my boss fired me and won’t let me return to visit friends, skipping my boss’s barbecue, and more

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

1. The boss who fired me doesn’t want me coming back to visit my friends

I have an uncomfortable situation. Long story short, I was fired from my job at Big Corporation about a week ago (I understand their reasoning and disagreed with it but didn’t fight it). During the exit process, I specifically asked the two HR reps if I was banned from the building or if I would be allowed to return occasionally to have lunch with various friends I have in my old department; there are several thousand people who work in our building and there’s a very large cafeteria where we would often eat together as a small group. Both of them insisted I was not banned and that as long as I signed in as a visitor, it would be fine. I am not in any legal trouble with the company, nor have I begun or plan to begin any legal action against them.

The next day I went back to the office to drop off a baby gift for one of my former coworkers since I had been unable to give it to her before I left and would not be there for her baby shower. I decided to only meet her in the lobby, since I didn’t want to make a fuss. As my firing was very sudden and very poorly received by my coworkers, several of them came out to the lobby as well to give me hugs and wish me well. This all took place directly in front of the receptionist and the security desk, but neither seemed to care and I left without any incident.

Fast forward to today and I discover that after I left that afternoon, my ex-boss told all of my coworkers that they are not allowed to meet with me except outside of work. Since the HR reps specifically agreed that I was allowed to come back as a visitor at any time, can my ex-boss really ban my friends from having lunch with me? Is it even worth fighting the point, or should I just accept my fate?

Yes, your boss can do that (assuming she manages the people in question), regardless of what HR said. And either way, you shouldn’t fight it — you’ll look weirdly invested in showing up at a company you no longer work at.

For what it’s worth, most organizations would consider it strange for a just-fired employee to show up to socialize the next day. And if your firing was controversial among your coworkers, it’s understandable that your boss doesn’t want you showing up there, since it’s likely to inflame any drama that already exists.

Just plan to see people who you want to stay in touch with outside of work.

2. Can I ask my manager to stop peeking at my computer screen?

Is it appropriate to ask your manager to stop peeking at your screen? My manager has a habit of looking at my screen when she walks by, or even turning to look at it when she’s sitting down. Then she’ll comment on/ask about what’s on it, whether it’s work-related or not. For example, I had Gmail open on my second monitor, she asked about something in my chat window, and then she commented on how many unread emails I had in my inbox.

To clarify, it’s not against the rules to have personal email or chats open. My manager isn’t pointing out my personal chats to discipline me—she’s just saying “ooh, what’s that?”

I know you can’t expect your computer monitor to be totally private, and I get that it’s easy to glance over and see someone else’s monitor unintentionally. I’m not worried about her seeing me doing something wrong; it just makes me uncomfortable to have someone blatantly read over my shoulder. But she seems to think it’s fair game to just stand behind me and read what’s on my screen.

Am I justified in asking her to stop? How should I approach this?

In the vast majority of manager/employee relationships, you probably can’t — at least not without sounding a little off or like you’re trying to hide something. That’s especially true if she’s just glancing as she walks by. Your work computer just isn’t that private, especially not where your boss is concerned.

However, there are ways that you could address it more indirectly (something I’m not normally a fan of, but is probably your best option here). For example, if she’s standing behind you, blatantly reading, you could minimize the window, turn to her, and say (cheerfully, not resentfully), “What can I do for you?” You could even say, “I’m weird about people reading over my shoulder — but do you need me?”

Of course, if she weren’t your boss, this would be different. It’s easier to ask a peer to stop this. But most versions of a manager/employee relationship don’t allow for a full-on “please don’t keep looking at my screen.”

3. Do I have to go to my boss’s Memorial Day weekend barbecue?

My company traditionally lets everyone leave around midday on the Friday before a long weekend. With the long weekend this coming weekend for Memorial Day, this Friday will be a short day. My boss has scheduled a barbecue at his house for three hours at lunchtime that day — when we’d normally be headed home and off to an early weekend. The email invite says “don’t feel obligated” and that the invite is mainly to get a count of people coming, but I checked the responses and all but one of my team (about a dozen people) plus four additional invitees, including one other manager, have all accepted.

I don’t want to go to this event for several reasons, but I don’t have any real reason I can’t. The invite says no obligation, so it seems fairly safe to say there won’t be any official repercussions. But can I skip without it looking bad for being one of the few team members (or maybe the only one) who doesn’t show up? Is it -actually- bad to miss it for “team bonding” purposes? What would Alison do?

(For what it’s worth, my relationship with my boss is… not great. So it’s not something where I could just ask him this, or trust the answer even if I tried to.)

Alison would send her regrets, mentioning that she already has other plans. Alison would then go home to nap. And so can you!

It’s good to participate in at least some group activities with your team, but a barbecue at your boss’s home when there’s an easy excuse of other plans doesn’t need to be one of those things.

The exception to this is if you have a petty, vindictive boss who will take your absence personally and hold it against you. But most managers would be fine with “thanks so much for the invite — can’t make it this time because of an existing commitment but I hope everyone has a great time.”

4. What should I say about my shady ex-coworker?

I used to work with this person, who we’ll call Sally. Sally and I were in the same department and both left to go into business for ourselves being freelance teapot designers. There are not a lot of people doing teapot design in our city, so we end up competing for business often enough. Personally, I’d like to forget all about Sally and just focus on my own business, but here’s where things get complicated.

Sally was not just a bad employee, she was an unethical one. Probably broke actual laws or at least came close. For years, when prospective clients would contact our department (we would often act as our own sales team), Sally would persuade these companies to work with her directly, outside of the company (this was not allowed by any means). So she’d literally steal business from the company.

To make it worse, after Sally put in her notice to quit, she attempted to bribe other employees to export the entire client list so Sally could try and take the business away.

So now when I’m discussing business with potential clients, I often get asked about Sally. I get asked if I ever worked with her, what I thought of her teapot design abilities, etc. (I know it’s weird to ask about a competitor in this setting, but in my industry it’s kind of common as a way to judge ability/experience levels).

What do I say? For one, if I pretend I don’t know Sally, I’m lying. If I say I know Sally but have no criticism, I may be leading a company to do business with a crook. If I spill the beans, I don’t know if I’d face potential blowback for slander.

At a minimum you could go with something like, “We have very different working styles.” That’s professional and discreet but also signals that you aren’t a huge fan.

But that may be too subtle, so another option would be, “We actually used to work together at Teapots Inc. I feel uneasy getting into the details, but I do know that there were some real concerns about how she operated there. You might check with Teapots Inc. for more insight.”

To be clear, this would be different if she weren’t your competitor. If you were, say, an employee of a company that was considered hiring her, you should be more candid. But in your situation, you don’t want to appear to just be trash-talking a competitor, which is why I’d give them enough to know there are issues to dig into without getting into every detail.

5. My former coworker is leaving — how can I ask if her job will be open?

About a year ago, I finished an internship, and toward the end, a full-time worker left his position. As he left, he encouraged me to apply for his job, but I had already signed on to a year-long contract abroad that was really a once in a lifetime opportunity. Another intern ended up being hired, but she will be starting a doctoral program in another state so she will definitely be leaving in the next couple of months.

Now I’m back in the country and on a job search, and since I really enjoyed working there (and did well enough as an intern that I was encouraged to apply for a more permanent position), I am genuinely interested in the position. How do I ask if and when her position will be filled in a respectful manner that doesn’t seem entitled?

Email the manager for that position and say, “With Jane leaving, I wonder if you’ll be hiring for her position again. If you are, I’d love to throw my hat in the ring, since I’d love to return to LlamaGrams and find the work Jane was doing with llama training really exciting. If you think that role might be open again soon, I’d love to talk with you about it — or could submit a formal application if that’s the right way to go.”

(Don’t say this, though, if Jane’s plans to leave soon aren’t yet known to her manager!)

how to speak up when women in your office are called “girls”

A reader writes:

I need help with a script for speaking up in the moment when my coworkers call grown women “girls.” Full disclosure – I am a cisgender woman who was radicalized as a leftist feminist in grade school in the 70’s (by radical Catholic school nuns who also did service work in South America, by the way). I now work in an urban area that bills itself as equitable and sophisticated, and for the most part, that proves true. However, this problem persists!

I am sitting in a meeting next to a professional man in his 50’s, and he just said that we have a girl who codes our emails. The only words that come to me are unprofessional to say the least. Can you please provide some sample language I could use in this professional context?

“You mean woman, of course. Anyway, yes, Jane is great.”

“Given that Jane is an adult, let’s refer to her as a woman, please. Thank you.”

“Jane is an adult woman, of course.”

Depending on the dynamics between you and the person you’re addressing, and depending on the effect you want to produce, you can say this kindly (with the tone you’d use for any other friendly correction) or you can say it poker-faced. If the person you’re addressing is someone who’s prone to minimizing or pooh-poohing this stuff if given an opening to do so, you may want a tone that conveys “I’m being polite right now, but I don’t suggest messing with me.”

If you’re told you’re making too big a deal out of it, you can say, “If it’s not a big deal, it won’t be a  problem to use ‘woman,’ right? Thanks.”

And for anyone reading who thinks that referring to women as “girls’ in a professional context is no big deal, consider how infrequently you hear “we have a boy who codes our emails.”

Or think about women who are universally recognized as having gravitas and power – say, Angela Merkel or Marissa Mayer – and ask whether you’d refer to them as “girls.”

While referring to adult women as “girls” may not be intended to be infantilizing or patronizing, language has power, and girls are rarely taken as seriously as women. Some of the most damaging sexism is subtle because it impacts how we think without us even realizing it.

(It’s also worth noting that women can be the worst offenders on this one, which doesn’t make it any less problematic.)

are new managers supposed to be this stressed out?

A reader writes:

I recently got promoted to a managerial job, and I love what I do. I’m finding, though, that the amount of responsibility that falls on me has been making me unhealthily anxious. I missed a call from work today, for example, outside of work hours, and have been agonizing over what could have gone wrong, who did I let down, what wasn’t prepared when a customer came in, what chastisement will I have to hear tomorrow about managing things better, etc.

To give you background, I know that this isn’t rational because I haven’t yet been “chastised” in this role and, when I do get back to the office the next day, everything is fine. Always.

I’ve been like this for about six months. Since this is my first managerial position, I have to ask: Does every new manager experience this? Do experienced managers constantly feel this pressure too, and should they? What can I do to ease some of this “weight-on-my-shoulders” feeling?

I’m starting to feel like this is just what is entailed by moving up in the workplace, but I’d love to know if my barometer is off here.

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

how upset should I be about a re-hired employee’s quick resignation?

A reader writes:

An employee’s resignation has changed my opinion of her dramatically; I’m not sure if I’m being unfair, and opinions from immediate coworkers are probably affecting my judgment. Can you help me recalibrate my managerial instincts?

An employee on my team, “Ariel,” was originally hired for a different team, working under “Ursula.” Due to Ursula’s micromanagement and pessimistic outlook about the company–complaints everyone else working under Ursula shared–Ariel resigned. Shortly thereafter, Ursula left. At that point, my direct manager (“Eric”) reached out to re-hire Ariel for a vacant spot on my team. I agreed with Eric that Ariel would be a good fit, and encouraged him to go ahead and offer her the job, since they were already chatting about it.

Ariel returned about three months ago. Upon returning to the team, Ariel received a significant raise from her previous salary, while many people who had never left the company received no annual raise this year. (I got about half of Ariel’s raise.)

Last week, Ariel submitted her resignation, giving slightly less than two weeks’ notice. Ariel says she received an opportunity she couldn’t turn down, with a huge raise and a chance to build and lead a team. She hadn’t given me or my manager any indication she was unhappy, aside from one incident where she felt a teammate’s tone was inappropriate for the workplace during a disagreement and reported him to HR. (Ariel received an apology from the person involved. There was no foul language or insults, but he got too heated and understands he was out of line.)

If you don’t count the two months she was gone between resignation and re-hire, Ariel did work here for a year before leaving. If you only count from the re-hire, she job-hopped after 3 months, including two vacations (travel planned before she was re-hired) and a sick leave lasting the better part of two weeks. She is also leaving less than a month before the biggest tradeshow of the year for the chocolate teapot industry–she was spearheading the planning and execution for this show. We are a very small team and will have to spend an extra $20,000 on professional production help for the tradeshow due to Ariel’s departure, because we don’t have enough time to hire and train a replacement, and we are working against ambitious teapot sales goals for the show.

I want to be happy for Ariel’s great new opportunity — an opportunity that I’m sure her work here helped her prepare for. She really does great work and deserves to advance and grow.

But isn’t it awfully unprofessional to accept an offer — with a large raise — and leave not even a full quarter later, leaving your team in the lurch?

How should I feel about this? Should it affect my opinion of her if I’m ever asked for a reference for Ariel? Do you think I made a mistake supporting the re-hire of someone who resigned previously at all?

So, generally I tell people in Ariel’s shoes that they can/should go ahead and do what’s best for them, but they need to know that they’ll probably be burning the bridge in the process, and they need to be okay with that consequence.

You’re that bridge.

In other words, it’s understandable that Ariel would act in her own interests, especially when there’s a huge raise and increase in responsibilities with the new job.

And it’s also understandable that you’d feel like Ariel flaked out on you and left you hanging, and that you wouldn’t hire her again in the future or do more favors for her. That’s the burned bridge.

She might have made the absolute right call for herself, but it’s the kind of thing where I would tell Ariel (if she were the one writing to me), “Realize that this really sucks for them, and they’re understandably not going to be happy with you.”

However, I wouldn’t get hung up on the fact that she hadn’t given any indication that she was unhappy. It’s possible that she was unhappy and was job searching so soon after starting — but it’s also possible that this was something that had been set in motion before she came back to work for you, or that it otherwise fell in her lap in a way she couldn’t have anticipated when she accepted your offer.

I also wouldn’t get too hung up on the fact that it’s a month before the tradeshow and the costs of the extra production help you’ll have to hire. That stuff happens when people leave, and it could have happened even if she’d been there for years. It makes the situation extra difficult, so it’s easy to lump it all into “ways Ariel has wronged us,” but that’s more of an “eh, crap happens.” (But I can see why it makes her actions feel extra cavalier to you.)

Now, as for whether you made a mistake here … it’s hard to say without having more information. Was she a stellar employee during the year she was there in her first stint? Did her strengths warrant the significant raise you gave her to return? Did she give you the sense that she was enthusiastic about returning and committed to staying for at least a few years? If the answers to all those questions are “yes,” then I don’t see that you made a mistake here. But if the answers aren’t unqualified yeses, then yeah, there’s probably room for figuring out what you’d want to do differently next time. (And to be clear, that doesn’t mean “never hire back former employees.” It means things like “don’t take people back just because they’re former employees; really reflect on their talents and likely commitment level” and “if you’re using significant raises to attract people back, make sure they’re warranted within your overall salary structure and justified by the person’s work.” Sometimes people get so glad they’re hiring an already known quantify that they forget to assess things that way.)

And about future references, when it comes to talking about Ariel’s work, you should give her the same reference you would have given before this — but it’s fair game to say, “unfortunately when she came back to us the second time, she left after three months for a different job so most of what I can tell you is from her first stint with us.” You’re saying that not as a veiled “Ariel screwed us over” but as factual context for the rest of the reference.

how many doctor’s appointments are too many, nervous about mentoring a smart intern, and more

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

1. How many doctor’s appointments are too many?

How many doctor’s appointments are too many? I’m a salaried employee at a casual, tech-style agency. While I’m generally healthy, I did have cancer as a baby (don’t worry, I’m fine now!) and thus I don’t shy away from preemptive care in addition to regular check ups.

There have not been any concerns about my performance, I always get my work done, and we have unlimited sick leave but I sometimes feel like I may be scheduling too many appointments compared to the rest of my team. I see a therapist once a month. I have a slew of annual appointments (dental, well check, etc.) that are all scheduled individually. I’m a runner so occasionally I see a sports doctor about injuries. I go in waves of seeing a dermatologist about stubborn adult acne. Every now and then, I like to get my hair cut and colored and there are almost never weekend appointments available. I’ve even moved appointments around to accommodate meetings that pop up when I can, but I can’t always predict when I’ll need to see a doctor.

In a good month, it might just be one or even none. A bad month could be three or four. I had four in January, none in February, but already three in May (all of my annual appointments fall in the spring). I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll always spend more time in doctors’ offices than the average person but I don’t want my team to get the wrong idea.

I don’t think that I should have to disclose my extensive medical history to anyone — especially since I’m technically healthy now — and I do my best to schedule appointments in the early mornings/later afternoons to mitigate the time I’m away from the office. I always block off my calendar ahead of time. No one has said anything to me about it but I still feel awkward. This is my first job out of school and I’ve been here for three years with a great record. I worry that people think I’m out interviewing all the time which just isn’t true!

Yeah, it sounds on the high side compared to most people, but not outrageously so if you’re able to manage your own schedule and arrange things so that it doesn’t impact your work. (There are offices where this would be enough out of the norm that I’d urge you not to do the hair stuff during the work day, but if no one has said anything to you about it and you’re not noticing weirdness from your manager about it, this probably isn’t one of them. But in your next job, get a read on the culture in this regard since it can vary from office to office.)

In any case, I don’t think it would be a bad idea to give your manager some context in case she starts wondering if something is going on — but that doesn’t mean that you need to share details. You could just say something like, “Hey, I wanted to mention that I have a couple of recurring medical appointments, sometimes monthly, sometimes a few times a month. I always make sure they’re not impacting my work, but I didn’t want you to wonder or worry if you noticed. And it’s nothing serious — just some stuff I have to take care of.”

2. I’m nervous about mentoring a smart intern

My boss has asked me to mentor a college-level junior for the summer. The guidelines I got were to make half the experience valuable to her (the mentee) and half valuable to us (the team, i.e. have her do some real work).

He sent me the information on the student and it’s obvious that she is much smarter than me, at least from a class work standpoint. She has studied things I’ve only thought about.

I’m a bit nervous at approaching this task. I really want it to be a good one for the student and the team!

She may or may not be smarter than you (although the fact that she’s studied subjects you haven’t studied doesn’t indicate that!), but you have work experience that she doesn’t have, and that’s what’s most relevant when she’s interning with you.

When she starts, talk to her about what she’s hoping to gain from the internship, and then think about ways you/your organization might be able to provide that. (That could include anything from particular types of projects to sitting in on relevant meetings to connecting her with people who do the type of work she’s interested in.) You might also talk to people in your organization who have managed interns in the past and find out what worked and what didn’t. Use your boss as a resource too — he may have input on what sorts of projects it makes sense to give her.

But really, she’s interning because she wants work experience and she wants to learn. It’s very unlikely that she’s going to be thinking about who’s smarter than who (and if she did, that would be a weird posture for an intern to take).

3. The pregnancy pause

Have you seen this? What’s your take? 

Excerpt: “Motherhood shouldn’t have to be defended in a job interview, says the agency, but moms are often dismissed by potential employers because of the gaps in their resumes. To help remedy the problem, the agency is introducing ‘The Pregnancy Pause,’ an effort that gives job-hunting moms an easy way to treat time taken away from the office to raise a child like any other full-time job. […] Hiring managers that call ‘The Pregnancy Pause’ number will hear the pre-recorded greeting: ‘Hello, you have reached The Pregnancy Pause. You must be calling about a candidate’s resume that has mentioned her time spent here. While here, she spent innumerable hours raising a child, which has surely offered her invaluable experience as a prospective employee. Visit our website ThePregnancyPause.org to learn more, and remember, maternity leave is a full-time job.’”

Nooooo, that’s really not useful to job seekers. First, they want you to list it on your resume as if you worked there, which is deceptive and really not going to go over with employers once they realize what you’ve done.

Second, that recorded message is awful. Claiming that parenting is “invaluable experience as a prospective employee” is going to generate eye rolls, not respect. It’s not that parenting isn’t important and challenging — of course it is — but it’s not professional work or job experience, which is what your resume is for, and it’s not the same as being held accountable for results to people outside of your family. This “service” is doing a disservice to the people it’s purporting to help.

This is a classic case of good intentions and terrible execution.

4. Is this contest unfair?

I generally like my job. I do! My manager is a very good boss, supportive and fair most of the time. But this, I think, is not fair: We share writing blog posts. Our marketing manager has posted a contest saying that whoever can increase their post count by the greatest percentage by the end of next month will win a $50 gift card.

I have five blog posts so far. The person who has the least has two. The others are somewhat in the middle.

We’re a small team to begin with. I think he’s trying to motivate those that haven’t contributed as much to step up their game next month, but I can’t help but feel punished for being prolific. What do you think? Is this a clever way to motivate those who do not contribute or a way to alienate those who do?

Yeah, you’re right that you’re at a disadvantage in winning the prize since you’d have to write more posts that your coworkers would to win the prize. Maybe you could suggest that it be calculated not on percentage increase but on numerical increase.

If they don’t go for that, though, and if this disparity between you and your coworkers is the usual state of things, consider this part of what makes you excel at your job and incorporate it the next time you’re asking for a raise.

5. I’m going to be away for my intern’s whole first week

I have recently hired a summer intern (John) who is scheduled to start his first day in a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, I’ve just received news of a death in the family, and the funeral is scheduled the same week that John is starting. I will need to be out that entire week, as the funeral is in another country (where my partner is from and where most of my partner’s family still remains).

What do I do with regard to John? Do I try to push back his start date by a week? Do I have him start even though I won’t be there and see if someone else on my team can act as his “welcoming committee”? I’m concerned that if I keep his start date the same, he could have a poor first impression/experience, with limited direction or resources if he has questions, and a sense that he isn’t a valued member of the team. I’m also concerned that others on my team might feel put upon, since I’m really the only one on the team who does what I do and they probably wouldn’t have much work to give John. However, I’m afraid that if I push his start date back, he’ll be out of a week’s pay, and perhaps he is counting on that to cover living and other expenses for the summer. I’m hoping you and your readers can give me some guidance on the best path forward.

Why not give him the choice? You could explain the situation and say something like, “Would you like to push your start date back by one week, to (date)? Or alternatively, if you’d rather not do that, we can stick to your original start date, with the caveat that the first week will be a bit slow since I won’t be there. I can someone else here act as your point person while I’m away, but I want to be transparent with you that you won’t get as much guidance that week as you will once I’m back. But either option is absolutely fine — is there one you’d prefer over the other?”

You may find he doesn’t care about the missed pay, or that he cares very much. But rather than making the choice for him, let him make it!

this gross app wants you to flirt with your coworkers

This is a very, very bad idea:

The dating app Feeld has introduced a Slack bot that connects mutually attracted coworkers … Here’s how it works: You tell the bot who you’re crushing on in your employer-sponsored Slack channel. Feeld promises to keep the information private unless said crush tells the bot that he or she is into you. If there’s a mutual crush, it notifies you both and then, well, trips to the water cooler get even more awkward. That or you fall madly in love and drive the rest of your coworkers nuts…

The company understands that this bot violates every tenet of workplace professionalism and, basically, doesn’t care. “We have predefined frameworks of love, work and how we should behave according to company guide books, religious beliefs or governmental bills,” the founders write. “All of us at Feeld question the norms and define our own more human, more real way of existing in the world.”

— “Dating App Lets You Flirt with Coworkers on Slack,” Vocativ

See, they’re just more human. You, with your interest in professional boundaries and your discomfort with having a company-wide program (that needs to be installed and approved by your company) to manage colleagues’ crushes and attractions, are not sufficiently real.

6 lies your career center told you

usnewsWith a new class of graduates about to enter the full-time job market, a lot of them are seeking job search advice from their college career centers. Unfortunately, the advice that a lot of colleges are doling out is often outdated and frequently downright bad. In fact, as a workplace advice columnist, when I ask recipients of bad advice who told them to approach their job search that way, one of the most common answers is “my campus career center did.”

At U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about the bad advice coming out of many – although thankfully not all! – college career centers. You can read it here.

how can 20somethings know if something is worth complaining about or leaving a job over?

I’m on vacation and damn it if I’m not going to re-run a blog post so I don’t have to write a new one. This one is from August 15, 2013.

A reader writes:

If one is unhappy at their work, whether it’s due to their actual responsibilities or problems with their bosses, coworkers, clients, etc., how would one then determine whether it’s a legitimate grievance that grants the right to action, such as speaking to one’s manager, looking for another job, or even resigning without having found another job, or whether it’s a normal part of the working condition that will improve or one just needs to get used to.?

I understand that this is a very general question that does not have the same answer to every situation, but is there a general rule that one can go by? And does money, experience, length of stay, etc. have any impact on the answer to the first question? For example, does it matter if one if unhappy at a job that pays $25K, $50K, or $150K, or whether they have been at their place for 5 months, 1 year, or 5 years?

Those from “older generations” say that individuals my age and generation (late 20s, Generation Y) are just lazy, irresponsible, and think we have the right to a perfect job right out of college. I understand their point and maybe we (the Generation Y) need to lower our expectations, but I have also known people who stayed at jobs that were making them utterly miserable for years. It’s similar to divorce: not too long ago, people stayed in a really bad marriage for the sake of the children or because of societal pressures; however, now, people get divorced at the first sign of diminished passions. So how does one find that balance between not giving up too easily and also not falling into dutiful martyrdom?

You’re right that there’s not  one across-the-board rule, because it depends on the specifics of the situation — but in general, a few principles are worth considering:

First, the more in-demand you are, the more able you are to speak up when you’re unhappy and to walk away for something better. If you’re not an especially marketable candidate, you don’t have as much ground to stand on when insisting on something better (or options to turn to if you don’t get what you want). That’s why people often find it a bit silly when less experienced people leave jobs over complaints that are common or relatively minor in the scheme of things — although it’s of course still reasonable when the issues are bigger. (I’d put harassment, real cruelty, chronically broken promises, and being expected to do something illegal, immoral, or unsafe in the “bigger issues” category.)

But complicating things is that fact that when you’re less experienced, you can’t always judge the relative seriousness of an issue very well. The more experience you have in the work world, the better perspective you’re able to have when it comes to figuring out if the thing troubling you is:
* common and not really a big deal
* truly outrageous
* something you can or can’t realistically avoid wherever you go
* something worth taking a stand over
It’s often hard to judge those things well when you don’t have tons of experience.

You asked how to tell if something warrants a wide list of actions, including speaking to your manager, looking for another job, or resigning without having another job. In general, the latter is something most people need to avoid, both because it can take a really long time to find another job and because you’re generally less attractive to new employers once you’re unemployed, which will make what might have already been a long job search even longer and harder. There are some things that warrant quitting without another job lined up, but they’re pretty rare.

But as for speaking to your manager, a good manager will want to know if you’re unhappy about something, particularly if you’re contemplating leaving your job over it. Of course, as with anything, your specific complaint (and the way you approach it) can reflect on your judgment. If you go to your manager because you’re frustrated spending three hours a day in useless meetings, that’s reasonable. If you go to her because you’re annoyed you don’t get senior-level projects when you’ve only been on the job for a year, that’s going to make you look naive. So you also want to factor in how reasonable an objective observer would find your concern, and — importantly — how equipped you are to make that call. If you’re pretty inexperienced, it’s important to recognize that that probably impacts your ability to assess this stuff.

All of this points to proceeding with caution when you’re relatively new to the work world — and testing your assessment of a situation with people you respect who have more experience to draw on. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t entitled to push back on something or leave a job if you’re unhappy — that’s your prerogative at any time. But it’s wise to make sure that you understand the potential consequences of that action and how it’s likely to be perceived by people around you — and that’s the piece that I think is sometimes missing when people are less experienced, and what has led to some of the stereotypes that you describe.

who should communicate a lay-off, asking for a raise after three months at a new job, and more

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

1. Who should communicate a lay-off?

I’m the HR director at an organization that recently had to lay off a group of staff for budgetary reasons. Meetings were set up with directly affected employees, their managers, and our president; managers were asked to open the meeting and lead with the bad news, with our president there to provide additional context. None of the managers themselves were being laid off.

One of the managers involved insisted that our president open the meeting and actually deliver the bad news, although the manager was still present for the meeting. These staffing decisions happened rather quickly and we were all under stress, so she acquiesced to this manager’s request. But I’m still thinking about whether we should have pushed back.

As an employee, I would want to hear the news directly from my manager, and if I didn’t it would be a red flag. As an HR professional, I think that extending a job offer and ending an employment relationship are two sides of the same coin, and the employee’s direct supervisor is the best person to communicate the facts in either scenario. But one could argue that my reasoning is somewhat arbitrary. (I also suppose there are truly shitty situations where the rationale for a layoff is unfair or at least questionable, and maybe it’s appropriate for a manager to refuse to deliver the news in protest; for what it’s worth, in my case, I believe the need for the layoffs was valid and the criteria for selecting employees were fair.)

So my question is, when, if ever, is it appropriate for someone other than a direct supervisor to deliver this sort of news? If never, am I overlooking some fundamental and concise reasoning that I could have conveyed to this manager in the moment? Or is it ultimately a gray area?

I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule on this. Some people would prefer to hear it from the president (because they assume that it’s ultimately her decision); some people would prefer to hear it from their own manager. I think either way is fine, and even could just come down to who’s better at delivering that kind of message.

What I do think is potentially a problem here is that the manager refused to do it when she was asked to. That’s usually the sign of a manager who’s pissed off and not on board with the decision and is looking for a way to signal that to her staff members. There are other possible explanations, of course — like that she’s a new manager and terrified of this kind of conversation. But it would have been reasonable to say to her, “We really want employees to hear this from their direct manager. Can you tell me more about why you don’t want to do it that way?”

It’s too late to do that now, but it could still be worth talking to her to see how she’s doing and to see if you can get a better sense of what’s going on with her.

2. I want to ask for a raise after three months at my new job

I’ve been searching through your blog about asking for a raise (never have I ever, which is weird – I’ve been working in HR for 11 years), and saw a question/answer where you told the person not to ask for a raise at her 90-day review.

I really want to. I’ve taken on some projects left behind by my predecessor and made significant strides with them. I’m about to take on a part of the job that wasn’t included in my duties when I was first hired. My boss compliments me and my work almost daily. I get along with the rest of the company spectacularly – and they have all said so!

I know that I’m not supposed to say that I need the raise badly, and I won’t… but I do need it badly. I took a 16% pay cut (and my employer knows it), and though I don’t want to ask for that much, I would like to ask for something, particularly since I’ve proven myself. So… can I ask? SHOULD I ask? Thanks to your blog, I know how to present the case – but I’m still worried about the timing.

Unless the job changed significantly from what you were hired to do, it’s way too early to ask.

Making strides on projects left by your predecessor is a normal, expected thing when you take over someone’s job, so that isn’t really worth of a raise after 90 days. Your boss praising you for doing a good job — well, they hired you hoping you’d do a stellar job, so it’s good that you’re doing one but it doesn’t generally earn you a raise after three months.

You mentioned that you’re about to take on a part of the job that you weren’t hired for. That might or might not make it reasonable. It depends on how big the project is and how big a part of your job it will be, and how different it is from what you were hired to do. Most people end up taking on projects that weren’t described when they were hired, simply because jobs evolve and new projects come up. If it’s something that makes sense to include with your job, even if it’s new to you, it’s probably not raise-worthy at this point. If it’s an entirely new area, especially one that wouldn’t normally be lumped in with your work, then maybe.

But generally speaking, the bar is really, really high for doing this. Just needing the money isn’t good enough reason. You agreed to a salary when you took the job three months ago, and they hired you expecting that you had agreed to do the job at that rate of pay for at least the next year.

3. We never know when our boss will be back

I work in a bank with about half a dozen other employees. In most ways, I think the manager is great. But I and other members of the team are wondering if what we are feeling is really important or not.

We have customers who come looking for the manager or we need the manager for approvals. Yet the manger (and another senior, non-supervisory employee) will leave and not let anyone know (not usually at the same time though). Customers come in looking for them or other employees need assistance and we have no idea where they are or when they might be back. Are they at lunch? Are they in the rest room and will be right back? (Not saying they need to mention that is where they are going. Just if they mentioned when they were leaving for longer periods, we could assume they were just in the restroom the rest of the time.) Did they leave for the day? Customers ask when they will be back and we have to admit we have no idea where they are or when they left. The other day an employee called out sick and we didn’t know until someone came in saying they had an appointment with said employee and we felt foolish asking around until someone knew about it. I didn’t understand why we weren’t told. When anyone is out, it impacts the whole team.

Are we making too much out of this?? We all sit in the same room and have phones, email, and instant messaging. We were wondering if we should mention it. We want to make sure that we are clear that we respect the manager and it isn’t about “permission” — that it would just improve customer satisfaction and make everyone’s life easier if there was more communication.

You’re not being unreasonable. You could say something like, “When customers come in looking for you or we need you for approvals and you’re not around, we usually don’t know if you’ll be back in just a couple of minutes and so we can have the person wait or whether you’re at lunch or have left for the day. Actually, the same thing happened this week when Jane was out sick too and none of us knew and a client came in who had an appointment with her. Is there a way to better stay in the loop about people’s availability?”

And if she doesn’t have a good answer to that, ask how she’d like you to handle it when a manager is needed and she’s not around.

4. This recruiter doesn’t seem to know what I do

An industry-specific recruiter messages me periodically with job postings, and we have a cordial acquaintance. I maintain the contact somewhat carefully, always replying even if just to say thanks for sharing and that I don’t have a referral for him. Frequently though, I will respond with name ideas or forward his emails (at his request) to potentially interested parties and people who might know other people, etc. I do this in part because I want to see people get great jobs, and also to maintain our connection so someday when I am looking, he’ll remember me.

The pain point here is that he often starts the emails saying I fit these particular jobs well or maybe I know someone, but the jobs are far below my level. They are 1-2 years experience, BA/BS positions, but I have 10 years and a BS, MS, and professional licenses in this field. I know he can see my LinkedIn profile, which may need to be updated more carefully to reflect my career stage and level — I’m going to assume I am either reading his inquiries slightly “off” or my LinkedIn doesn’t make clear what I do. Either way, I know early career people who do fit these types of positions, so I can help sometimes with his search — and maybe that’s what he really wants.

Is there anything to be gained here by somehow alerting him to my actual skill level? I think if he came across a position I might be interested in, he might forward it to me (which I would want), but he seems to group me in a different set of people than I actually fit into so potentially he’s not matching me up with roles I might be interested in.

For context, in my field we have titles that are quite subtle — they sound like we do technical support when we actually do research and development, project management, public speaking and public relations, and consulting. I can see how he might not realize the differences on first look, and previous experience has shown he reads things very quickly, may miss important content, and is slightly forgetful. On the other hand, he has a very busy, fast paced business.

I’m probably overthinking and there is a simple, gracious way to let him know. Perhaps that could even wait until I am actually in the market.

Are you sure that this guy is the recruiter you want to put so much effort into cultivating? Maybe you have good reasons for it and know that he’s great at what he does, but if he’s just a random recruiter you came into contact with, it might be worth considering that your description of him doesn’t sound terribly impressive.

Anyway, it’s definitely fine to explain to him what your actual skill level is! And in fact, seeing whether he retains that info next time will give you some useful data on how much energy you might want to put into maintaining the connection.

5. Asking to go part-time

I’ve been at the same job for the past eight years, and while it’s not the worst job I’ve ever had, I don’t like it very much either. I’d like to focus on my hobbies in the hopes of making them into my full-time job. This includes, but isn’t limited to, my writing and promoting my upcoming memoir. I’m in the fortunate position where my partner makes a decent salary and we have cheap rent. But I’d still like some income.

How do I ask my manager for fewer hours (20-25 per week)? I can’t see the benefits for them. I’d work less hours, which means less work would get done, but I suppose it’s better than that work not getting done at all. (I’m a project manager–a position created for me. If I didn’t do the projects, I’m not sure anyone would do them.) I have a good relationship with my manager and have been a star employee. In fact, there have been active discussions about making me a middle manager, with staff reporting to me. So how do I go about asking for fewer hours in this situation?

It’s likely going to come down to how much they value you. If they’re highly motivated to keep you, and they see that this is the only way they can do that, you might find your manager willing to be very flexible about your hours. On the other hand, if it just doesn’t make sense for the position or for their relationship with you, or if they know that they can hire someone else full-time to do the work … maybe not.

But you can certainly ask and see what happens. I’d say it this way: “I’m interested in cutting my hours down to 20-25 a week so that I’m able to spend time on some personal writing projects. Is that something you’d be open to talking about?”

weekend free-for-all – May 20-21, 2017

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand. (This one is truly no work and no school.)

Book recommendation of the week: The Twenty-One Balloons, by William Pene du Bois. A retired teacher is shipwrecked on Krakatoa, where he discovers a tiny, hidden, and very rich society of 20 families who spend their time on cooking and inventions, which sounds weird but it’s awesome. This is my favorite kids’ book, and I still love it to this day.