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:

should you let your boss know you’re job searching?

usnewsSo you’re thinking about moving on from your job, and you’re wondering if you should let your boss know that you’re starting to job search. Maybe it feels like professional courtesy to give your boss a heads-up about your plans. But should you do it? And if so, how do you say it and when?

This is one of the questions I get asked the most frequently from job searchers who hope to be leaving their current jobs soon. Especially if you’ve been in your job for years and/or know that it will take a while to replace you, you might worry that it’s disloyal not to let a boss know that you’re gearing up to leave.

At U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about why it usually doesn’t make sense to tip your boss off until you have a job offer in hand and are ready to give official notice. You can read it here.

my employee shouted “F*** you!” at a coworker — but he was provoked

A reader writes:

I’ve been a manager at my company for nearly 10 years, but only with my current team for about six months. My role is hectic, and at the insistence of my own manager I am regularly required to attend meetings and other sessions away from the office, leaving the team to fend for themselves. The team is generally pretty easy to manage, but there are a couple of personalities that cause me some issues.

Ben is innovative and dynamic, always looking to fix things and solve problems. He’s clever and creative and once he’s decided on a course of action, he goes for it with all his considerable energy. He often can’t help himself from saying exactly what he’s thinking, he can sometimes let himself be ruled by his emotions, and he also has a bit of a swearing habit in unofficial conversations (I’ve asked him to stop this and he said he’s trying).

Jane is experienced and knowledgeable but often likes to foist her work onto her colleagues in the guise of “training” (although she’s not advising or helping them, and they’re things they already know how to do). She likes to instruct her colleagues, but is less fond of actually carrying out a task herself. She’s stubborn and resistant to change, and insistent that everything is perfect as it is.

Last week, Jane was on holiday. Ben had a spare afternoon so (with my consent) spent it going through the system we use to track the team’s work and doing some general housekeeping, tidying up our records and closing off tasks that had been completed or were no longer relevant or required (including one that had inexplicably been left open for over a year). When he finished, he emailed the rest of the team outlining what he’d done, and they were fine with it. Several of them thanked him for saving them the job of each individually reviewing and closing their own tasks.

I didn’t witness the following events but they have been corroborated by the entire team and several unfortunate passers-by from other teams.

When Jane returned to work to see Ben’s email, she immediately asked him why he’d thought it was acceptable to close off tasks that were meant for her. He referred her to his email, which explained his motivation, process, and outcome. She said — in a loud, stern voice — that he was interfering in her work and that she couldn’t allow it. She told him to keep his hands out of her work, because it wasn’t up to him to decide whether it was complete or not. He told her (correctly) that we’d struggle to explain to an auditor the reason we’ve kept a request open for a year without any action, and that there’s no point leaving a task open on the system when there’s no further action required. Jane told him that it’s not right or acceptable for him to touch her work, and that he should keep his nose out of her business. When he explained that he’d closed tasks for the rest of the team too and they were grateful, she told him that that was different, she didn’t care what everyone else thought was okay, she wanted him to leave her work alone.

Apparently this went on for several minutes, getting more heated despite the attempts of the team to diffuse the situation, reaching a crescendo of them both talking over each other at the top of their voices, Jane complaining about Ben over-stepping her boundaries by messing with her work, and Ben retorting that she probably wouldn’t have done it anyway, just got someone else to do it for her then taken the credit for it herself. And on and on until Jane told Ben to get out of her sight, that she couldn’t deal with him, that he was impossible to work with, and then…

Ben shouted “F*** you, Jane!” and stormed off.

Jane immediately went to HR, and when I returned to the office I was greeted by the HR manager talking about setting up an investigation into the incident, and several panicky FYI emails from members of the team who had witnessed it.

I’m struggling to decide how to approach this. Ben was obviously in the wrong — there were multiple witnesses to the shouting and swearing, he apologized for it once he’d calmed down about 20 minutes later, and he’s freely admitted that he did it and it was wrong. He absolutely needs to learn to hold his temper, and I dread to think what the repercussions would have been if there had been external visitors in the office.

But I see the cause of the entire incident as being Jane’s out-of-proportion response to what was essentially Ben doing her a favor. Up until the point the discussion descended into shouting and accusations, Ben was in the right. I can’t condone his reaction, but I can understand it.

HR are taking the view that Ben was wrong and we now need to decide what disciplinary action to take against Ben. I agree with that as far as it goes, but I also think there are a lot of contributory factors and that I also need a plan for how to deal with Jane to get her to accept that other people might occasionally need to get involved in her work, and how to deal with the team to stop something like this happening again.

Can you advise?

Discipline them both. They were both in the wrong.

If Jane had a problem with what Ben did while she was out, she should have taken it up with you once it was clear that she couldn’t resolve it directly with him. You need to have a serious conversation with her where you tell her that’s unacceptable for her get into a verbal brawl with a colleague. Acknowledge to her that Ben was wrong as well and that you’ll be talking with him separately, but that you need her to avoid a repeat on her side. Sample language: “It’s absolutely not okay for you to raise your voice to a colleague, or get as hostile as it sounds like you got with Ben during this disagreement. I want to be clear that Ben’s behavior during that conversation wasn’t okay either, and I’ll be talking with him separately, but I need to know that you won’t do that again. If you can’t resolve a dispute with a colleague calmly and professionally, then I need you to come and talk to me. You can’t let it get to the point where you’re openly hostile to someone here.”

By the way, I’m specifically not addressing the substance of the dispute here, because it’s not clear to me whether Ben ever told Jane that you had okayed the work he did in everyone’s queues. If he didn’t explicitly tell her that, I can’t blame her for being annoyed that he messed with her work. If he did tell her that, then she was in the wrong to keep criticizing him for it, and in that case, you’d also want to say something like, “Part of working on a team means that other people might occasionally be involved with your work — whether it’s because you’re out or busy with other priorities or simply because I ask someone to. That’s part of the job, and I need you to accept that with grace when it happens.” You could add, “Of course, if you have a specific concern about how that plays out, I want to hear it — but you should take that up with me directly.”

As for Ben, you need to tell him that while you understand he felt provoked by Jane, it’s not okay to scream profanity at a coworker. Because it sounds like this is part of an ongoing pattern where he doesn’t control his emotions at work, you need to address that too. Sample language: “This was unacceptable, you can’t do it again, and I need you to figure out how to control your temper. You’re creating an environment where people will be afraid to interact with you, and it will have serious repercussions for your professional reputation, even when you leave this job. I need to see you get your temper under control from now on. If something like this happens again, your job could be in jeopardy.”

Beyond this specific incident, I wonder how clear you’ve been with both Ben and Jane about the concerns you have with how they conduct themselves at work. For all I know, you’ve given them plenty of feedback on the broader patterns you’ve described here — Ben’s lack of a filter and Jane’s resistance to change and tendency to foist work off on others — but if you haven’t, that should be a priority. When things blow up like they did here, it’s much easier to address if you’ve already been talking about the issues in play … and they’re less likely to blow up in the first place if people have already been told “hey, you need to stop this.”

my coworker forged an email, employee keeps asking for pay advances, and more

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

1. My coworker forged an email — should she be fired?

I am an executive assistant and while neither of the two junior assistants in the department report to me, I am responsible for coordinating our support team for work on large events and on vacation schedules.

Two of us were scheduled to be away on vacation on the same week and the third assistant, Anne, agreed to cover for the week. A few days before I left for vacation, Anne sent me an email stating that she intended to approach her supervisor about taking “one annual leave day” on that first Monday I’d be back in the office after my vacation and was I in agreement. I replied in the affirmative.

While I was away on vacation, Anne forwarded that exchange to her supervisor but edited it to say “Friday and Monday, taking two days of annual leave.” When I returned, her supervisor asked why I would approve such a thing, leaving the department without support staff for Friday, and that is when I noticed the discrepancy in the two emails.

We’ve given Anne two chances to explain the discrepancy, and she still won’t admit she altered the email. The most she will say is that she knows “it looks deceptive but that it must have been a glitch with the calendar invite.”

I believe termination is the correct response. I can no longer trust this person. Her supervisor is leaning toward a stern warning because Anne is young (23 years old). What do you think is the appropriate consequence?

If she’d come clean about it when given the opportunity, and if her work had otherwise been excellent up until this point, I’d maybe consider a very, very stern warning — along with watching her much more closely for a while, because these things often aren’t one-offs. But she’s been confronted about it and she’s doubling down on the lie. That’s an even more serious integrity issue, and you’re right to think that you can’t trust her at all. Your manager almost has to let her go.

(Also, in addition to the integrity and judgement issues here, now we have to worry about Anne’s critical thinking too. What did she think was going to happen when the department was without coverage on Friday? It was pretty likely that this was going to come out.)

2. Employee keeps asking for pay advances

My boss is the COO of our company, and oversees all offices. I am in operations in a different office, but we speak daily, and today he asked my thoughts on a situation that left me stumped. One of the junior designers has asked for a pay advance to handle a critical bill. The amount is nominal, but evidently the result of “forgetting” to pay the bill for several months in a row. This is not my COO’s report, but one of his report’s employees.

For some background, the designer has requested two other advances this year (they’ve been granted). They have also been relatively nominal, and were for additional critical bills/expenses. For added complexity, the process for said advances is not simply cutting a check; it must go through the COO and the CEO (we have dual layers of approval for all things financial in the company). Being this is the third request, I imagine eyebrows will be shooting up with the CEO, and the COO is also miffed.

Obviously COO can decline the request and move on, but said critical bill really is critical. I asked if there were any written policies on such situations, and there are not. Clearly this is something that should be put into place. (As an aside, there isn’t an EAP in this region that I am aware of.)

I suggested that perhaps the best course of action was that telling the designer this is the last time the company can advance pay, and have a conversation about how this is perceived and the consequences to not managing funds well. But how should that conversation go? Manage your money better? Here’s a budgeting website? Any suggestions here?

Definitely do tell him that this is the last advance the company will do. But beyond that, it’s not really an employer’s place to tell an employee to manage his money better. Just be clear about what you will and won’t help with (i.e., that this is the final advance and future requests won’t be granted).

If his manager has particularly good rapport with him, it wouldn’t be overstepping to say, “Hey, I’m worried about you since this keeps happening. Is everything okay?” But it’s not an employer’s place to coach employees on money management, and doing that will get them further intwined with an issue that they really shouldn’t be too involved with. (I don’t mean that in a callous way; I mean that it can quickly become oppressively paternalistic to have an employer that involved with someone’s financial decisions.)

3. My manager insists on one order of names in emails

My manager has reprimanded me several times for not using his preferred order when I email (internal and external) clients. He has a specific order of precedence for people and I’ll be called into his office and verbally reprimanded (and threatened with insubordination) if I do not observe it in the order that I list names in the “to” and “cc” fields of my emails. The biggest thing is that he must be listed first, in the “to” field, even if the email is not actually addressed to him (I’m required to put him on every communication, and have him at every face-to-face meeting).

Since Gmail reorders the names when you hit “reply all,” this means that on every email I send in a chain I’m stuck adjusting the order. Every. Stupid. Time.

I’ve mostly worked as a contractor/freelance, so this level of micromanagement is new to me. What do I do? I’ve heard from my predecessor and from some of my colleagues that this is a rule he has and he enforces this on everyone. Is this normal?

No, it’s not normal. Your boss is ridiculous. He also appears to be incredibly insecure, since caring about this kind of thing is the province of people who don’t think their value and professional status will come through via actual merit.

You have to do what he’s asking since he’s your boss, but you’re welcome to privately acknowledge the smallness of his character each time.

4. Telling employers I can’t work on Saturdays

First of all, thanks for all the helpful insights on your blog! I recently made an awesome work contact by adapting some of the informational interview questions on your site to fit my situation! This contact recently reached out to me to let me know about a potential job opening in her company (which is in my dream field) and this is where my question comes in. In this field, it’s pretty much a given that a few weekends per year will be spent working at events.

Because of my religion, I can’t work on Saturdays. I don’t have a problem working on Sundays, after sundown Saturday night if there are any late night events or cleanup that need to be covered, or putting in a few extra hours that week to help with prep or takedown, but working on Saturday is a non-negotiable. When I interview, whether for this job or others in the future, should I bring this up after I get an offer or as part of the interview? I want to be upfront about this without jeopardizing my chances before the company really looks at my qualifications. I will be graduating from college this December, so I want to have a game plan for jobs that require some weekend hours.

Bring it up on the offer stage. Once you get the offer, along with whatever other questions you have, say something like this: “For religious reasons, I’m not able to work on Saturdays. I know there are a few weekends a year that the person in this role would cover events, and I can work Sundays or after sundown on Saturdays. Would that work on your end?”

This shouldn’t be a big deal since we’re only talking about a few weekends a year. Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for religious practices, so as long as Saturday events aren’t the whole point of your job, you should be fine.

5. Hiring manager wants to consider me again after rejecting me a few months ago

I had an on-site interview in a big company a few months back. Although it went well (the hiring manager gave me feedback after talking to other members), I was not selected. Now the hiring manager has contacted me to ask if I am still available for that position or not. My answer was yes, so he started a process to revive my candidacy. My concern is should I be hopeful for this position or might this be another way to say final rejection?

He already rejected you; he’s not looking for another way to say no because he already said no a few months ago. A hiring manager isn’t going to contact a previously rejected candidate to talk further if they don’t think there’s a real chance the person could be right for the job. So while there’s no guarantee here, I’d assume that he’s seriously considering you.

weekend free-for-all – August 19-20, 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: Constance Harding’s (Rather) Startling Year, by Ceri Radford. Extremely funny.

update: why should employers care about my long commute?

Remember the letter-writer in 2015 who asked why employers seemed concerned about his two-hour commute? Here’s the update.

I’m the letter-writer from “Why should employers care about my long commute?” which was posted a little over two years ago now.

The good news is that about six months after you posted my letter I was able to find a job in the field I wanted to go into. I think, as you and the commenters pointed out at the time, the way I was approaching my job hunt and how I was talking about the commute and possible relocation was definitely a red flag in my interviews, and rightfully so. I’m embarrassed looking back at the letter because, in hindsight, of course employers are going to care about my commute! When I was still job hunting, I changed how I talked about my situation, specifically making sure that I was firm about my commitment to relocate to be closer to the job. If I had knowledge of or ties to the area (from friends or family living there) I made sure to bring that up as well, like some commenters suggested.

What ended up happening was I got hired in December 2015 by a small but wonderful company located in City A. I commuted from Small Town A +/- 2 hours (one way) for six months. In June 2016, I moved to Bigger City B to share an apartment with friends, and my commute went to being 2.5+ hours (one way). What I had failed to take into account was that even though on paper the commute should have been shorter, the traffic around Bigger City B made travel much, much worse.

My manager was absolutely wonderful about letting me come in and leave early to avoid as much rush hour traffic as possible, but I was still leaving the house at 5:30 am and not getting back home until 6:30 pm (or later). Looking back, I really wish I had listened to you and everyone in the comments who warned me about being overly optimistic about the commute. I was burned out within 3-4 months, but couldn’t afford to break my lease and did that commute for a full year. The only thing that saved me from doing exactly what you warned me hiring managers were worried about and quitting my job to find a new one was that I also realized that I really, really hated living in Bigger City B and did not want to keep living there when my lease was up.

At the beginning of June 2017, I moved to Small Town B. It’s only half an hour away from Small Town A where I grew up, but its location means that I can take a different route to get to my job and my commute is now an hour and 15 minutes (one way). I know for some people that’s still a long commute but I’ve realized that I don’t actually mind driving — I just hated being stuck in city traffic! Now there’s no traffic and I have a beautiful, scenic commute. My “worst” commute so far has been 1.5 hours, which is a blessing compared to my worst day of commuting last year, which was over four hours one way! (And I’ve saved $200 a month that I had been paying on tolls — another thing I hadn’t considered before moving.)

I’m so thankful you answered my letter because it was a bit of a wake-up call with regards to how I was presenting myself to employers and how even tiny changes in language can make a difference in getting hired (“I will look into relocating.” vs. “I am planning on relocating within six months of getting hired.”). I will be forever grateful that my company took a chance on hiring me and then gave me the flexibility I needed when I made what was, in hindsight, a pretty stupid decision to move to Bigger City B.

I definitely learned the hard way that your commute absolutely makes a difference with your job. Ever since I moved to Small Town B, I feel more productive at work, I have more time to relax at home in the evenings, and I can use the flexibility with my schedule for things like doctor’s appointments instead of dealing with my commute. The 1 hour and 15 minute commute also bothers me a lot less because I can see it as the trade-off to living in an area that I absolutely love. I wish I had listened to your warnings about committing to the 2+ hour commute two years ago, but at least I know better now.

Thanks again for answering my original letter!

open thread – August 18-19, 2017

It’s the Friday open thread! The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on anything work-related that you want to talk about. If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet*, but this is a chance to talk to other readers.

* If you submitted a question to me recently, please don’t repost it here, as it may be in the to-be-answered queue :)

who should pay for a medical emergency while on work travel, office AC wars, and more

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

1. My office is fighting over the AC temperature

Our office has a bit of a stalemate when it comes to air conditioning. After a lot of discussion and debate, 77 degrees was decided as a compromise indoor temperature during summer.

You would think that setting the thermostat to 77 would solve the problems, but it hasn’t for various reasons. Firstly, certain desks (in the line of the A/C units) are much colder than others. I’ve tried to encourage people to prefer colder temperatures to move to those desks, so far unsuccessfully.

Secondly, people near the window like the windows open for a summer breeze. But only a small minority of desks are adjacent to windows.

Finally, the 77 degrees compromise was not one achieved in happy harmony, but with a lot of discontentment on both sides!

The current status quo is that the air conditioning is turned on or off, by individuals, unilaterally (windows are opened when the AC is turned off). This seems to go in cycles of about 45 minutes. I have the authority to make changes – the question is should any changes be made (or is the current situation the best compromise), and what should be they be?

If people who want to be cooler have the ability to move to cooler desks and are declining to, why not tell them that they need to do that before registering further objections to the temperature (assuming that moving wouldn’t impede their work)? Second, tell people who are too cold to bring in layers, which is a time-honored method for dealing with offices that are too cold but can’t be warmed up without overheating other people. People who are too cold can add layers, but people who are too warm often can’t remove more clothes. 77 is far from freezing, so it’s not like you’re going to be telling people who are too cold to type to suck it up.

Third, tell the people opening the windows to stop it because they’re messing up the temperature for others. If they want a summer breeze, they can get desk fans.

There. We’ve solved the office AC wars.

Ha ha! As if. They will never be solved. But those steps might help things in your particular office.

2. Who should pay for a medical emergency while on work travel?

My company’s headquarters are in San Diego, and I work in a D.C. office. While on a weeklong work trip to San Diego, I got a nasty cough. During this trip, I was working a lot, so it was only Friday night when I woke up unable to breathe that I called the 24/7 nurse line on my insurance card. Nurse tells me I have to go to the ER within an hour and gives me the address to two ERs covered by my insurance. I go, they pat me on the back, diagnosis me with walking pneumonia, and send me on my way. I continue to work the rest of the week.

Now I have an ER bill for $700 even though it was in-network. I asked HR if they could cover part or all of that cost since it was work travel and they said no. From my point of view, if I had been at home or not on work travel, I would have gone to my doctor or an urgent care, not the ER. From their point of view, they’re saying “that’s really unlucky, sorry!” Is this something HR should cover? How hard should I push for even partial reimbursement?

Oh, that sucks. I’m sorry! I definitely see your logic, but I don’t know if there’s one universal answer here. If you were my employee, I’d try to pay the bill or at least split it with you. But I think a lot of employers who would take the stance your company is taking, figuring that sometimes you’re going to be out of town when you get sick, regardless of your reason for being away, and that’s just how this stuff goes.

But I do think you have some room to try pushing back, pointing out that work travel is already tough enough without having to pay $700 medical bills on top of it. (And if your manager is a generally sensible or/or sympathetic person, you might talk to her about it too, not just HR.)

I’d be interested to hear from readers on this one, if people want to tell us in the comments how their company would handle this.

3. Am I being inflexible about how my boss handles our meetings?

I have been brought up (perhaps rather strictly) not to disturb the boss. If the boss wants a word, they will come to you, and if you have an unscheduled meeting, they’ll seek you out when they have time. Scheduled meetings should get cancelled as soon as one of you realizes you can’t make it, and in general if there is no fixed meeting place, then you try to catch each other at the coffee machine so that you disturb your coworkers as little as possible.

My latest boss however seems to have very different ideas. It took me about a year to realize that no matter if the meeting was informal or not, he seemed to expect me to come pick him up at his desk. He’ll never cancel or reschedule a meeting that he can’t come to — ever. Not even if he has a personal engagement plastered all across it in his calendar. Basically this means that I either have to interrupt my work to go pick up a boss who isn’t there, or keep one eye on his calendar at all times. When I cancel a meeting, however, he’ll dutifully reschedule, even when I tell him that there’s no need, we can do it during the next one. Last time I asked him if we should have our scheduled 1:1 (after I’d stubbornly waited for him outside his office for 10 minutes), he told me “if you want, boss” and I totally blew it, telling him that perhaps we should drop 1:1’s from now on, and just schedule meetings when we actually had a need to.

However, it has since come to my attention that his boss does exactly the same thing. Am I wrong (or overly inflexible)? What is the best way to proceed here?

Yeah, you’re being kind of inflexible. Some managers work the way you described in your first paragraph, but others don’t. You generally need to adapt to the manager you have now, not the ones you had previously. This one expects you to come to him when it’s time to meet. It also sounds like he isn’t good at managing conflicting appointments, so it would be smart for you to check his calendar ahead of scheduled meetings to make sure he still has the time free. That’s definitely annoying, but since you’re unlikely to be able to change it, you’re better off figuring out how to work around it.

It also sounds like it would be helpful to talk with him about how he wants you to handle this stuff generally. You could say something like, “I know you’re really busy and you sometimes end up needing to schedule over our meetings. I don’t always realize that’s happened though, and so sometimes I end up waiting outside your office for a while. What’s the best thing for me to do when I come to you for a scheduled meeting and you’re not free? Should I wait, or interrupt you, or reschedule it for later?” Who knows, you might hear that he wants you to interrupt him. But ask — there’s no point in trying to read his mind about what he’s going for here, especially when it’s making you this frustrated.

4. Asking about the job of a colleague who died

A long-time colleague in my office suddenly passed away a few weeks ago. It was a huge shock to all of us. She and my boss were very close and worked together almost 20 years. I’ve worked here for about four years and am also deeply saddened by this.

Her job is now open and I don’t know how to ask about it. I don’t want to seem insensitive or rude because I do really feel bad that she passed away. But my job has a habit of being “hush hush” about job openings and quickly filling positions before you get a chance to apply. This is a small office and it’s the only position I’m qualified to move up to. How do I go about asking without coming off as just caring about her position? And how much time should I let go by before asking? I want to give my boss her space and respect to grieve. My main focus is to respect everyone’s grieving period, respect the loss of our friend, not come off as pushy or disrespectful, but not miss this opportunity for promotion. What should I do?

It would definitely seem premature if you brought it up right after she died, but since it’s been a month, I think you should be fine. I’d say it this way: “I don’t want to bring this up prematurely, but at whatever point you’re ready to think about filling Jane’s position, I’d be interested in talking with you about it.”

how do I tell my friend that I’m about to become his boss?

A reader writes:

About a year ago, I quit my job after I had a major health crisis and then had an unrelated death in my immediate family. My employer had been great through those challenges, but I needed some time away from working to heal body and mind.

Recently I decided I was ready to get back into the workforce. I ramped up my networking, and met one of the executives from my old employer for lunch. She asked if I was interested in coming back and outlined a need they had that I could fit. Within the next two weeks, I met with the hiring executive and had an offer in hand. It is similar to the role I had before, but with more money, authority, and a team to lead. Sounds awesome, right?

My problem is that a good friend, “Wakeen,” is the team’s current technical lead (but not manager). Wakeen’s wife is lifelong friends with my best friend, I’ve been to his house for game nights, we have lunch occasionally, and have worked together at two different places. We’re not besties, but he’s in my social circle.

Complicating things is that the executives at my employer are not happy with Wakeen’s performance as lead, and that’s a part of why they have created the manager role I’m moving into. I’m a little baffled by this, because he’s genuinely knowledgeable, hardworking, and easy to get along with. I think it is probably a combination of burnout and miscommunication, but I’ll know more once I get in the role.

What I’m struggling with is how/whether/when to talk to Wakeen about this. I need to hash out with my future manager how we’ll tell the team that I’ll be leading them. But because of our existing relationship, it would be weird to not give Wakeen a heads-up before/separate from whatever general meeting is held. If I were moving into a role that wasn’t his supervisor, I would have already sent a “GUESS WHAT I’M COMING BACK!!” text to him.

I am not sure how he will feel about it, and I wouldn’t be surprised or hold it against him if his initial reaction is not entirely positive. I know he thinks the company should hire for a different kind of leader role than the one I’m taking, and he might feel like the executives have made an uninformed or dumb decision. I guess I expect him to have a bit of a WTF reaction, but hopefully he’ll see some positives fairly quickly (having an engaged leader, having a boss you know isn’t an asshole, some admin/PM tasks off his desk so he can focus on the stuff he likes, etc.). We worked together really well when I was there before.

I’d like to grab lunch and roll it out to him, but there’s also value in giving him time to have a private reaction and think about his response. I know our relationship will change, but treating him like just another coworker with this news feels like it will get things off to a bad start. What do you recommend?

Yes, definitely tell him before it’s announced to the team as a whole. You want to give him time to process his thoughts on his own (and hopefully head off any initial WTF reaction that he might have in front of others), and you want him to feel like you did him the courtesy of telling him directly, rather than leaving him to hear it with everyone else.

But I’d caution you against approaching him too delicately. People tend to take their cues from others on this stuff, and if it’s clear to him that you’re nervous about telling him or that you’re worried he’ll take it badly, it risks making it more dramatic than it needs to be. So I’d keep it matter-of-fact and upbeat. For example: “Hey, I have some news! I’ve been talking with Jane, and I’m going to be coming back to the company, as the head of llama grooming. I’m really looking forward to it, and I wanted to tell you privately before it’s announced to the group.”

If you hear a little WTF in his reaction, I’d do him the kindness of pretending you didn’t hear it and just moving along with the conversation. But if he’s openly shocked or even negative, you could say something like, “I know you had some different ideas about what would be right for the position. My sense from Jane is that she’s looking for someone to bring X, Y, and Z. In any case, you and I worked well together in the past, and I’m so glad we’ll be working together again.” That’s pretty vague, obviously — it’s really about giving him a chance to save some face in front of his new boss if his initial reaction is, er, overly candid.

On the other hand, if you feel there’s value to digging into his concerns and hearing him out, you can do that too. But since you’re not positioned to do anything with his concerns before you’ve even started the job, it’s a risky move. Not necessarily the wrong one — it’s true that you don’t want to come off as polly-anna-ish in the face of legitimate worries — but risky.

Whether or not to have this conversation over lunch or in some other medium depends on the relationship and what you know of Wakeen. In general, since you already occasionally get lunch together, I can see defaulting to that — but if you know him to be someone who does better processing things with some warning, it could be kinder to do it over the phone instead, rather than make him sit there and be pleasant to you throughout an entire lunch while he’s reeling from the news. Email takes it down a notch even further, of course, but a lot of people would find email too impersonal. Again, it depends on the relationship, how you two normally talk, and what you know of how he works best.

3 updates from letter-writers (the text tantrum, the reverse job fair, and returning to the old job)

Here are three updates from people who had their letters answered here recently.

1. My boss sent me a text tantrum because we weren’t concerned enough when she was sick (#2 at the link)

I have an update! Shortly after the unprofessional text message where one of my bosses failed to appreciate her baby goat texts and never got all the way to the ER, my coworker sat down with her husband (our other boss) and told him she was unhappy with the situation, his wife was incredibly unprofessional, and she would be looking for another job.

I wish I could have done the same but she was working in a two-salary household that was prepared and I’m a single mom without much back-up. She found another job within a few weeks and left. She actually ended up shortening her notice period due to continued unprofessional behavior from the wife.

The office has shrunk from a staff of 8 to 4 in a few short months and I’m happy to report I was also on the list of employees to leave.

After she started her new position, my old coworker talked to HR and recommended me. I started last week at her new company. We both have gone from no real benefits to double the vacation, health care, retirement, incentive pay and a ton of other perks; including sane management! The new team seems to be a great fit for both of us and we are definitely happy to be working together again.

2. I’m participating in a reverse job fair — where my job fair booth will advertise me (#5 at the link)

I wanted to thank you and your readers for all the great suggestions to help me with the reverse job fair. It was a great success! Potential employers loved my exhibit and I basically did a great “blueprint” of my wants and accomplishments. I went with two poster boards- one with name,skills and experience, the other that had copies of certifications and awards. I also brought my framed certificates of membership of local and national organizations. I also had my resume and business cards.

It was great because I brought extra supplies and was able to help others with office supplies and brought a bunch of bottled water which many participants needed. I made about 10 good contacts with companies I am interested in, as well as civic organizations and employment specialists. All company representatives I spoke to loved the concept and would love to attend another one. I also got to speak with the organizer who came up with the concept and brought it to fruition for about 15 minutes and it was very inspiring to see how pleased she was that it was a success.

Thank you again for posting my question. I have included some local news/media links!

3. Should I go back to my old job? (#5 at the link)

I met with my former boss, to both ask for his advice and to feel out what he might think about me returning. We talked about my return as a “what if” scenario and he was very clear that he would respect whatever decision I made, knowing that I would have to do what was best for me and my family, and also knowing that he wouldn’t be able to offer me a pay increase. He did, however, offer me more professional development if I wanted it. It was a great discussion. The next morning I sent him an email and told him that I’d really like to come back. A few days later, after working out the details, I resigned from my job and I started back with my previous employer on Tuesday!

I wanted to wait until I came back to give you an update so that I could let you know how the first couple of days went. I’m happy to say that there has been no awkwardness at all (which, to be honest, I was expecting). I got a lot of hugs and “so happy you’re back”s and people generally seem to be cool with it. There have been a couple of people who were curious about why I didn’t like where I went but for the most part it almost seems like I just went on a long vacation and now I’m back to work. I’m so, so happy with this decision and I know without a doubt that it’s the right one.

Thanks so much, again, for all of your advice – not just on my question, but every day. I think you’ve made me both a better manager and a better employee. And thanks as well to all of your readers for generally just being smart, kind, thoughtful people!