working with an over-complimenter, former employee is angry we didn’t acknowledge a death in his family, and more

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

1. Working with an over-complimenter

We have this new coworker. She has a really nice demeanor, so when she gave me a couple of compliments, like clothes and makeup, it didn’t seem like a big deal. Now that a few months have passed, I can honestly say the complimenting has gotten out of control. It’s every single day! For example, I do my makeup the same most days; one day I think I went a little heavy-handed on the bronzer, and she complimented me on it.

The next day, I didn’t go so heavy. So she said “Oh, no cheeks today?” Then another day I have more bronzer on “You did your cheeks! I’m so glad!” Then another day it’s “You should really do your cheeks more often!” And so on.

If I re-wear a piece of jewelry or a shirt that she has complimented me on, she will say “Oh, you’re wearing my necklace today! I love it, it’s so nice!” Then the next day. “Awww, where’s my necklace?”

Currently, she is focused on my eyebrows. I do my eyebrows the same every day since college, yet she insists they look *just* a little different every day. “Your eyebrows were darker yesterday.” “Your eyebrows are so dark today! So nice, I like it.”

I almost want to believe that she simply does not know how to communicate with others, other than complimenting. I obviously feel very silly thinking about going to a manager about this. Is there any way to approach this?

How about this: “I know you mean it kindly, but I actually feel a little uncomfortable having my makeup and jewelry commented on so frequently. Thanks for understanding!”

2. Former employee is angry we didn’t acknowledge a death in his family

I am the manager of a small department. A little over two years ago, I had to terminate a long-term employee. It was a long time coming: For years, he had been unable to perform basic job duties, he was resistant to correction, and his interactions with other team members were becoming increasingly hostile. The termination process went predictably badly, and the employee went out in a blaze of vitriol: accusations, profanity, etc. I did not take any of it personally.

I have had no interactions with him since then. However, today, he sent an email with a link to the obituary of his adult daughter. He took us to task as a group, saying he would have expected at least a card and basically implying that we were horrible human beings for failing to acknowledge the loss, which occurred about two weeks ago.

Alison, no one from my team knew! If we had, I think we would have sent some sort of acknowledgement as a group … even though when this worker left, he said horrible things and was clear that he wanted nothing further to do with us.

But what to do now? Do we send a card? Flowers? He has behaved badly, but now he is a grieving parent, and we are all genuinely sorry for his loss. Does contacting the employee just open old wounds? I’m torn.

Yeah, it’s not typical for people to know about deaths in the family of employees who left two years ago, unless they’ve stayed in touch! Since he’s now alerted you to it, it would be kind to respond to his email with something like, “I’m so sorry to hear of this! We didn’t know this had happened, but of course now that we know, you have our deepest sympathies for this terrible loss. You and your family are in the thoughts of all of us here at Teapots Inc.”

I think sending a card or flowers is really optional here, given the vitriolic history, but it would certainly be a very gracious gesture.

3. My manager approved me for more vacation days than I actually had

The manager who handles vacations left mid-2016 and another manager filled in until a replacement was hired early 2017. During this time, the interim manager approved several vacation requests of mine. It turned out I had run out of vacation days but the interim manager approved the days anyway. So with nobody realizing it, four 2017 vacation days were pulled to cover 2016 and it wasn’t discovered until July 2017 when I was told (while I was on vacation) that I was already out of vacation days for the year.

Obviously if I had been told in 2016 that I’d be losing the 2017 days, I wouldn’t have taken the days off. Whose responsibility is it to know how many vacation days I have left? They’re not giving me any days back and say if I want to take any more days off in 2017, I have to now pull days from 2018. Any ideas?

Everyone here messed up. Your interim manager shouldn’t have approved the days if you didn’t have them (although many managers approve requests based on whether it’s okay to have you out of the office on those particular dates, and count on you to make sure you actually have the vacation time available) — and definitely should have told you she was pulling them from a future year to cover it. Although maybe you’re saying she didn’t realize it at the time either, and then when someone spotted it later, the day were pulled from 2017 at that point?

But you also should track your own vacation days and know how much time you have available to you. I can understand if you were off by a day or two, but going over by four is something that you should have been aware of. I mean, assuming you get, say, three weeks of vacation, that means you went over by nearly a third of your annual allotment, which normally you should have realized you were doing.

Ideally your employer would say, “Hey, this is partially our fault too, so we’ll split the difference with you (or even let it go this time) but you need to watch this more closely in the future.” And since they’re not offering that up, you could try asking for that.

But if that doesn’t work … Well, it sounds like if this hadn’t happened, you’d have four remaining days this year. You could split the difference and pull two from next year … or ask them if you can take the time unpaid this year … or just get through the next four months without more (non-sick) time off, since four months isn’t a huge length of time to invest in getting this squared away.

4. Can I ask a company to slow down their hiring process?

Yesterday I had a 40-minute Skype interview with a company that is across the country. I was potentially interested in learning about the opportunity but not sure the location or the organization would be right for me. The questions were typical, but I couldn’t see much on the screen and I’ve never visited the small town where the job is located. I thought the next stage would be an in-person interview where I could learn a lot more.

Today they are saying they want to check my references, which they had requested along with my resume in the initial job posting (I hate it when they ask this at that stage, but sent them along thinking it would be a final-decision last step — now I regret some of the names I sent). I’m not sure after 40 minutes of conversation I’m seriously committed to moving forward, and this is all feeling very real all of a sudden. I’m not sure I’d be willing to move for anything but an amazing opportunity, and I don’t feel like I have enough information to know if this is one. Is one of us out of step with the hiring process? Part of me is thinking this is a red flag and maybe I should just withdraw.

Ask them about it! You could say something like this: “Can I ask where you are in your process and what additional steps I can expect? I know reference checking typically comes at the end of the process — if I stay in the running, do you plan any additional interviews? If we get to the finalist stage, I was hoping we’d talk in-person so that I can learn more about the organization and the role.”

You might find that they check references earlier than most employers (which is weird and inefficient but is occasionally a thing that happens). But if they tell you that they weren’t planning on additional interviews, it’s reasonable to say, “I’m definitely interested in the job, but I’d want to have another in-depth conversation if we move forward. Is that something we can arrange?” (Keep in mind that they might have done things this way because they don’t want to pay travel expenses. It’s reasonable for you to ask them to, but be prepared for them telling you that they’d need you to get yourself out there.)

5. Can I leverage a job offer for more hours at my current job?

I have been part-time (20 hours/week) at my current job for two years. I love the autonomy, my manager, and the general atmosphere. I get complete flexibility with my hours AND can take unlimited time off (unpaid). It’s a pretty sweet gig. Due to finances and life, I need to bump up my pay and hours. There are two positions that I could potentially take over, but one person would need to retire and the other would need to vacate the position.

I’m well liked at work and multiple people have said I should “have their job(s).” In my performance reviews, my boss has said she “wants to expand X department and promote me” but it hasn’t happened, and she can’t give me any sort of timeline when asked.

A job opportunity has fallen in my lap. Same general job description, 30 hours/week with a bump in pay. I clearly need to wait for an offer, but if I get one I really want to leverage it for a full-time job at my current place.

For example, “Fergus, I really love it here at Teapots Inc. I’ve received an offer from Zookeepers Inc for more hours and more pay. Is there any way we can look at the budget to try to keep me?” That sounds terrible written out and it sounds like I’m totally full of myself (“Promote me now or lose me forever!”) but I have a feeling if I moved jobs, my boss would say “Gosh, if only she’d waited X more months we could have kept her.” What do you think of all this?

The thing about using another offer as leverage with your current employer is that you have to be prepared for them to tell you to take it. If you knew your current job wasn’t going to make you full-time for at least the next year, would you want to take this other offer? If not, I wouldn’t trying to use it as leverage; there’s just too much risk that your manager will say, “Unfortunately nothing here has opened up yet, so I understand you’ll need to take the other offer.”

But if you’d want this other job if nothing is going to change at your current job, the risk is much lower. In that case, you could say, “A job opportunity has fallen in my lap for more hours and more pay. That’s hard to turn down, but I’d much rather stay here. We’ve talked in the past about making me full-time at some point. Is there any path that would let us do that now? I love everything about working here, and if there’s a way to stay here, that’s easily my first choice.”

In general, trying to get a counter-offer can be tricky even when you’re willing to risk being told to take the other offer — some managers get really weird about knowing you were ready to leave and you can get penalized for it down the road in ways you don’t expect — but when you’re part-time and it’s known that you want more hours, it tends to be less risky.

coworkers keep commenting on how quiet I am

A reader writes:

I have always been a quiet person, especially when I’m new in an environment and trying to learn about the culture before diving in headfirst. I know when I don’t know things and would much rather listen to those smarter than me and bury myself in my own work so I can learn as much as possible. When I know the culture/project really well, I have no problem contributing my own thoughts and ideas, and actually enjoy leading a team once I’m confident in my own knowledge of the project.

However, every single place I work I’ve had the same experience: I’ll be sitting in my private office/cubicle/etc., working at my desk on tasks that don’t require collaboration. Someone (who usually has worked with me for long enough to know me) will say something like, “You’re always so quiet! I never know you’re in here” or “Wow, why are you being so quiet??” It’s always said in a slightlyyyy degrading way and once in a while even followed up by “You should make more noise!”

This is SO weird and bothersome to me. It seems like the equivalent of saying “Wow, you’ve been working hard all morning and haven’t had time for small talk, what’s wrong with you?”

I have two questions: 1) Is this in some way making me a less valuable employee? Should I be trying to make more small talk with my coworkers, or making phone calls, or otherwise making noise so that people think I’m normal? and 2) How can I respond to this question? Beside the fact that it really grinds my gears, I never know what to say — “Well, I was working hard” seems like a dig back at them for NOT working hard, but I’m not sure how to let them know I’m a normal employee just like anyone else.

Some people do this in the same way they feel compelled to say “Wow, you’re so tall” to tall people.

It’s not so much a judgment as it is a … totally unnecessary observation that nevertheless comes out of their mouths.

Sometimes it’s just an attempt to connect. Someone who wants to express friendliness toward you might comment on your shoes, or mention the weather, or seize upon any other easily noticeable thing to make small talk. In your case, that happens to be that you tend to be really quiet.

And “You’re so quiet!” tends to be more socially acceptable to say than “You’re so loud!”

I think you’re probably reading more into it than is really there. In most cases, it probably doesn’t mean “what’s wrong with you?” It’s also probably not a prompt to explain why you’re so quiet (i.e., that you’ve been working hard). It’s just … almost meaningless small talk. You could reply with “how’s your day going?” and it wouldn’t seem out of place.

You could also just say,”Yeah, I get pretty absorbed in stuff and then I realize I haven’t said anything for half the day! How’s your day going?”

All that said, there are a small number of people who may have an issue with you being so quiet — like bosses who believe that everyone socializing is somehow essential to work getting done, or that you’re not a team player if you’re not a bigger part of the office’s social fabric. But you probably know if you have one of those bosses.

Beyond that, there is some value to connecting with your coworkers on a personal level. It can make people more willing to help you out when you need it, or respond to your requests more quickly, or share information that can help you do your job better. It can lead to the kind of relationships that people are talking about when they talk about professional networks — people who will refer you to jobs and vouch for you professionally and so forth. For many people (although not all), it can also make work more satisfying.

But you can form those sorts of relationships and still be a generally quiet person; one doesn’t preclude the other. So I’d look less at your noise level and more at how well you think you connect with the people you work with. If you don’t feel like you have those connections, then yeah, some small talk is a good place to starts. (Suggestions on that here.)

my coworker keeps cc’ing our manager when she emails me

A reader writes:

I’m a supervisor with not much experience and still learning. I do make mistakes, but I’m pretty good at taking responsibility and rectifying my mistakes.

There is a customer service supervisor who constantly cc’s my department director if she disagrees with the answers I give to the customer service reps. Instead of calling me or emailing me to figure out things, she does not give me the oportunity to review and rectify something if I’m wrong. She emails me and cc’s my boss, her manager, and even customer service reps This supervisor thinks it is better to cc upper management instead of communicating directly with me, which makes me feel that I’m not capable of handling the situation.

I would really like for this to stop and have her communicate better with me since we are both supervisors, but I’m not sure how to do it.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

my employee apologizes for mistakes she didn’t make

A reader writes:

I’m a new executive director. My assistant has been the executive assistant to my four predecessors and has been in the job for 15 years. She is young, in her 30’s but started in college, working part time with the first executive director’s permission and just stayed after the graduated because she said she loved the job. This is the first and only job she has ever had. She is amazing and I couldn’t ask for a better assistant. She anticipates my expectations and because she has been with the company and in that position so long that she needs very little direction.Being newer to the company and never having been an executive director before, I’ve often leaned on her for help.

My only complaint is that she apologizes when things aren’t her fault at all. She immediately follows up with a way she thinks the situation can be remedied which is great, but she doesn’t need to apologize when it isn’t her fault. I’d love for her to continue to have amazing problem-solving ideas, but she doesn’t have to take the blame to do that.

She often apologizes for things that are often out of her control. A major part of our jobs is dealing with a board of directors, and anytime they make a mistake or are late to a meeting, she apologizes for them. It seems as though certain members of the board also expect her to take blame for their mistakes such as them forgetting paperwork they were required to bring, not showing up on time, or getting the call-in information wrong. One time a board member who told us he wouldn’t be able to make the meeting tried to call her at the last minute saying he would be able to attend but needed the call-in information. She was setting up the lunch in the board room and away from her desk because the meeting was just two minutes away. I needed her help setting up some presentation material so she didn’t return to her desk until hours later where she was met with a ton of angry voicemails from the member trying to call in. I saw it more as his fault. There is no way we could have known he suddenly would become available two minutes out. We fixed the problem by giving her a cell phone to carry throughout the meetings (her idea) but she also sent him an email apologizing for not answering his call and that he didn’t have a way to call in. I thought that wasn’t necessary on her part as his lateness is not her problem.

I’ve learned from other employees that the executive directors in the past have been known for never taking the blame for any mistake and often demanding an apology from another employee, so it is very possible that this just might be a behavior that she learned was required by her previous bosses.

I’m in her age group and the first female ED in the history of the company. I’m also the first ED under 50. I am not sure if that plays into it at all.

I also acknowledge that she could just be a nice person who is just someone who apologizes for people and this isn’t just about work but just how she is as a person.

Is there a way to approach her without her feeling like I am getting on to her? I’d love to tell her that I think she is doing a great job but she doesn’t have to take the blame when someone else in the office or on the board makes a mistake. I definitely want her to avoid taking responsibility for mistakes made by other staff members. Should I even bother saying anything at all?

Yes, say something! Not in a “you’re doing it wrong” chastising kind of way, of course, but more like: “Hey, I’ve noticed that you’ll often apologize for things that aren’t in any way your fault. I don’t know if you’ve noticed you do it, and it’s a pretty common habit, especially for women. But in case you feel like I or others expect you to apologize even when things aren’t your fault, please know that you don’t need to. You do excellent work, and I worry that you’re inadvertently undermining yourself by apologizing when you don’t need to.”

It could very well be a behavior she learned from working under a previous manager who threw a lot of blame or had high needs for soothing and appeasement. Or it could just be a habit that she’s picked up in life more generally, like a lot of other people have.

But as a boss who appreciates her work, you’re in a good position to name it for her and let her know she doesn’t need to do so much of it.

For what it’s worth, I do think there are times when a polite apology can smooth over a situation more diplomatically, even when the apologizer isn’t actually at fault. Your board member example is a good one. It doesn’t sound like your assistant did anything wrong and didn’t owe anyone an apology, but when you have an angry board member who’s frustrated that he wasn’t able to call into a meeting, sometimes an “I’m sorry about that” will smooth things over faster than an explanation that the situation was actually his fault. Of course, if that person is regularly sending people angry voicemails, that calls for a bigger-picture conversation with him to address the behavior more broadly. But if it’s a one-off, sometimes a quick apology is just a smart way to smooth ruffled feathers.

The thing, I think, is to look at big-picture patterns. An unnecessary apology here and there isn’t a big deal. But a pattern of apologizing for things that aren’t her fault — even if it’s just a verbal tic, which it is for many people — is something that can subtly change the way people interact with her. By all means, nudge her toward seeing that she doesn’t have to do that.

my office posted “no complaining” posters, dinner with my boss cost me $500, and more

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

1. My office posted “no complaining” posters

My workplace recently put up these posters around the office in an attempt to… Well, I guess their hope is to improve morale in the long run. I find it condescending, but I’m not sure if that’s fair or if the generally low moral here is clouding my judgment.

The posters say: “The No Complaining Rule: Employees are not allowed to mindlessly complain to their coworkers. If they have a problem or complaint about their job, their company, their customer, or anything else, they are encouraged to bring the issue to their manager or someone who is in a position to address the complaint. However, the employees must share one or two possible solutions to their complaint as well.” Then there’s a graphic of two people holding a sign that says “stay positive.”

What are your thoughts?

Yeah, it’s ridiculously inept and a bit patronizing. If there’s a morale problem where people are doing a lot of complaining, you fix that by addressing whatever the underlying causes are, not by trying to silence people. And I’m on board with “hey, you should talk to people who can actually change the thing you’re complaining about,” but the effective way to convey that to people is by talking to them one-on-one and showing you’ll giving them a fair hearing, not by posting juvenile signs. (And really, you can’t ask employees to act like adults while simultaneously posting childish signs to communicate with them.)

I’m also a fan of encouraging people to share solutions to problems, but not every problem can be solved at the employee level.

On top of all that, this runs afoul of the National Labor Relations Act, which makes it illegal for employers to prohibit employees from talking to each other about working conditions.

2. My share of a meal with my boss was $500

I just started a director-level position with a new company and was sent on a business trip with my boss. Over text, my boss asked me to join him and a friend for dinner at a very expensive restaurant that I would never go to on my own. Since my boss had invited me, I naturally said yes, thinking the friend was some sort of business partner and the dinner would be expensed. Turned out that this was not the case, and at the end of the meal, I was asked to split the bill three ways. It was $500 each with tip! Had I realized it wasn’t a business dinner I would have immediately declined, and I feel completely duped.

We’re going on another business trip in a few weeks, and I don’t want this to happen again. How do I protect myself moving forward, and how do I establish a solid working relationship with my boss when I now question his judgment?

Oh no! How awful. The only way to address this is by having an semi-awkward conversation, unfortunately.

You could say: “Hey, I wanted to mention — I really appreciated you inviting me to dinner with you and Fergus on our trip. I have to honest — I had thought it was a business meal and would be expensed, and wasn’t prepared for the hefty bill! Will our meals while traveling typically be expensed and that was a one-off, or should I assume dinners are on us individually if we eat out?” (Or you could change that last sentence to “Would you give me a heads-up in the future if we’re not expensing something so I know ahead of time?”)

Or you could just wait until there’s another dinner invitation and say something similar then, but you’d probably feel better getting it settled now.

As for establishing a good working relationship when you now question your boss’s judgment: Some people are clueless about other people’s money but are otherwise fine to work for. I’d watch and see what else you learn about him before concluding anything more broadly.

3. Using sick time for doctors’ appointments when I have mornings off

I have a coworker who works 9am-5pm Monday through Friday. She will use her sick time to go to the doctor’s or the dentist about once every few months.

I work 9am-5pm three days a week, and 12-8pm two days a week. When I started, my boss gleefully mentioned how having the two mornings off a week was great so that I could go to appointments. I have been working here for about two years and have always had all of my appointments scheduled on my two mornings off, not thinking much of it.

Thinking about it now, I would like to go to appointments during the workday and use sick time, too. My coworker and I have the same exact job. We are paid the same rate, even though I work some evenings. What do you think is fair re: using sick time for appointments, when I do have two mornings off?

In most offices, it’s fine to use sick time for medical or dental appointments. If you’re unsure, you can always check with your boss, but I don’t think you even need to; you should be able to just do what your coworker is doing. The fact that you work a different schedule than she does shouldn’t really matter; your sick time is there for you to use when you need to use it.

If your boss questions it (which she shouldn’t, but that doesn’t always stop people), you can explain that you can’t always get appointments in the morning quickly enough to be seen for whatever you need to take care of. But I wouldn’t assume that her comment about the mornings being convenient meant that you were never expected to have appointments at other times.

4. I’m leaving and my company wants me to post something positive about my experience on their social networks

I am leaving my company to start a new job. My motivation for leaving was that I didn’t like working there (for several reasons). I have never mentioned this and the bosses think that I am leaving for a better company (which is also true) and that I truly enjoyed my time there. They asked me to share a personal statement about how much I enjoyed working for them to put it on the corporate’s social networks. Taken by surprise I agreed, but I don’t feel like doing this at all. Is there a polite way to get out of this engagement? Shall I just do it and say some platitudes?

Ideally you’d just run out of time, not do it, and it wouldn’t come up again. So I’d start with that as your strategy because it’s possible that’s all it will take. But if they come back and nudge you to do it, just post something very vague like “moving on after two years and wishing you all the best.”

5. Will this interview process ever end?

I have a question about an interview process I’m going through right now. I was just asked back for a FIFTH interview conversation for a role I am very excited about. I have spoken to nine people (over the course of five visits/calls), including the initial phone screen with HR. Each time, I worry that I didn’t do very well but lo and behold, the HR person asks me back for another day.

I have never participated in such a lengthy process so I looked up the company’s other interviews on Glassdoor. I found that other candidates who were hired for this same role were interviewed only 2-3 times. Can you think of any reasons it is taking so much longer in my case? Is it possible that every interviewer has been lukewarm on me and they’re just keeping me in the process as a last resort? Or is it possible this is a good sign somehow? The continuous chain of follow-ups is getting tiring and I just want to know where I stand.

It could be that they’re lukewarm and that’s why they’re not willing to commit. It could be that there are questions about the role that are still being ironed out, and that things have changed from the first time they talked to you until now, so different questions are coming up. It could be that they’re terribly disorganized and so they haven’t created an interview process that will get them the information they need in a more reasonable number of meetings. It could be that they’re just really, really cautious about hiring. (And the fact that candidates reported a shorter process on Glassdoor doesn’t necessarily mean anything; things could have changed in the company or with the position since those reviews were left.)

Since there are so many possible explanations, I’d avoid trying to read anything into it. It could mean something for your candidacy or it could mean nothing.

But on your end, it’s reasonable to say, “It’s becoming difficult for me to keep taking time off from work. Can you give me a sense of what the remaining steps are in your process and whether there will be additional interviews after this one?” (If you’re not currently employed, just leave off that first sentence.)

I ghosted my ex, and she’s about to be my new boss

A reader writes:

I was hoping you would be able to help me with a conundrum I got myself into.

I have been an expat since graduating and have been moving a lot. More than a decade ago, when I was still young, I was in a relationship with a woman, Sylvia, in a country where we both lived. Sylvia wanted to settle down but I was not ready to commit so young. We clearly had different expectations from the relationship. I did not know what to do and, well, I ghosted her. Over the Christmas break, while she was visiting her family, I simply moved out and left the country. I took advantage of the fact that I accepted a job in other country and did not tell her about it. I simply wanted to avoid being untangled in a break-up drama. Sylvia was rather emotional and became obsessed with the relationship, tracking me down, even causing various scenes with my parents and friends.

Anyhow, fast forward to now. I now work as a math teacher in an international school. I have been in other relationships since, so Sylvia is a sort of forgotten history. Sadly, till now. This week, I learnt that our fantastic school director suddenly resigned due to a serious family situation and had to move back to her home country over the summer. The school had to replace her. We are getting a new director. I read the bio of the new boss and googled her and was shocked to discover it is Sylvia. We have not been in touch and do not have any mutual friends anymore. I am not a big fan of social media and had no idea what she had been up to since the unpleasant situation a long time ago.

I have no idea what to do and how to deal with this mess. It is clear this will be not only embarassing but I will also be reporting to my ex. I am not in a position to find another job at present. There are no other international schools so finding another job in this country is not an option. Even finding a job elsewhere is not possible on such a short notice. These jobs usually open for school terms so I have to stay put for few months. But more importantly, I am happy and settled here so do not want to move. To make the situation worse, the expat community here is very small and tightly knit so teachers also socialize a lot.

Do you have any suggestions for me how to handle it and what should I do? I understand that this would not have happened if I did not ghost her back then, but I cannot do anything about it now. I gathered from the comments that readers usually have a go on people like me for “bad behavior” but I am really looking for constructive comments how to deal with the situation.

Ooof. I wrote back and asked, “How long were you in the relationship with her?”

We were together for three years and lived together for two of those years. I know that ghosting is not a way to end the relationship but I cannot do much about it now. I appreciate the trouble you are taking with getting back to me.

Double oof.

If you had ghosted her after a month of dating, it would have been rude but potentially salvageable. A month of dating more than a decade ago isn’t likely to loom very large for most people, emotionally. And ghosting after a short amount of time dating shouldn’t generally be devastating. Rude and frustrating, but not devastating.

But you were together for three years, and you lived together! And then you disappeared with no word? That’s some serious emotional destruction that you inflicted there. I’m not surprised that she contacted your family and friends; she was probably worried about whether you were alive or not! (Really, think about it. If you came home one day and your long-time partner was gone and had left no note, would you just shrug and go on with your life, or would you try to figure out if she were okay or not? Obviously I don’t know the details and maybe it moved into boundary-crossing inappropriateness, but you can’t expect to disappear on a long-term partner with no note or anything and not have them try to find out if you’re okay. Exceptions made for abuse, of course, but that doesn’t sound like the case here.)

I say all that to make the point that this is a pretty big deal. Normally I’m a fan of people putting aside personal emotions in order to conduct themselves professionally, but I don’t even know what that would look like for Sylvia in this situation. She’s most likely going to be shocked and horrified when she finds out that you work at her school, and that she’s supposed to manage you.

I don’t know that you can salvage this! It’s not reasonable to ask Sylvia to manage someone who she has this history with. You can try and see what her take on it is, but I’d be prepared to have to move on, whatever that might look like for you. I get that it’s going to be inconvenient — maybe even quite hard — but there may not be an alternative here.

Your best chances of an okay outcome are probably to contact Sylvia ahead of time to let her know you work there so that she’s not blindsided by it on her first day. Acknowledge that you made a terrible mistake when you disappeared, say that you’re very sorry for the hurt and alarm you must have caused her, and say that you realize that neither of you are in a great position to work together now. Ask her if she’d like to talk about what to do. (Beyond that, I’d avoid sounding like you’re presuming anything about how she’ll feel now, since who knows — best case scenario, if she actually can work with you now, she might be offended that you’d think she couldn’t.)

Be aware that apologies are going to sound pretty hollow and self-interested now, since you had 10 years to apologize and are only doing it now that she’s in a position of power over you. But acknowledging your behavior is better than not acknowledging it at all. (This is a theme with letters this year!)

I don’t know what will come of doing it. But you’re going to have to have the conversation with her eventually, so you might as well get it started and begin moving toward whatever the consequences here are going to be.

I have to share a hotel room with a coworker who screams in her sleep

A reader writes:

I work for a nonprofit. Whenever there is travel, coworkers double up two to a room. The first time I shared a room with a coworker, she first talked in her sleep and then bolted upright in the middle of the night screaming, crying, and trashing. She was shouting about things like blood and murder. It scared me so much I had to turn the lights on and shake her to find out if she was alright. She nearly hit me when I tried to wake her up and I honestly thought she was having an episode or breakdown.

My coworker told me she gets night terror episodes but it’s not a big deal. She asked me not to wake her if it happened again because I could end up getting hurt accidentally and her episodes would end naturally on their own. She said she doesn’t even remember them when she wakes up. Even if she doesn’t, I certainly did. It was only a single night trip but I was couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night because she had scared me. Later, after another coworker had to travel with her, she asked me if our coworker had any night terror episodes when we traveled because it had happened on her trip on both nights and nearly scared my coworker to death the first time it happened.

I have had to travel with that coworker again for three nights, and even though I knew nothing was wrong with her during her episodes, I couldn’t sleep – both from the anticipation of her episodes and the disruption during them. I’ve heard similar stories from others who have had to travel with her. My coworker says she can’t help it and it’s not a big deal. It might not be for her but it is for everyone else who ends up terrified and not able to sleep.

I went to my boss about it after it happened the second time but he didn’t understand what the problem was and accused me of trying to get out of sharing a room. I don’t mind sharing a room. I shared a room with my three younger brothers back home and when my family immigrated here. I’ve served with the armed forces and am in the reserves now and I have only ever worked in academia or the nonprofit world, where sharing hotel rooms is standard. I’m so used to sleeping in rooms with other people that it doesn’t even register with me. But I’ve never had to share a room with a person who screams half the night about murder and thrashes and throws things.

My boss, his boss, and their boss are all men and have never had to share with her. They say they can’t see how a bit of talking and rolling over could be disruptive and don’t listen when we say otherwise. My coworker told my boss she can’t see how her night terror episodes could be “that bad.” She has never apologized for them and says it’s a fact of life she cannot control. What do we do when getting our own rooms is not an option and travel is a part of our job?

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

how to reject a really bad internal applicant

A reader writes:

I am in a fantastic position: I got promoted in May and get to build my own team from within the department. I’ve had interim team members up to this point, but people have now applied for two permanent positions. I have three applicants for these positions.

Here’s the problem: our job is fairly customer-facing, and requires mostly independent work. Two of the applicants, Chachi and Joanie, would be a great fit for the work we do. But I also know that Chachi is probably getting picked up by a specialized team that does work that he loves, and, if given the choice, he’ll definitely go that way. I don’t blame him and wish him well.

The last applicant, Marion, is a train wreck. She is barely competent in the fundamentals of our job and our work is fairly advanced. Our team is on call and does 15-25 hours of overtime on an average month, more in the busy season. She has done exactly 5.25 hours of overtime in the last two years, and feels that is excessive. She is passive aggressive, moody, and terrible at the part of the job we do. The drama she brings to work every day is exhausting and she’s been the subject of two different police investigations (one for threating a neighbor and one for elder abuse). I will leave an empty spot on my team before I hire her, because when she DOES do something, her inability to follow directions or adhere to procedures makes more work for her supervisors. Unfortunately, her coworkers love her. She’s been around for almost a decade with no promotions, and they feel like she really deserves this. She’s already spreading rumors that she isn’t going to be hired because I don’t like her, and I’m going to pick my favorite people, which puts my integrity in question (in a job where integrity is everything).

I’ll be responsible for rejecting her. I’ll run into her frequently and really would rather not crush her. How do I kindly reject her? Do I point out all the skills she is lacking? How do I deal with the fallout from her peers?

How have you been managing her so far? Have you talked to her about the issues with her work and attitude? If so, this will be relatively easy — you’ll frame it as “we’ve talked about the serious concerns I have with your work, and I need to see those resolved before I can consider you for a permanent position on our team.”

If you haven’t … well, now’s the time. You’ve only been in your job a couple of months, so that’s helpful; if you’d been letting this go on for a year without saying anything, you’d be in a much worse position. You can frame it as, “Now that we’ve had a chance to work together for a few months, I want to talk to you about how I’d like you to approach your work differently. If you’re able to make these changes, you could certainly be a candidate for promotion in the future, but for now I want to focus on the changes I need to see.”

If that won’t make sense because after this she’ll be out of her interim position with you and back into her previous position reporting to someone else (which I think might be the case?), then I’d just be direct about what the issues have been: “This work requires regular overtime and you’ve made it clear you don’t want to do that. You’ve struggled with some of the key skills we need for this role, like X and Y, and you’ve had trouble following directions and procedures. So I don’t think this role is the right match, unfortunately.”

If your sense is that will further inflame things, then the alternative is to focus on why you’re hiring the other person — what that person’s strengths are that make he the top candidate for the role. But while that might make your life easier, you’ll be doing a disservice to Marion by doing that — as have her previous managers who apparently haven’t dealt with her issues for nearly 10 years. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go that route, but be aware of that part of it. (That said, Marion is inviting that kind of disservice by being so difficult to work with. Her past managers have still been negligent by not addressing it, but human nature being what it is, it’s not terribly surprising that people avoid tough conversations with her.)

As for what she might tell other people, you can’t really control that, although you can talk in detail about why you chose the person who you chose. Beyond that, though, if you’re fair and transparent in your dealings with people, people will see that — and even if they like her, it’s going to be hard to square what she’s saying with what they’re seeing of you firsthand.

Updated to add: Commenters have pointed out that Marion may not be one of your interim team members! I read the letter as saying that she is, but if she’s not, that changes things. In that case, you’ll still need to be straightforward with her, but I’d say it more like this: “I really appreciate your interest in being on this team. Unfortunately, I don’t think this role is the right fit. It will require regular overtime and I know that’s something you haven’t wanted to do. It also requires strengths in X and Y, and I haven’t seen the skill level in those areas that we need for this work. If those things change in the future and we have another opening, I’d be glad to talk more with you again.” (You should also actively work to generate additional applicants for that second position so that you’re not leaving it empty!)

should I tell my ex-boss he’s driving away assistants, aggressive good-morning greeters, and more

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

1. Should I let my ex-boss know he’s driving away new assistants?

In February, I started working part-time at a custom furniture company as an secretary/personal assistant. I had a lot to catch up on because the previous assistant had to leave to take care of a sick family member. It was rough adjusting at first, especially since my boss’ business is very small but busy. He was often in the shop working on projects and I would be in the office handling the administrative side. It was a trial by fire, but I quickly got the hang of things and my boss praised me for my efficiency and professionalism, even calling me the best assistant he’s ever had. I ended up getting a full-time job in my field but when I left, I found my replacement and he wished me luck on my next job. He said (jokingly) that one day he’ll expand his business to where he can hire me back.

A month later, he called me to tell me the new assistant was not a good fit after all. His complaints were the person wasn’t proactive enough and was making too many mistakes with clients and bill payments. He asked if I could find another replacement and offered to reimburse me for my time. I said yes because I could have used some extra cash. Again, I found some good candidates, he interviewed them, and he hired one. He paid me like we discussed and in my thank-you email to his new assistant (whom I was communicating with regarding payment details), I told her to feel free to email me for advice about the job.

Today, the new assistant emailed me that she intends to quit and complained my boss was too chaotic and demanding (he frequently gets angry at her for not knowing details that she is still trying to learn, doesn’t take the time to explain proper procedures, and ignores her when she tries to ask questions or clarify issues). I don’t blame her for leaving over this, but I didn’t have these issues when I started with him. This would be his second assistant in two months, and I’m betting he’ll reach out to me again to find a new replacement. I’m not going to, but I feel like I should point out that he is driving assistants away with this overly demanding behavior and impatience. Could I do that or should I just keep my mouth shut and let him have a rotating door of assistants until he figures out it’s not them, it’s him?

You could ask the person who emailed you if it’s okay for you to share her feedback, in general terms, with your old boss, explaining that you think it would help to understand where he’s going wrong. If she says yes, then it’s okay for you to point this stuff out to him. Otherwise, though, I don’t think it’s really yours to share — especially since your experience with him was different. In that case, though, you could still ask whether he might need to spend more time training people and answering questions and generally be more patient with them, given that he’s lost two assistants in two months. If you know first-hand that his standards are unusually high and his patience unusually low, and if you can see that it would be difficult for most people to work with him well even though you were able to, that’s fair game too — you could say something like, “You and I worked well together, but to be candid, I think someone would need to have a thick skin to do it — you can be pretty tough on someone who’s still learning, and (insert more details here). I don’t think it’s realistic to expect most people to thrive with that management style.”

But also — be sure that’s really the case before you say it. If you didn’t see the behavior that the second assistant reported to you, it’s possible that this really was about her being the wrong fit for the job, and that your boss would be fine if he hired someone more like you (resourceful and sharp, it sounds like). If that’s the case, he needs to reflect on who will and won’t succeed in the role, and figure out how to screen for that when hiring — but that’s a different issue.

Of course, none of this is your fight anymore, and you don’t need to get involved at all if you don’t want to. But it sounds like you have good will toward him and want to help him out, so those are all possible things you could point out to him.

2. The guy who insists on saying “good morning” individually to everyone

This is a question of very little importance, just annoyance. For context, I am a millennial woman who works in a male-dominated field and the majority of my coworkers are older than me. In general, everyone gets along great.

I have a coworker who is a contractor who is probably 15-20 years older than me. He’s nice. But every morning he has to individually say “good morning” to everyone. I even have headphones in and he’ll wave his hand in front of me to say good morning. I appreciate the sentiment, but sometimes I am in the middle of something and don’t want to be interrupted. Others, I just haven’t had my coffee and am just not that cheery. I know I should probably just suck it up, but is this normal for some people to say hi to everyone individually?

I feel like nearly every office has one of these — the really aggressive “good morning” greeter who will insist on being heard, even if you’re clearly in the middle of something else.

It’s mildly weird behavior, but there’s really nothing you can do about it without looking like a huge grump.

3. Can I renegotiate salary once I see the benefits?

I received a call from a hiring manager a few days ago offering me a job at a really exciting company in an exciting role. I was asked what my salary expectation was, and in my excitement, and unpreparedness, I said, “I’ve expected to go down slightly in salary for this position, so it’s $40K.” I basically low-balled myself big time. He said that he’d check with his manager and get back to me.

He got back to me the week after and said they accepted the offer. I screwed up, but I told him my salary expectation and have to accept that — I’m a man of my word. I have no intention of renegotiating the base salary. However, I had not at the time seen the benefit package, and have yet not seen it. I’m wondering if there’s an opportunity here for me to renegotiate slightly and add a bit more to my salary?

I currently make $45K at my current job, but it also comes with a bunch of different benefits. What’s your take on this? If I receive the benefits, could I respond with something like, “I currently make $45K, and also have these benefits. Is there any way you can match the benefits?”

It’s really tough to renegotiate salary once you’ve agreed on it; it usually comes across like negotiating in bad faith. But you’re right that the benefits provide a different road in. If they turn out to be significantly lower than what you’re getting now, you could say, “I hadn’t expected the benefits to differ so significantly from my current job. I’m currently getting twice as much vacation and my health insurance paid for. Factoring that in, the salary we discussed would be much larger cut than I’d anticipated. Would you be able to match the benefits I’m getting currently, or adjust the salary to compensate?” (You can really only do this with the big items like paid time off and health care. It doesn’t work if it’s about a paid gym membership or smaller stuff like that.)

Just make sure you get that benefits write-up soon, because the longer you wait the more this will seem like going back on your word. Contact them today about it.

4. Company wants me to pay my own expenses on a business trip

I’m exempt at a small but growing business. This year we were asked to go to a two-week training in another state during our vacation. The company paid for the training, but we were expected to pay housing, food, and all other expenses. I explained this was a serious financial hardship and they offered to loan the money up-front and then deduct it over the next months. I ended up going as it was that or lose my job. I’m certain this will happen again next year. How can I handle this better? I truly can’t afford it.

That’s ridiculous. These are normal business expenses, and your company should cover them. They’re asking you to pay part of their operating costs, and that’s not okay. It would be like them expecting you to chip in to cover the receptionist’s salary.

Try saying this: “I can’t afford those expenses, so how should we handle this trip?” If they offer to loan you the money again, say, “No, I really can’t afford to take on that expense at all.” And then stick to that — don’t budge.

You’ll have even more sway if your coworkers say the same thing as you. Ideally you’d all point out that these are business expenses that other companies cover as a matter of course; in a “small but growing business,” your manager genuinely may not realize that.

5. Can I ask my boss to set up a social Slack channel?

70% of the people I work with work remotely. There is a home office that the rest of our team officially works out of, but those folks are often on the road and working remotely as well. We get together once a year in person, but otherwise we don’t see each other in person. We use Slack a ton, and hop into phone calls and screen sharing at the drop of a hat. This is a highly collaborative workplace. People get along well and work hard to be positive in all of our interactions, but it can be kind of weird to work intensely with someone without knowing what they even look like!

I think it would be helpful for us to have a Slack channel that would function as a sort of breakroom or water cooler. I would love to know if someone wanted to share a great recipe or if anyone had a recommendation for a toaster oven, that kind of thing. How can I ask my boss to create this without sounding like I’m looking for a literal channel to goof off? (My boss and I get along fine and I don’t have a reputation for goofing off at work and I’d like to maintain that.) I think it would help humanize our workplace and make it easier to cultivate positive relationships.

Is this a reasonable request? Our team works together really well right now as it is, but we are growing and have some new folks here who are still a bit shy about jumping into calls and Slacks because they don’t want to bother anyone. I also sometimes get a little cagey at home and I want to interact a little more casually with the people I work with for 50 hours a week! What do you think? Should I ask for a channel? If so, how should I phrase the request?

Sure, that should be fine to do (assuming you have a decent manager who doesn’t jump to negative conclusions about people). You could just say it this way: “Since so many of us work remotely and it can be hard to connect personally the way we would if we were all in the same place, what do you think about creating a Slack channel as a sort of water cooler to do things like share personal news, get a toaster recommendation, or so forth? I don’t think people would over-use it and it could be a nice way to help people feel more connected and engaged with our team.”

me talking about bringing kids to work (and dogs too)

Quartz did a profile on Ask a Manager over the weekend, which you can read here.

Second, I was on public radio’s Marketplace this weekend, talking about whether it’s okay to bring your kids to work and how to minimize the impact if you do. We also talked a bit about bringing dogs to work, and that letter about norovirus from last year even came up too.

You can listen here: