updates: the office pooper, the fake brainstorming meeting, and more

Here are four updates from people who had their letters answered here this year.

1. My coworker wants to find the office pooper — and it’s me

I have an update and it is a good one!

First, my wonderful mother bought me some Poopourri and it works wonders!

Secondly, the Poop Patrol has retired from her position of patrolling the bathroom. Within a day or two of my letter, she just stopped talking about it. I was beginning to wonder if she had seen my post. Then, at the end of last week she announced that she is pregnant with triplets! We are all so happy for her, as she has been wanting this for a while. Turns out, Little Miss Shit Don’t Stink is having morning sickness. But without throwing up. Just lots and lots and lots of pooping. She is terribly embarrassed about having to go to the bathroom so often now. I’m going to share my Poopourri with her, but I think I’ll let her squirm for a bit first. I really appreciated all the feedback I got on my post!!

2. We have public shamings about how often we say “um” and “uh”

I can’t tell you how helpful everyone’s replies were to my workplace situation. I ended up setting up a meeting with my manager and letting her know how I felt about her idea and how I was perceiving it. I didn’t say “a lot of us feel…” because I didn’t want to speak for anyone else even though I knew most, if not all, of our office felt the same way. I told her I thought it should be a volunteer based activity if people want to improve on their public speaking skills, but making everyone do this activity while the rest of us judge seems more negative than helpful. I tried to word everything where she wouldn’t feel attacked and as if I was just expressing my feelings toward the activity.

It took a lot of courage for me to talk to my manager about it because I didn’t think she would take it the right way, but she did. She said she never thought of it like that and would give it some thought and if she did continue the activity, she would make it voluntary. No one has had to do it since! :) I think pointing out to her how I viewed it helped her see another side to this whole activity. It gave her a new perspective.

3. We weren’t told our active shooter drill was just a drill

I’m not sure it’s a very satisfying update because not much has really happened since then. I did find out more information in the days that followed. Most employees are behind a secure door that requires a badge to get in. I am in an unsecured area and I found out later on that I was one of the only employees in the unsecured area not told that a drill was happening. I know one the of the other employees who wasn’t told happened to be in a manager’s office when the announcement came over the intercom and so the manager immediately told her it was a drill. It seems like more people knew a drill was coming than didn’t but when the HR director found out I was upset, she told me it was important it was a surprise to see how people would react.

I think I mentioned in the comments that we had a Sergeant from the sheriff’s office at a staff meeting the year before to discuss workplace violence. He offered during that meeting to review our policies and make suggestions. I have no idea why she didn’t ask his advice before deciding to do the drill herself.

She told me a few days after the drill that before another is done she will be contacting the sheriff’s department to collaborate.

I really appreciate your advice and all the comments that letter received. I seemed to be the only person upset about it and was really beginning to wonder if I was just being silly about the whole thing. It was so great to hear that my gut reaction wasn’t so far off.

4. I faked a team brainstorming meeting

After reading everyone’s comments I ran straight into my boss’s office completely terrified. He basically laughed at me and was extremely understanding. That being said, I really do appreciate everyone’s comments because it pushed me to have that conversation and I understand how serious this is, especially if I were to continue this pattern. My past work experience was all internships where interns were expected to get the work done without being heard and there has been a learning curve for me now that I am working with such a collaborative team and being given so much responsibility. I was given this assignment during my second week on the job (still not an excuse) and now that I have been here over a month I am much more comfortable with everyone and have been running meetings and communicating more with coworkers. Thanks everyone for their feedback!

As for in general, I’ve definitely grown exponentially since I first had this issue and have no problem scheduling meetings, asking questions, or pursuing things on my own. I recently just got complimented by my boss for taking initiative during a meeting, and I don’t think I ever would have done that at the beginning of this job. Looking back it honestly seems so silly to me that I would have not just scheduled and meeting and sent notes to people who were unable to attend, but at the time it literally seemed like the end of the world. The best part is we ended up not even being able to implement any of the brainstormed ideas (although they were complimented by others in my department) due to things outside of our control. I may not have performed very well on that first test my boss gave me, but I think I’ve stepped up to the plate ever since.

is my employee trying to sabotage me?

A reader writes:

I’m the founder of and sole manager at a small retail business with four full-time and a few part-time employees. My first hire was Mary, and I think of her as my second-in-command. She hasn’t been the easiest employee to manage: she’s a little flighty and forgetful, and not always as professional as I’d like her to be with our clients. However, our clients adore her, and she brings a really unique skill set that’s helped us make a name for ourselves locally.

A really wonderful recent hire quit last week, with very little notice. I was disappointed, but didn’t take it personally: sometimes you just get a better offer. But today I received an email today from another previous employee (Sarah) saying that she was really torn about telling me something, but she thought I needed to know before it destroyed the business. According to Sarah, Mary is extremely negative about me to the other employees, and the recent hire left because of what Mary has told her. Sarah is worried that anyone else I hire will too, unless I do something. Apparently, Mary spends a lot of time talking about how incompetent I am, that our financial situation is so precarious that we’re about to shut down, and just generally creates drama where there is none and blames it on me.

Sarah moved across the country, but she’s remained friends with all of us, is a strong supporter of our mission, and has no reason to stir up trouble. And it explains a few weird things that have been trickling back to me. Mostly small things, but I recently spent a morning of my first family vacation in two years dealing with a nonexistent staffing issue: Mary sent the other employees a frantic text claiming that I left the business unstaffed except for her, and one of them texted me to ask if she should go in. I was in a place without much cell reception, and spent a long time trying to get in touch with both Mary and the person I’d hired to fill in for me… who had been there all along. I’ve been uneasy about this incident, because there was no good explanation, and Mary’s explanation (that she wasn’t sure what the replacement was supposed to be doing) didn’t make sense. The only reason I can think of to send such a text is to make me look incompetent: she just didn’t think that it would get back to me.

According to Sarah, Mary has supposedly been looking for a new job since January (and telling everyone else to), but I think her skill set would get her hired easily if she were seriously looking. I don’t know if this is something I can bring up with her, particularly without implicating Sarah as the source (Sarah said that she has already repeatedly told Mary to cut it out). I can’t continue to lose good employees because of Mary. On a personal level, it bothers me that she is very sweet to my face, but apparently so angry behind my back. And, mostly, I worry that someone happy to stir up drama amongst our staff would have no qualms stirring up drama amongst our clients, and badmouthing me to them, if she were angry enough.

How should I deal with this?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

should I tell my employer about my boundary-crossing coworker?

A reader writes:

I have a coworker who continues to cross professional boundaries and I’m not sure when/if I should escalate this to my manager, his manager, or HR.

I work at a regional office of a medium size company. I transferred from another site and have been working at this location for about six months. There are about 10 salaried employees. Since we’re so small, everyone is friendly. I hit it off with one employee and we became friends. However, it got really weird. To clarify – I am a woman in my early 20s and he is a man in his early 60s. It went from chats once or twice a day, to him asking me to go out to lunch once or twice a week, to him texting me outside of work hours (it’s not weird for my group to have each other’s cell numbers – however, we typically only use them in case of emergencies). When I tried to pull back to a more professional relationship, he thought I was mad and bought me a candle (I mentioned once in a conversation that I like candles). When I still “seemed mad,” despite repeatedly telling him that I was not, he asked me to lunch and tried to have a heart-to-heart type conversation. It was pretty one-sided, as I was trying to maintain the professional boundary.

The breaking point came when he sent me a very long text one evening, which was incredibly inappropriate. Nothing sexual, but stuff along the lines of how I “need to let my armor down” and how he cared a lot about me and “would never hurt me.” I texted him back and told him that his text was incredibly inappropriate and that I would like to just be work friends. He replied and apologized and said that he was deleting my number.

Things got more normal at work and I though the issue was resolved. However, he came to my office a couple of weeks after the text incident and asked to have my number back! I of course, said no. Later that week, he IM’d me and asked if I had thought anymore about his request. I replied and said that my answer hadn’t changed and that I would just like to remain work friends.

Since then he hasn’t done anything majorly out there, but he does continue to talk to me about non-work related things (what are you up to this weekend? what are your plans for the holidays?) that from anyone else would be normal but with his history of crossing professional boundaries makes me uncomfortable. Anytime he comes to my office or IMs me I get anxiety that it’s going to be a weird or uncomfortable interaction for me.

Since our office is so small and I need this guy’s job expertise/experience fairly often, I didn’t bring any of this up to my manager, his manager, or HR. But now that I’m getting anxiety about every interaction and he continues to pursue a friendship, should I bring it up to someone, even if that makes a potentially awkward environment? Or should I try again to explain again that I only want a strictly professional relationship?


You’ve handled this really well. You told him directly that he was being inappropriate and that you wanted to confine your relationship to work. When he pressured you after that, you told him that your answer hadn’t changed. That’s all excellent — you’ve set really clear boundaries here.

But yes, I would also tell someone else at work about this, because it’s good to have a record that he’s already ignored your clearly stated boundaries twice (asking to have your number back, and then asking again later that week after you’d already said no). Maybe he’s gotten the message now from your multiple no’s, but maybe he hasn’t — and if that’s the case, it’ll be useful to have already alerted someone to what’s going on. Plus, it’s possible that this is part of a pattern that you don’t know about, where he’s done this to other women too. For all we know, he’s already officially been told to cut it out — and if that’s the case, it’s really important that your employer hear that it’s still happening.

You might feel weird about that because he hasn’t made overt sexual advances. But anyone looking at what’s happened here is going to understand that that’s a likely subtext, and no reasonable employer is going to want an older male employee hassling a young female employee for her phone number after she’s already told him no. (They shouldn’t want it if the ages were different either, but this lines up so closely with a common problematic pattern that they’re not likely to miss it.) So you’re on solid ground in talking to your employer about this.

Whether to go to your manager, his manager, or HR depends on the people involved. In general I’d default to HR for harassment issues because they’re trained to handle them in a way managers often aren’t, and they’re more likely to know if there have been other reports of problems with this guy. But if your manager or his seems especially on the ball with this kind of thing and you’re comfortable with them, that’s an option too. There’s also the combo option of talking to HR but giving your manager a heads-up that you’re doing it.

You’re also allowed to be chillier with him if you want to. If he comes by your office or IMs you to ask about your weekend or your holiday plans or whatever, you’re not required to have that level of intimacy with him. Because you have to work with him, you should be polite (as long as he doesn’t cross another boundary), but you can treat him like you would an acquaintance who you didn’t know very well … meaning that you can give a pretty perfunctory answer and then make it clear you’re turning back to your work. (For example: “Oh, no big plans. Just seeing family. I’m on deadline so I’ve got to get back to this now.”)

Or you could be very direct with him if you want to. For example, you could say something like this: “Hey, I’d like to keep our relationship to work topics only. You made me really uncomfortable with some of our previous interactions, and I don’t feel comfortable having a social relationship with you.”

But really, good for you for clearly telling him to back off. So often in these situations, people worry about being polite or hurting someone’s feelings or causing tension in a work relationship and so they end up accommodating increasingly inappropriate behavior. You didn’t, and I think your instincts are serving you well here.

my boss won’t stop contacting me after my hospitalization, do I use the bathroom too much, and more

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

1. I’ve been hospitalized and my boss won’t stop texting me

I currently work in a sales role for a large alcohol company and have been sick with glandular fever for three weeks. During that time, I’ve been in hospital for about 10 days as I had jaundice due to a liver infection.

My boss was away on annual leave for the first two weeks of me being sick, but since he has returned, he’s been contacting me constantly to find out when I’ll be returning to work. I’m exhausted all the time and my doctors have recommended I take at least another week off before going back to work. Unfortunately my boss doesn’t seem to understand.

He has emailed me a number of times with things he feels need to be addressed immediately, like I missed filing my expense report while I was in hospital so he c’d his boss in on an e-mail scolding me, and has texted me every two days asking when I’ll be back. I spoke to one of my colleagues who called to check up on me and he said my boss was frustrated I wasn’t back yet. My colleague had suffered from glandular fever when he was younger and was sick for weeks/months so totally understood how I was feeling, and had stuck up for me.

I know my boss is getting pressure from his boss about where I am, but I don’t know how to explain to him how horrible I feel. He believes I should be calling him constantly to update him, but he’s never called me to see how I’m feeling only texted. What do you suggest I do? I don’t want to lose my job but I am concerned about returning to work when I have no energy, I feel like the stress is making things worse.

It’s true that in most offices, three weeks is an unusually long time to be out sick so I can understand that your boss wants to know what’s going on — but it sounds like you’ve told him and he’s just sort of … not accepting it. If he needs a better idea of your likely timeline or some sort of documentation from your doctor — i.e., something more important than a delayed expense report — he should tell you that. But contacting you constantly isn’t okay, assuming that you have in fact explained your doctors’ recommendation to him.

At this point, I’d email him — perhaps cc’ing his boss if that’s appropriate in your office — and say something like this: “As you know, I’ve been very ill for the last three weeks and was in the hospital for 10 days. Because of the seriousness of the illness, my doctors say I need at least another week off before I will be able to return to work. I will contact you on (date) to update you about whether I will be well enough to return on (hoped-for return date). Because I’ve been told to rest, I most likely will not be answering texts or emails during that time. Please let me know if you need any further information or documentation from my doctor; if you do, please call me so I can make sure to get you what you need.” (A key part of this is that you’re giving him a likely timeline. Even if you end up having to change it, it’s better for him to have something concrete like that than to have no idea what to expect at all.)

Also, if you’re eligible for FMLA, this is the time to use it. FMLA will protect your job and stop your boss from continuing to hassle you. If you’re eligible, contact your HR department ASAP to get that in motion.

2. My coworkers think my significant other doesn’t exist

I’ve run into a dilemma at work. I’ve been dating my significant other for several years and he doesn’t like large social gatherings. After a few years at different companies, he decided corporate events like holiday parties weren’t his thing and I respect that. This results in me going to a few events with friends or by myself.

Our holiday party is soon and my partner was going to go but ended up having to work late (our party is in the middle of the week). I asked my friend to go instead and updated the party coordinators about my plus one. This is when I found out that there’s a rumor going around with several people that I’ve been lying about the existence of my partner! There are several pictures of my partner on my desk and Facebook, but they say “We haven’t met him so you’re obviously lying” in a teasing manner.

Their comments come off as jokes, but their accusations are extremely hurtful. I tried to brush them off by saying “He’s been to company parties before you were hired” or “He exists. Check Facebook!” but the teasing keeps happening. Is there a way for me to get my coworkers to stop without making it a big deal?

This is the kind of thing people think is funny without realizing how annoying it can get after the first couple of comments. The tricky thing is that if you say what you’ll need to say to get it to stop, you do risk making it a bigger deal (and people thinking that they might have struck a nerve and then speculating on why). You can certainly try an eye-roll and “That joke has stopped being funny.” You can try, “That’s getting annoying — please stop” or even, “You’re right, he’s a figment of my imagination. What a terrible discovery.”

But you can’t really control what they do/say/think, so if you can, you might be better off just deciding not to care. But I’m sorry — that does sound annoying.

3. Am I using the bathroom too often during the day?

This is a really weird question, but it’s been eating at me since I started my first post-grad job two and a half years ago. How many times are too many times to get up and go to the restroom during the day?

I sometimes will get up to pee three times in one hour. I try to stretch it out as long as possible, as I feel really awkward about having to get up and walk past every single person in my small office to get to the bathroom. I’ve always had a small bladder, but am also on medication that’s a diuretic and also get dehydrated very easily, which can cause debilitating migraines for me, so I’m pretty much constantly drinking water.

No one here has said anything to me (I started about six months ago), but at my first job one of my coworkers pulled me aside and asked if I was bulimic! So I know it’s something people notice. This is more out of curiosity, but at what point does it get noticeable enough to warrant letting your superiors know there’s a medical reason why you leave your desk sometimes more than 10 times a day?

If you’re getting all your work done and maintaining a good level of productivity, I wouldn’t worry about it at all.

It’s true that using the bathroom three times in an hour is a lot, but it’s not problematically a lot. And it’s really no one’s business. That coworker who asked you if you were bulimic was rude and being nosy and out of line (after all, if you were bulimic, that wouldn’t have been a helpful way to approach you about it; it seems like she was just trying to satisfy her own curiosity), so please don’t let that make you feel self-conscious.

If you felt it had the potential to impact your work, or if it was causing your manager to never be able to find you when she went looking for you, then it would make sense to explain the situation to her — either that you’re on a medicine with diuretic effects and/or that you have a high water intake to ward off migraines. But otherwise, I think you can consider your bathroom habits your own business and not something you need to explain.

4. Employee wants to return a company raffle gift

We have a holiday party every year. My boss, the company owner, goes on a shopping spree before so we can raffle off “gifts” at the party. They range from gift cards to tablets and speakers to one or two 50” TVs — a bunch of electronics. The winners are chosen at random from a group of 20 or so employees.

I received a note today from an employee who won an item that they appreciate it but will never use it and can they have the receipt to return it for something else.

This just seems incredibly rude to me and I don’t know how to respond. From a practical standpoint, I don’t want to give her the receipt so she can see what was spent in total. And I can’t get over someone asking this. Sell it. Re-gift it. Try to return it for store credit. Am I being unreasonable? What should I say to her?

I agree with you that it’s a bit rude, but I also think it’s the product of people having different ideas (and different family practices) when it comes to gift-giving. Some people are totally comfortable with people saying “hey, this isn’t my thing, can I exchange it for something I like better?” Some people actively want their gift recipients to do that if they’re not thrilled with a gift. So she may be coming from that background, and then throw in that she probably figures any potential emotions around gifts are even lower since this is work … and I can see how she got there.

That doesn’t mean that you have to oblige her though. It would be perfectly fine to say something like, “We didn’t plan on people returning these to pick out their own gifts, but you can certainly sell it or re-gift it if it’s not your kind of thing.”

5. How long should I wait for a promised promotion?

I have been promised a promotion for over two years. We’ve been through two rounds of layoffs, hiring freezes and have been acquired by another company in that time. I genuinely understand the circumstances around why I haven’t been promoted, but have also taken on a quite a bit more responsibility in that time, along with a heavier workload to make up for employees who were laid off, with no additional compensation. Is there anything I can do to help expedite this process? As well, how long should I wait for a promotion before I’m officially being taken advantage of?

I don’t know that there’s a specific timeframe that will apply in every situation, but two years is well past it in nearly every case I can think of. If you’ve been being promised something for two years and it still hasn’t happened, I’d assume it’s not terribly likely to happen in the near future either. If I’d been promising someone a promotion for two years, I’d be embarrassed not to have come through.

I’d start looking around at other options, and see if you can promote yourself by moving somewhere else.

update: I bit my coworker

Remember the letter-writer who bit her coworker? Here’s the update.

So I don’t have an update I think anyone will like. Going through Alison’s three suggestions:

#1) Find a new job. I applied to the perfect position the next day, interviewed within the week, aaaaand bombed the interview. Nerves? Lack of practice? I do have Alison’s book, did research, but just didn’t click with anyone. Probably going to stay where I am. I like almost every aspect of my job except for my office manager, and not everyone can say that.

#2) Apologize to witness coworkers. Turns out, as I’d thought, no one in the office cared that I bit the office manager. I spoke to one person in the office that I find professional and whose opinion I respect. He was confused that I was upset, felt that biting someone wasn’t that crazy for our office, and in the end he didn’t think it was a big deal. Actually, the office manager was shoving me a bit the other day and one coworker chimed in, “Hey, careful, you know what happens when you do that,” referring to when I’d dropped and broken my mug. Everyone was completely confused, had to be reminded, and then lost interest.

#3) Learn to let it go. I roll my eyes now. I shrug it off. I don’t stress myself out. I miss a meeting? Oh well.

Addressing commenter suggestions:

I really took a step back and examined my high stress levels. It was clear I was having some anxiety issues. I called my doctor looking to talk it out and maybe get meds for the short-term. When I explained I bit someone, I could hear her metal stutter. She thought she’d misheard me. In the end though, it was decided I wasn’t “at-risk” enough to make office time for. I was referred to a different doctor about an hour and a half trip from my home, which didn’t help my anxiety or make sense for my schedule. Basically I just had a reaaally horrible few months, but made it out the other side and feel fine now.

Biting a coworker is obviously crazy behavior and never ok. I certainly haven’t done it again and don’t plan to. But in the long run, my office manager is a raging jerk. I’d like to see how others handle someone, sitting 5 feet away for 50ish hours a week, who constantly calls them a b*tch, tells them they’re fat, says their mother doesn’t love them, criticizes clothes and makeup, polices how much they eat, and basically makes everything as difficult as possible. Please, show me you can do better. In the end I feel bad … but not that bad.

The office manager doesn’t even care. He’s not angrily holding on to the fact that I bit him. We get coffee. We go on walks. He confides in me and asks for advice regarding work situations. He’s an ass, and I guess maybe I am too? But at least I’m an ass with better coping strategies going forward, because now I shrug it off and put on headphones when it gets to be too much.

I deeply thank everyone for their suggestions. Knowing that I’m not the only one who’s broken and lashed out really helped when I was going through that rough patch.

In the long run, yeah, maybe this is warping my perception of normal. But everyone I talk to with a “normal” office job seems to hate it. They go in, stare at four walls for eight hours, barely talk to anyone, and then go home to complain about how much their work sucks. Do I wish my office manager would quit? Of course. But I’m not crying myself to sleep over his behavior. I put up with it and the trade off is an active, interesting office culture where we get drinks, have fun, tell jokes, the pay is good, the benefits amazing, and the work interesting.

Thank you for your thoughts, sympathies, and personal stories. I promise to keep my teeth to myself in the future.

Me again. I just want to say, letter-writer, that there are “normal” office jobs where people do interesting, engaging work, are reasonably happy, and are not verbally or physically abused by coworkers. Please keep looking!

don’t make these 6 mistakes at work this month

Holidays at work can present some etiquette landmines if you’re not careful — like taking way too much interest in the date your coworker brought (or didn’t bring) to the office holiday party, or inadvertently assuming other people share your religious faith.

At U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about six mistakes that people often make at work this month, and how to avoid them. You can read it here.

do I really have to wear high heels to a job interview?

A reader writes:

I am a college student employed through work-study. Once a month, my employer holds a training session for all student assistants to update us on new procedures, etc. Our most recent meeting focused on employment after college, because many assistants graduate this year.

This training included mock interviews accompanied by an evaluation. I was surprised to see that I lost points for not wearing heels. I opted for point-toe Italian leather flats because heels (of any size, even wedges) hurt my knees and leave me limping within five minutes. I figured it’s more professional to walk into an interview rather than limp into it. My evaluation score really upset me. Could heels really cost me an employment opportunity?

Very, very unlikely. It’s true that there are still a handful of throwbacks who think that professional dress for women includes heels, but the vast, vast majority of people and employers no longer hold that stance.

Tons of women can’t or choose not to wear heels, and there are plenty of professional flat shoes available.

It’s also really silly to suggest that someone who doesn’t normally wear heels put them on for a job interview — since a wobbly, not very polished walk isn’t a great interview look.

Your employer needs to reassess its training, which sounds like it was created decades ago. And meanwhile, you might point out to them that they’re wrongly penalizing the many people who may have a medical reason for avoiding heels — and they’re enforcing an incredibly sexist double standard of expecting women to wear significantly more uncomfortable footwear than men.

employee is torturing her office mate with constant questions, sending a holiday card to your job interviewer, and more

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

1. My employee bothers her office mate with constant questions

I manage two employees who share an office. One is a long-term employee and stellar worker. She bit the bullet and volunteered to share her office because we needed the space. The other position is a new employee in an entry-level assistant role. My more seasoned employee has been venting that the assistant peppers her with many imposing questions. For example:
“Who was that on the phone?”
“What did you just print?”
“Where are you going?”
“Where were you?”
“What was that person talking about?”

I’ve seen it myself because she asks me similar, but much less frequent questions and I notice the awkwardness when I go into their office to discuss projects with the seasoned employee and can feel her staring at me, or making audible acknowledgments, as if she’s apart of the conversation.

I’m afraid this could lead to the seasoned employee quitting in the long run. Is this just a case of social ignorance or should I step in and address it? If so, how do I tell her to, professionally speaking, mind her own business?

Step in and address it! You’re her manager and she needs coaching on a behavior that’s disrupting your team — and is even making you fear someone will leave over it. You absolutely should speak up.

You could say it this way: “I wanted to talk to you about some of the protocol around sharing an office. It can be tough to work in close quarters like that, and so it’s important that you and Jane are both respectful of each other’s space and privacy. I’ve noticed that you ask her a lot of questions about what she’s doing, like who she was talking to, or where she’s going or coming from. I understand being curious, but when you’re sharing an office with someone, you need to give them more space than that. A good rule is to treat the other person’s comings and goings, and their conversations, as if you don’t see or hear them. That doesn’t mean you have to pretend she’s not there at all — it’s just about giving her privacy to carry out her work and any personal matters without being peppered with questions. Does that make sense?”

Normally I’d suggest that you first coach Jane to address this herself, but it sounds like this employee needs significant enough coaching that it makes sense for you to take it on.

2. I’m in trouble for not cooking for a coworker who’s about to have a baby

My manager asked the 25 people in our department if we’d be willing to cook meals for a coworker who is about to have their first child. While I’m happy and excited for this colleague and normally give when asked, it’s Christmas and I’m tapped out in terms of both expendable cash and extra time. It’s especially awkward for me to say no, since I just finished spearheading our corporate fundraising drive for a holiday charity. I responded to him privately that I would be unable to cook a meal, but that I’d be happy to drop meals off or contribute to our office mom-to-be in some other way. He’s been giving me the silent treatment ever since. What’s my next move?

That’s ridiculous, and no reasonable coworker would want her unwilling colleagues to be forced into helping her in her private life like this. I’m sure your manager means well, but this should be 100% optional. And his reaction is particularly ridiculous since you still offered to help in a different way (which you weren’t obligated to do).

Unless your manager is known for giving people the silent treatment over petty slights and then recovering quickly, I’d address it head-on: “I might be misinterpreting, but you’ve seemed unhappy with me since I mentioned that I wouldn’t be able to cook a meal for Jane, although I could contribute in other ways. Did I do something that concerned or upset you?”

3. Should I send a holiday card to my interviewer?

I interviewed for a position — my dream job — earlier this evening via phone. The interview went well enough, but I think I was just shy of nailing it. I was told by the hiring manager that they would be interviewing candidates the rest of this week and next, and that they would circle back after the holidays for in-person interviews.

I’m working on an email thank-you note now to send as a follow-up after our conversation. Do you think it would be okay to also send a holiday / thank-you card via mail with the holidays approaching? I thought it might be a nice touch and a way of reminding them of me. I imagined addressing it to the department as a whole, as opposed to one person.

No, don’t do that. It’s going to come across as trying to curry favor. (You wouldn’t be sending them a holiday card if you weren’t currently being considered for a job there, right?) Stick with the normal interview thank-you, and leave it at that.

4. I want to stop networking with a vendor

Last year, I was at a job where I managed hiring a vendor for skills we didn’t have in-house. After we made a decision, I informed the rejected vendors and one of them asked me to lunch. The business was fairly new, and he wanted to pick my brain about their proposal and other projects our company was working on. My manager encouraged me to take him up on it in case we needed back up.

We developed a friendly relationship and had coffee a few times, during which I had nothing to really offer him because it turned out I was working in an insanely toxic workplace with terrible business practices.

I have since left that job, but he reached out to me to connect again. Where I was working for a small organization and was focused on an area relevant to his field, I now work for a large organization (and have a lot less influence) and focus on an unrelated area. He knows this. Even if I had a client lead for him, the reality is I have never worked with him, so I would feel uncomfortable recommending him to a colleague. I’m afraid we are wasting each other’s time and I don’t know how to politely decline. How can I address this in a kind way?

To preempt the questions, yes, I am a woman, but he is a happily married father and there is no romantic interest here.

Some sales people work this way — cultivating as many business relationships as possible in the hope that it will eventually lead to sales or referrals. But they’re used to being turned down, so you’re unlikely to hurt his feelings by declining future coffees.

That said, it might not feel clear whether these are business invitations or social ones, and so you might worry that if you decline him on business grounds, he might suggest getting together just to catch up. Given that, I’d just respond to the next few invitations by explaining that you’re swamped at your new job and rarely can get away for lunch.

5. We get charged double vacation days if we’re gone over a weekend

I live in Florida. Our company gave new vacation policies and really seems wrong. If we take a Friday and Monday consecutively for vacation, they will automatically deduct Saturday and Sunday as vacation days. Our business hours are Monday-Friday only. Is this legal?

It’s legal since no law regulates how employers structure their vacation benefits, but it’s incredibly wrong and illogical. There’s zero business reason for charging you for four vacation days when you’re only missing two days of work. You and your coworkers should push back on this one.

10 Ask a Manager letters that will make you glad you’re single

Brit + Co. compiled a list of their 10 favorite Ask a Manager letters about exes and other romantic complications at work. It’s here.


updates: the small lies, the boundary violator, and more

Here are updates from three people whose letters were answered here this year.

1. My employee tells small lies but is otherwise good at her job

Thanks again for your advice on this issue. As usual, it was incredibly helpful. As a side note, I was hired to manage two clinics with no formal management experience. I felt completely lost trying to manage a group of people who had been my peers until recently. Even small decisions felt difficult because I didn’t have any confidence and had no clue when and where to draw the line. The fact that I look quite young (and am young to be in this position) didn’t help either.

Today, I feel comfortable in my position and my abilities as a manager and I feel respected and valued by the team I lead. I credit your blog for transforming me into the manager I am today. Thank you for your wisdom and advice – there are no words to express how thankful I am. I tell everyone about your blog and will be first in line to purchase your book!

As for the update: I ultimately decided that I wanted to give the employee one last chance. While I have talked to her about performance issues in the past, I did feel that most of the conversations happened when I was a new manager and hadn’t yet developed my abilities for effectively communicating my expectations. We ended up having a conversation that was a lot more frank and detailed than what I would’ve been capable of in the past. It ended up actually helping me to understand the reasoning behind some of her actions. In the time since the meeting, she has been an absolute model employee and was invaluable early in the year when the clinic faced an unexpected setback. It remains to be seen if this change is a permanent one but I am glad I made the choice to give her another shot.

2. How do I get a boundary-violating dude at work to back off?

Thanks for publishing my letter and the follow up. I wrote the letter at a particularly strained time in my life (divorce negotiations were coming to a head) and in the interactions with Fergus By the time you published the letter (some months later), things had settled down and we seemed to return, somewhat, to the established “friend” boundary of before. He stopped visiting my office as much and we rarely ran into each other on public transit after that. There were a few office visits after I wrote that I managed to shut down with a clear “I need to get back to work now” and they petered off after that. Maybe he got the hint. Maybe the obvious and increasing social media posts of me and my now boyfriend helped. I’m not sure. I never really had a clear conversation with him, but I wasn’t being bothered so I didn’t push it.

I’ve since moved on to a new role at another institution (a good step in my career, not because of Fergus or the environment) and I’m pretty happy. I will add that I found the reaction in the comments to be intense – so much so that I basically stopped reading them after the first day. Trying to reconcile Fergus the real person with the version the readers gleaned from my letter (less awkward and more predatory) was difficult.

3. Is it weird that I asked my employee to have his emails forward to me while he’s on vacation?

I wrote in a while ago about having my employee forward his emails when he went on his honeymoon to Bali (#1 at the link). I have a reasonably happy update: He mentioned to me last week that he started reading AAM, and how funny are some of the letters, and can you believe some of these people, it’s crazy! My employees were laughing over some of your wilder letters, and they asked me if I had ever written to you. I admitted that I had. They asked what I wrote about, and I found the letter and sent it around.

We ended up having a good conversation about it. The employee in question said that he had no issues at the time with my request–he agreed with the commenters who felt that corporate email is 100% the property of the company, and it was a reasonable request given the circumstances. A few of my employees said that they sometimes send personal-ish things on their company email, but they try hard to keep it non-personal–and never anything too private.

Regardless, none of them had a real issue with my request. Glad to know everything went well!