher before, I have the expectation that she knows enough about the business we are in to figure it out or at least come up with some potential options and then check with me on which one to proceed with. A couple of times I’ve said, “Yes you have, this is just like project x” or “We covered this in training” and then she just stares at me until I start talking again, when I usually say, “Well, what do you think should be done?” She has a poker face so I can never really tell what she’s thinking.

How do I, or should I, politely tell her that I’d like her to stop saying these phrases? I don’t think they’re doing her any favors. If I said that to my boss as often as she says it to me, my boss would be wondering why she hired me. My boss thinks that I need to get rid of her because she’s “not getting it’” and therefore is not supportive enough to me.

It sounds like the other entry-level researcher is handling this just fine, so that’s a useful reality check that your expectations are probably reasonable here — but even if you were expecting too much of her, it would still be reasonable to want her to try to solve problems on her own before coming to you. However, you need to tell her that you expect that; it sounds like so far you haven’t been clear with her on that front and have been expecting her to pick it up without directly saying it.

So tell her clearly what you expect! Say something like this: “I hear you that some of this is new, but most of it is similar to projects you’ve done before that or that we’ve talked about during training. I’m here as a resource for you, but when you get stuck, I’d like you to think through some potential options and then bring those to me if you’re still unsure. If you’re truly stuck and unable to do that, you can still come to me, but I’d like your default to be that you first try to figure it out (including checking the computer system training materials) and come to me with some options that you’ve thought through.”

2. When does my two weeks notice start ticking — when it’s sent or when it’s received?

I sent my manager (who is also the owner of the company) my two weeks’ notice a week ago. Today, she asserted that because she didn’t receive the notice until today, my two-week notice period starts today, not a week ago. She was out of the office last week, but she is the only person to whom I can submit notice and she advised my coworker that she would be available by email, which is how I submitted my notice when I found that she was not in the office.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s unfortunate and inconvenient, yes, but an employee’s life (not to mention job offers) doesn’t go on hold when the manager is out of the office. She, on the other hand, has expressed disappointment and anger. I can understand her frustration, but don’t feel that I have any obligation to stay for longer than my notice period. Who is right?

If you’d emailed your notice during a period when she had warned you she wouldn’t be checking email, you’d be in the wrong. But she had said she’d be checking email, so you reasonably assumed she’d see your note. That said, I do think you erred her in letting a week go by with no response and not checking in with her during that time, when you didn’t hear anything back from her.

But as for what to do now: Two weeks notice is simply professional convention; it’s not required by law, so you can leave whenever you want. You don’t want to burn a bridge, of course, which is why you shouldn’t quit without notice in general, but in this situation you could say something like: “I’m sorry you didn’t see my note until Monday. I sent it a week ago and assumed you saw it because you had told us you would be checking email. I’m not able to move my final day back because I’ve committed to starting my new job on X, but I’ll do whatever I can this week to help with the transition.”

That said, in general I recommend giving notice in person or at least by phone — not in email. Even when a manager is out of town, most would prefer a phone call to let them know what’s happening, rather than finding it in an email. And if you do send it by email and don’t receive a response for a couple of days, that’s a sign that you need to pick up the phone and make sure it was received.

3. Being considered for a promotion while interviewing for other jobs

I’ve been looking for other jobs and completed a final interview less than a week ago, and I feel very positive about my chances of being offered the job. I’m very excited!

But at my current workplace, they are interviewing for promotions and my boss is very adamant that I apply for the position because he feels like I am very good at what I do now and this position is the next logical step to a successful career within our company (he also didn’t want to see me become complacent in my current role). If I hadn’t already interviewed for another position that I feel I’m a better fit for, I would have jumped at this opportunity in a heartbeat. But I’m worried that I will be considered for this promotion and have to leave for the job I really want. What do I do? Should I discuss my career prospects at another company with my current boss? (The hiring manager for the other company indicated that I should have an answer by the end of this week, or next week at the latest. That means that they are making a decision on that position while my interview for a possible promotion would take place, according to the timeline my current boss gave me.)

You’re right that it’s not ideal to accept a promotion and then leave right away for another job — but the two timelines here sound like that won’t happen. You sound likely to get an answer on the other job before your current employer makes any promotion decision, so if you get the other job, you’ll have time to withdraw from consideration for the promotion. However, if the other company’s hiring process starts to drag out (which can happen), at that point you could contact them and let them know that you have a timeline constraint (explaining that you don’t want to accept a promotion and then leave soon after) and ask if they’re able to expedite their timeline.

But do throw your hat in the ring for the promotion, since there’s no guarantee that you’ll get the other job and it sounds like you’ll want this one if the other one doesn’t work out.

4. Is it rude to decline an interview with a company’s COO?

I have just had my first interview today with a company that contacted me regarding a job opening they would like to fill up quite quickly for a position that I am looking for. I had a few doubts before interviewing and suspected the job and company would not be the right fit for me. I still interviewed with them to get more information. Turns out, it’s not exactly what I am looking for and would feel like a step backwards for me in terms of the reputation this company has in the country/market I work in. Additionally, my current job involves quite a lot of travel, but the one I interviewed for involved a lot more than I am comfortable with.

They have contacted me an hour after the interview to say that it went great and requested that I do a second interview with their COO tomorrow. They seem to be quite eager to fill up the position as quickly as possible. I already know that I absolutely won’t take this position if they offered it to me, and I feel like I am wasting their time by interviewing with their COO while they could be speaking to other people who are a better fit. I am speaking to other companies I think would be a much better fit for me. On the other side, I am wondering if it’s acceptable to decline a meeting with their COO (I am not very senior with 3 years of work experience).

I don’t know how to politely decline without burning any bridges with them and their recruitment company. The market and industry I am in are quite small and I wouldn’t want to risk losing any future opportunities. How do you suggest I handle the situation?

It’s not rude to withdraw from an interview process when you’ve decided you’re no longer interested, and your seniority versus the interviewer’s isn’t a factor at all. In fact, accepting an interview you don’t want is arguably rude because it wastes the interviewer’s time and potentially takes an interview slot from someone who does want it, and I promise you that COO doesn’t want to spend her time interviewing someone who doesn’t want the job.

It’s totally fine to just explain that you’ve concluded the position isn’t for you. You could say something like this: “Thanks so much for reaching back out. After talking with Jane yesterday, I’ve realized that the position isn’t quite what I’m looking for, so I’ve decided to withdraw my application. But I appreciate the time you’ve spent with me and wish you all the best in filling the role.”

5. Applying when an employer keeps reposting the same job

How many times can you apply to the same job if an employer continuously re-posts the same opening? I first applied in March. However, I never heard back and the posting was taken down. The job was re-posted in May. I applied again and never heard back, and the job posting was once again taken down. It is now July and they re-posted the same exact position. Is it too pushy to apply a third time? The post says specifically not to contact the employer, so I haven’t been able to follow up at all. It really would be a perfect fit for me and my interests, so I don’t want to give up. However, I’m wondering if my continuous applying will prevent me from having a chance at future opportunities within the company.

I think it’s fine to reapply a third time, since these seem to be three separate hiring processes, not one long one. However, make sure you’re not sending the same cover letter that you’ve sent previously; that will look too perfunctory (and it didn’t work last time, so it’s time to change it up anyway). Write a letter that opens by noting that you’ve applied before (so that they don’t think you just don’t recall that) and explaining why you’re so particularly interested in the job.


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A reader writes:

I’m in a new position in an academic administrative department. I got out of a toxic workplace in April, have a great new boss, and am in a newly created position – meaning I get to determine (with my boss) what kind of projects we’ll work on in the next year. Yay!

However, I’m having a hard time fitting in to the office culture and it’s starting to wear on me every day. I think I’m kind of unorthodox here for a number of reasons: (1) I work later hours than everyone else – that was part of my offer negotiation, (2) I’m not shy at all about jumping right in, asking questions, and making changes (I’ve only ever gotten positive feedback on these traits from supervisors, so I don’t think I’m skirting the line into “pushy” or “rude”), (3) I come from previous cultures of flatter hierarchies and equal colleagues, rather than the very hierarchical world of academia.

My supervisor loves me and loves my work; her bosses love me and love my work. It’s apparently my coworkers who keep having problems with me: since I’ve been hired 4 months ago, my boss has had to talk to me privately 4-5 times about complaints or questions raised to her by others about my actions. This is about stuff like, “She comes and goes at odd hours,” (yes, which are approved by my supervisor), “She has visitors to her cubicle,” (yes, which isn’t disallowed and other people have visitors too, including unsupervised children), “She should run questions like that through the supervisor” (Really, asking if you would mind turning off your cell chime is something a Dean should have to weigh in on?), and “She’s asking too many questions, who does she think she is?” (I’m doing what I was told to do, is what I’m doing.) I even got a “warning” note left anonymously in my cubicle telling me to “mind my own business” – which was taken very seriously by admin, but mostly just gossiped about by staff.

My boss has my back, and she’s taken everything very seriously. Every time (from small to big), she says, “I totally have your back, I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong, but I wanted you to know that this happened, and let’s think of ways of appropriately addressing it if we can.” Sometimes we can’t address it: it’s some problem of someone else’s and I’m just the recipient; sometimes I can make some correction in my behavior to smooth things over.

The problem is: I think “smoothing things over” is actually code for “don’t talk to anyone else about this” or “keep your head down” or “this is just the way things are.” There seem to be a significant number of behavioral problems in this office coming from a number of different people that don’t get dealt with: tantrums/crying in meetings, bullying / sniping comments towards co-workers, disrespectful emails, etc. It seems like the more highly emotional / negative people just get to do what they want and all of us polite / socially responsible folks are expected to just deal with it because “oh that’s just the way so-and-so is.”

There are other things to say about this place, but my main question is this: how can I survive in a culture where this happens? Or, better yet, how can I work with my boss to make things better, if possible? My boss thinks that some of our newly-hired higher-ups will start to make changes, once they start seeing this stuff, that it’s just a matter of time and we should trust them. But how can I make it through the long game if the short game kills me first? I keep bumping into people, being told I’m not wrong, but that I’m the one to have to make adjustments. It’s hard, confusing, and isolating. I don’t want to keep having negative run-ins, but I don’t want to compromise my values (equality, respect, professionalism) either.

Do you want to stay in that culture?

If your boss truly thought these complaints by your coworkers were no big deal, she wouldn’t be bringing them to you. But she is — so there’s a message there. The message might not be “you’re in the wrong for doing X,” but it certainly seems to be “you need to do something differently so people don’t complain about X” or “I’m troubled that people are complaining about X.” It also seems to be, “I value harmony more than I value clear statements to people of what is and isn’t okay.”

The next time your boss brings someone’s complaint to you, try asking her what she said to them in response. If you don’t hear that she clearly corrected them — telling them that she’s happy with your work and that Complaint X isn’t a concern to her and why — then your boss is more of the problem than your coworkers are.

If you’re comfortable with it, you might try asking your boss head-on about this. For instance, you could say something like: “I appreciate you saying that you have my back on things like X and Y, but I have the sense from our discussions that you’d still like me to find a way to make people not be bothered by these things. I’m not sure there’s a way to do that other than for me to stop doing X and Y. Can we talk about what you have in mind when you talk about ‘appropriately addressing’ these things?”

However that conversation goes, you’ll probably get additional information that will help you figure out how to think about all this.

But even beyond that, is this a culture you want to be in? One where people throw tantrums, cry in meetings, snipe at people, send rude emails, and everyone else is told to suck it up and deal with it because that’s just the way those people are? One that you describe as feeling “hard, confusing, and isolating” and which you say is wearing on you every day?

Your boss is telling you that she hopes newly hired higher-ups will see this stuff and make changes …. but she’s a higher-up to some of the people involved, and she doesn’t seem to be making any changes. You might ask her specifically what changes she thinks will be made, and why she thinks that, and on what timeline — because I’d be pretty skeptical of those claims unless you start to see real evidence that it’s happening.


why you need a vacation (even when there’s no time)

by Ask a Manager on July 22, 2014

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Americans notoriously receive less annual vacation time than other countries, on average – but did you know that we use less of what we get, too? A Glassdoor survey earlier this year indicated that the average U.S. employee only took 51% of their eligible vacation time in the last year and 15% didn’t take off any time at all! In fact, only 25% of employees reported using all of their allocated vacation days.

It’s time to change this. Vacations are good for employees, and they’re good for businesses too. At Intuit QuickBase’s Fast Track blog today, I talk about five reasons why you need to take a vacation, even if it feels like there’s no way to make time for it. You can read it here.

Also! Speaking of Intuit QuickBase, they’re hosting an online roundtable tomorrow with David Allen Company CEO Mike Williams (David Allen Company = the awesome book Getting Things Done) and other experts — to talk about how you can increase your productivity and better manage your time. It’s free, and you can sign up here.


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

1. Should I believe my contact’s warning about his horrible organization?

I’m currently employed as a nonprofit consultant and am looking for a new position within a nonprofit organization. I just left an informational interview that made me a bit heartbroken.

A friend put me in touch with a director at an organization with a great mission where I’d love to work, and the director was happy to meet me in his office. I was eager to hear about the structure of the organization, some of the challenges they might face, what their priorities are, etc. What I got when I first sat down was: “You don’t want to work here.” And, “In fact, I won’t let you work here because you seem nice and I don’t want you to make a mistake by coming here.”

He continued to talk about how miserable he was coming to work each day, how he wishes he could quit but that he’s too old for a another job, and how he wished his life had taken a completely different path entirely. From there, we talked about his house, garden, and pet cemetery. He said he wanted to help me in any way possible and hopes we stay in touch. I tried to steer back to the issues, but all he could offer was that the CEO and the Number 2 were horrible people who don’t care about their employees. Wow! Now what? Do I take his word for it? Or do I seek out another opinion? This organization is not currently hiring for my skill set, but when they do, I want to be considered!

I wouldn’t discard an organization on the word of one person whose judgment you don’t know anything about. It’s entirely possible that the person you met with is the one guy in the organization who feels that way. Or that he’s one of a small disgruntled contingent. Or that the stuff that bothers him wouldn’t bother you at all. (You’ve probably had coworkers before who hated things that didn’t bother you, or whose whole perspective you found remarkably off-base. This guy could be in that category.) It’s also entirely possible that this is a horrible organization that he’s right to warn you against. You have no way of knowing at this point. Take it as one data point and search out others before drawing any conclusions.

For what it’s worth, though, the way he approached the conversation with you (sweeping negative statements without being willing to explain to you why he felt that way) isn’t exactly a credibility booster. He’d be more credible if he instead had talked to you about what he saw as the actual issues.

2. How can I get a job description from my boss?

I started at an entry-level position at a small, 15-person company 6 years ago. I have now earned my way up to a mid-upper level position, and our company has grown to 30 people and were bought by a larger company, so we are now one of 4 business units making up a total of 250 people.

When I started and we were a much smaller company, things were very informal, and I never had an official job description or title. In the years since, I have had several raises and 3 promotions. However, I was never told on those promotions what my title or description was. It’s just been a typical advancement of responsibilities and assignments. From talking with other employees, as well as recent new hires, this is still the norm with everyone, so it’s not just because I’m not asking. Most of us only know our title because we can log on to our HR portal and see it in our employee information.

How do I communicate to our boss that we care about this? Without knowing what my responsibilities officially are, it is very hard to gauge my own performance or get “ammo” to use for salary negotiations. I have asked before in the comments submitted along with my annual review, but I never heard anything about it.

Well, it sounds like you do have titles, since you’re finding them in your HR system. Any chance there’s a job description there too? Wouldn’t hurt to ask.

But if not, it’s reasonable to say to your boss: “In order to make sure that we’re both on the same page about what my role should be accomplishing, I’ve taken a stab at writing up a proposed job description for my role, along with my understanding of the most important things for me to achieve this year. Does this look right to you?”

In other words, the fact that your boss isn’t doing this on her own doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. Salary negotiation ammo aside, it’s in your best interest to make sure that you and your boss are both aligned about core expectations for how you’ll spend your time and what you’ll accomplish.

3. What height is too high for high heels at work?

I treated myself to the cutest pair of Miu Miu suede high heels. I tried them on and I love them, but the only problem is that they’re about 4.5 inches high (they’re platform heels, too), and I’m worried that they’ll look unprofessional at work. The dress code at work is casual, but even so, I feel these shoes might be too “night on the town” for the office. What are your thoughts? Are certain heel types/heights unprofessional?

Here’s a link to the shoes, for a clearer idea.

I think anything over 4 inches or with a noticeable platform is probably not quite as professional as you’d ideally be. I went searching to see what workplace fashion bloggers had to say about this and discovered general agreement.

4. Is this immoral?

Is it immoral for an employee who works in a resort that has a hotel facility to after her job as a waitress in the restaurant end up fraternizing with a customer who she met a week ago? She went to his room and stayed overnight and got ready the following day at the resort as waitress. How does it affect her coworkers?

It appears not to affect her coworkers at all. Why do they care? This is no one’s business.

5. A recruiter wanted to talk and then went AWOL

I was applying for jobs last week, and I had to fly back to my home state for a family emergency. I got an email from a recruiter yesterday, asking if I am available today for a phone interview, and I explained that I’ve had a family emergency and that I’m unavailable this week. I thanked him for his consideration and stated that I look forward to speaking with him on early next week, provided 3 dates and decent time range for his schedule, and asked him to advise me with the best date and time as per his schedule. I am so worried as I didn’t hear from him.

Yeah, sometimes this happens. In theory, any employer or recruiter who wants to speak with you this week should be willing to wait until next week if needed, but in practice sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. Hell, asking to delay by a single day sometimes means you don’t end up speaking at all. Usually this is because (a) they’re disorganized and if you don’t talk to them when you’re on their mind, they’ll forget about you, (b) in the interim, they’ve talked to other good candidates and have decided they don’t need to talk to any more, or (c) they’re on a really tight timeline for some reason.

There’s not really much you can do about this. I mean, sure, you could decide that you’re going to prioritize their calls above all else in your life, but that’s probably a questionable decision and it won’t solve the problem anyway — because even if you make yourself 100% available to recruiters, some will set up a phone appointment and still not call. There’s a certain amount of chaos in the system, and you’re better off simply accepting that sometimes it just won’t work out.