how to talk to an intern about professional norms when you’re not her manager

A reader writes:

My department of four has an intern, Jane, for the summer. My manager is crazy busy and is out of the office for meetings 50-70% of the week, so while we don’t manage Jane, it’s mostly the other three of us working with her. It’s a reasonably casual workplace, and we’ve been working together for a while, so there’s a somewhat laid-back vibe in the office.

Jane hasn’t ever worked in an office before and is clearly still figuring out office norms. For example, when my coworker said she was going for coffee and asked if we wanted any, the intern said “you can just leave?!” When I sent a quick text, she was like “I can send texts?” When my coworkers and I were laughing over a work situation, she said “so you all can just stop and hang out?”

Our answers have been in the vein of “well, in a workplace like this the most important thing is getting your work done. We’re all adults, and if we get our work done no one is going to nitpick about sending a text or chatting for a minute.” We’ve also noted that we often stay late or come in early to finish projects.

She definitely lacks some polish and is pretty blunt/brusque, probably partly from awkwardness, and she also seems to be taking us at our word and going out for coffee, texting, groaning very slightly when asked to do something boring, and interrupting to ask questions. When I was an intern, I was super careful to be extra diligent, cheerful, and polite, because of both status and newness, and I wonder if we may have done her a disservice by modeling more relaxed workplace behavior.

I half want to say “we can do this stuff as staff members who work here and have a proven track record, but as a new person and an intern, doing/not doing xyz can really hold you back.” But I’m not her manager and I don’t want her to think I’m trying to put her in her place or something. No single thing that she does is is super unprofessional, and we don’t care that much/are fine with ignoring some annoying behavior, but I also want to make this a good learning experience for her, which is the whole point of an internship.

Yeah, she probably didn’t get the distinction between “this is stuff we do as staff members with proven track records” and “interns and new people don’t have quite the same leeway.” That can be a sort 201-level distinction that someone brand new to the workforce might not get unless you really clearly spell it out.

I think you’d be doing her a favor if you did explain it to her now, as long as you don’t sound like you’re chastising her for not figuring it out on her own. And since it’s a small office and you all work closely together, I don’t think you’d be overstepping if you invited her out for coffee to talk about how the summer is going and used that opportunity to raise this.

Make sure that during this conversation you talk about good things too — not in the terribly transparent “compliment sandwich” way, but with genuine back and forth. Ask how other things are going, whether there’s anything she’s curious about or questions she hasn’t felt comfortable asking, tell her you thought her work on project X was great (if you can say that honestly), that you admire her ability to do Y, and so forth. Genuine conversation will make this go far better than if you let it feel stilted.

And when it comes to this topic, I’d say it this way: “You asked some questions earlier on about what is and isn’t okay at work — like when we told you that it’s okay to send the occasional text or chat with others. I realized afterwards that we should have said that you can get away with more of that when you’re more established. When you’re an intern or just new to a job, I think you can’t be quite so relaxed as you can later on since people are still forming impressions of you. When you’re less known, you want to make more of a point of demonstrating that you’re working hard and happy to be there. I was thinking about this because I noticed you’ll kind of groan if we give you work that’s boring, and you’ve texted through meetings a couple of times … and then I realized we probably wrongly led you to think that was fine.”

Of course, there’s a risk that this will make her self-conscious, and it might send her back to the opposite extreme. You can try to head that off by saying something like, “Please don’t feel self-conscious about this — it can be really hard to figure this stuff out when you’re just starting out, and much of it isn’t intuitive. I made plenty of mistakes early on, and I wish someone had helped me through it so if you’re ever trying to figure out where the line is on any of this, come talk to me. Learning this stuff is part of the point of an internship, so this is all very normal.”

Also, note that my suggested language above didn’t mention the coffee runs or occasional, non-rude texting. Unless those are happening at a higher rate than would be okay for the rest of you, I think those are fine for interns too. But if they are happening at a higher rate, that’s fair game to note too, and just explain to her what a reasonable amount is.

With the interrupting, I think you’re better off saying something in the moment when it happens — like, “Please hold on, I’m in the middle of talking with Lucinda” or “I wasn’t quite finished yet. As I was saying…” If it continues after a few times of shutting it down in the moment, then I think you’d want to move to a separate “hey, you’ve interrupted me a few times recently — please don’t do that.” But I’d start with the feedback right in the moment, which might take care of it.

Also, steer her away from petitions.

how to manage your calendar so that you get more done

If you know the horrible sinking feeling of coming into work on Monday and discovering your calendar is packed full for the week, leaving you no time to work on some looming projects, or the equally terrible feeling of realizing on Friday that you have no real idea what you accomplished this week, your calendar might be both the problem and the solution.

At QuickBase’s Fast Track blog today, I run through six tricks to managing your calendar in a way that should help you regain control of your life. You can read it here.

I think I completely messed up this salary negotiation

A reader writes:

I had an first-round interview for a job yesterday that went very well until they asked, “So, are you willing to be flexible on salary? Because we have to be honest, your desired salary is significantly higher than what we’ve budgeted for.”

I’ve since done my research (which, admittedly, I should’ve done before the interview) and realized I broke rule #1, which is don’t tell them your desired salary.

But it gets worse.

I **answered** this question, which I have learned is mistake #2.

I said, “Well, I can be flexible, yes… I mean, what kind of significant difference are we talking here?”

This, of course, was mistake #3. Because now I’m negotiating against myself.

They explained that their high-water mark for the position was $25k below my desired salary. They also stressed that their high-water mark was basically for a perfect candidate.

When I heard their salary range, I winced. But I repeated that I could be flexible. Mistake #4. I want this job and I’m on my way to a second interview, in person. In fact, I’m flying out for this second interview, so they know I want this job. (Mistake #5)

It wasn’t until after I had a day or two to step back and think everything over that I realized the following:
– I negotiated against myself before an offer was even made and significantly devalued my experience.
– I was too eager about the job.
– I risk looking unprofessional / like I wasted their time with the second interview if I go back on my willingness to be flexible.

But not all is lost:
– Based on the salary range and what they said in the interview (that I have the most experience of anyone they’re interviewing), I think this position was initially designed for someone who is more junior than me. So they want my experience level; they just don’t want to pay for it.
– They repeated several times that they are excited by my candidacy and asked if I could interview a second time right away.
– I absolutely am willing to walk away from the opportunity if it means I have to significantly devalue my experience and qualifications.

I’m willing to meet them in the middle and come down if they’re willing to come up. I just don’t know how to say that after digging such a big hole for myself and giving away wayyyy to much information they can use to their negotiating advantage.

I have another interview (this time in-person) coming up. Here’s what I need to know: Can I broach that, now that I’ve had time to really think everything over, I am very concerned about the salary range that was previously discussed, and that I would need them to also be flexible? If so, how do I do that in a manner that is professional and compelling?

You think you made way more mistakes than you actually made, so the first thing to do is to stop beating yourself up.

Yes, there’s lots of advice out there that says that you shouldn’t name a salary figure. There’s also advice (from me, for example) that says that there can be a real advantage to naming your desired salary, especially in a case like this where you need to figure out if you’re just too far apart on numbers.

Salary negotiation doesn’t have to be a game. Sometimes it makes sense to be straightforward about what you’re looking for. That’s not inherently a mistake, and you shouldn’t automatically assume that you’re dealing with hard-negotiating adversaries who are looking for weaknesses to take advantage of. That’s really not how most employers negotiate salary. Good employers want people to be happy with their salaries; they’re not looking for the absolute bare minimum they can pay a good candidate, because they don’t want good people leaving for higher paying jobs in a year.

The only mistake you really made was by saying that you could be flexible after they told you their range — because that conveyed that you were okay with the number they named, even though you weren’t.

But you shouldn’t beat yourself up for that either, because it’s so, so common to do that. Most people aren’t professional salary negotiators; this stuff is nerve-wracking, and it’s normal to mess it up.

The good news is that you can correct it. You can wait for the next interview if you want to, but I’d recommend sending them an email right now that says something like, “I wanted to follow up with you about salary. I’ve had a chance to think over the numbers that you named, and I want to make sure that we’re on the same page. While I can be flexible about salary for a position I’m excited about, I can’t go below $X. If that’s prohibitive, I understand, but otherwise I’d love to keeping talking.”

Obviously, if you say this, you need to be prepared for them to say it’s a deal-breaker on their side and for that to end things. That’s why you need to pick X carefully. People also worry that once you say $X, they’re unlikely to offer you much more than that. But given that you’re already $25,000 apart, I don’t think there’s real risk that you’d be leaving money on the table by taking this approach.

One last thing: It’s interesting that you think that you’ll look unprofessional and like you’re wasting their time if you go back on your willingness to be flexible, even though they brought you in for an interview when they already knew that they were way below your desired salary, and they didn’t bother to tell you that until you were already there. Don’t give them a pass on something you’re kicking yourself for. This stuff goes both ways.

my coworker complained about my burping and farting, my manager gave away my project, and more

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

1. My coworker complained about my burping and farting

I have a work situation I have no idea how to deal with. I found out yesterday that my coworker who works in the cubicle next to mine is incredibly offended by the fact that my body makes sounds a lot. I belch pretty constantly throughout the day, with some farts as well. I say “excuse me” frequently, and I’ve been to the doctor and it just happens. My brother and father are the same way. I told her this, and she told me to go to the bathroom. I was literally speechless.

I’m attempting to comply with her demand, but it’s making me less productive, is super anxiety inducing, and a little bit painful. Our boss is really hands-off and I don’t know what he would think if I brought it up, and I don’t think I’m capable of speaking to my coworker about it. I’m pretty sure this mostly doesn’t smell, and scented products make me completely unable to work, so even if there is there’s not a lot to be done. I feel awful and I’m afraid I’m going to lose my job because of this nonsense. What do I do?

If this is the result of a medical condition, it’s reasonable to explain that. If you truly can’t control it, you can’t control it. (I’m assuming you’ve tried over-the-counter treatments like Gas-X and so forth, and that you’ve inquired about treatment with your doctor.)

But it’s also reasonable for your coworker to be pretty miserable if she’s subjected to farting and burping all day. I don’t think you should be shocked by that — it’s understandable that it’s creating a pretty unpleasant environment for her.

If it’s a medical condition, you might be able to talk to your boss about the possibility of moving to a more secluded workspace. But if that’s not possible, I think you probably need to be understanding about the impact it’s having on your cubicle neighbor and not be shocked that it bothers her. It’s similar to if you had a constant cough or nose-sniffling problem; it’s out of your control, but you’d probably still try to be thoughtful about how it impacted others, to the extent that you could.

2. My manager gave a project I’d been promised to a more senior coworker

My manager was going to have me work on a project that would allow me to grow my skills and prove that I’m capable of more advanced work (I’m angling for a promotion in the coming months). Instead, she told me that she gave the project to a (more senior) colleague because she felt that I “have a lot on [my] plate right now and we need to get this done quickly.” Yes, I have a few other ongoing projects I’m working on currently, but I don’t at all feel overwhelmed by the workload.

I’m bummed to miss this opportunity to prove myself. Am I misjudging my workload? Am I working at a jog when I should be working at a sprint? Is this an indication that my turnaround time on projects is too long?

Any of those things could be true, but it’s also possible that it’s just about the reality that someone experienced is going to get it done faster than someone who’s new to the work. She may have genuinely wanted to assign it to you as a growth opportunity and then realized that she just needs it faster than that would allow (stretch projects usually require more feedback, more revision, and more guidance, and generally just take longer to get done).

But you can talk to her and tell her that you were really looking forward to taking that on, that you understand why it didn’t work out this time, and that you’re really interested in similar opportunities in the future.

3. I’m breastfeeding and was told to pump in the bathroom

I’m still nursing my five-month-old and work full-time, which means I breast pump three times a day. Two months ago, it was announced that our office was moving down the road. I followed up with our office manager as well as the assistant, as a detail like needing a private room with a door that locks — just for me — was probably not on the top of their minds. Each time an email was sent about the move, I followed up, and got a “oh yeah…we’re working on it” response.

In hindsight, I should have shared what the expectations — and laws — were. I don’t think the office manager or assistant have HR backgrounds nor have set up breast-pumping stations before, so I have to assume what happened next was an honest mistake.

Fast forward to yesterday, the first day in the office. On the tour in the morning, I was shown a bathroom on the other side of the campus, with the promise of a half fridge to store the expressed milk. I’d be sitting on a toilet (without a lid that seals off the toilet bowl) to pump, holding the pump in my hands, since there is no place to set it down. (I could share more details, but the more I write, the more angry I get. I mean, my kid will eat this – and I’m pumping it where people poop? C’mon!) Since this “room” was not set up yesterday, I pumped once in a bathroom close to me and nearly cried the entire time. I was pretty humiliated.

My boss is out until next week, and I’d like to work with our office manager to find a more suitable solution before sending it up to HR. Office space is tight; there are conference rooms available, but they don’t have the ability to lock.

I’m frustrated at how this has been handled, so fear that I’m going to come from a place of anger OR not stand up for myself. (See previous feelings of humiliation.) It’s now much into the workday of the second day at the new place, and no news.

Speak up and let them know, right away! I’d say it this way: “Legally, we’re actually required to provide a private location for pumping that isn’t a bathroom, and which has a door that locks. Is there an interim location that I should use while this is getting worked out? The bathroom really isn’t an option, legally or practically.”

If you get any push-back or suggestions that you continue using the bathroom just for a few more days, say this: “The bathroom is not an option for this, and the law is explicit that that can’t be our solution.” And I’d consider looping HR in immediately rather than waiting, since they’re likely to be more familiar with the law than your office manager is.

It’s not your problem that office space is at a premium; this is their responsibility to solve, and you reminded them multiple times that they’d need to.

4. I was told I’d get a promotion but nothing’s happening

I have been working for a small company for two and a half years as an admin assistant. They’ve paid for two licencing courses to qualify me to be an account manager in two different departments, but I’ve retained all my admin duties and taken up a small portfolio of accounts of my own.

In November, I sat down with the company CEO and he said it was their plan within 4-6 months to hire someone to take over the front desk so I could become a full-time account manager. However, whenever it is brought up again, it’s always in a vague statement like, “Oh, down the road that’s our plan.” I got a small raise in January but I still feel like I’m being underpaid (I took a pay cut to move to this company and have just gotten back to my former rate.) I don’t know how to go about asking them to follow through with their promises. It’s a great company otherwise but I’m getting burned out from being a receptionist and I am starting to feel so unhappy. The job market here is awful so it would not be easy to find a comparable job and I don’t want to waste my training so far.

Ask for a more concrete timeline. Say this: “I’m very eager to work in accounts full-time as we’ve talked about, and I’m hoping that I can do that here since I love the company. Can we talk more concretely about what the timeline for that will look like?”

If you ask this directly and you still get a vague answer, I would assume that it may never happen, or at least doesn’t have enough certainty that it’s something you should plan around. In that case, you’re better off assuming it’s not happening there and deciding what you’d want to do if you knew that for sure. That probably means that you should be job searching. You note the awful job market, but that doesn’t mean that finding another job would be impossible, and you have nothing to lose by trying. If the job market is indeed so bad that nothing pans out, then you’ll know that and won’t be any worse off than you are (in fact, you’ll be better off, because you’ll have more data about the situation).

5. Resigning when my employer has bid out some work based on me

So I have the lucky problem of likely having two job offers. I’ve been contracting for a company part-time for two months with the possibility of getting a full-time job. In the meantime, I’ve been job hunting and have just been offered/accepted something else. I feel bad because I know that the company has bid out some work based on me, and the last I heard it was in legal review — but they were will still unwilling to make me an offer.

I’m waiting for the background check to come through (not really worried) but then I have to tell them. What’s the best way to handle this? The side of me that wants to avoid confrontation wants to do this via email, but I know that’s not the right way to handle this. (unless you tell me it is? :) ) Do you have any suggestions on what to say as to not burn the bridge? They did know I was job hunting. At this point, I don’t think there’s anything that they can say to change my mind. (It’s not just about salary, it’s about commute, stability, type of work, etc.)

It’s good to finally have this type of problem!

Just be direct, and don’t feel guilty. If they wanted to lock you down, they would have made you a job offer — and they know that. They knew you were job hunting, they knew they hadn’t offered you full-time work, and no reasonable person would expect you to turn down full-time work for a job offer that doesn’t actually exist yet.

And yes, talk to your manager in person (assuming you work in the same location; otherwise, phone is fine). Say this: “I’ve really enjoyed working here, and in particular really appreciate how great you’ve been to work with. However, I’ve been offered a full-time job that I’ve decided to accept.”

That’s it — really! If your manager alludes to the bid they have out that’s based on work you’d do, you can say, “Without the certainty of a full-time job here, this wasn’t something I could pass up.” (That does set you up for her possibly saying she could try to expedite an offer for you there, but if that happens, just say, “I really appreciate that, but I’m excited about the offer I’ve accepted. Thank you though.”)

And congratulations!

I had to share a bed with a coworker on a business trip

A reader writes:

Some coworkers and I recently went on overnight travel, and the plan was to have us split two hotel rooms. Sharing a room with people I work with is less than my favorite thing, but we’re a nonprofit, and it has been decided that this is what we’ll do to save money, so I grit my teeth and vent later if needed to friends and family.

I expected this trip would follow the standard room sharing format, and that I would probably be the one who ended up sharing a room with my boss. However, there were some unexpected changes that ultimately resulted in three people sharing one room with two beds. Those last two points I did not realize until the moment we walked into the room. My stomach dropped when I saw the beds. As the more senior of the two, I quietly told my coworker to take the extra bed for themselves; through what remaining crumb of fortune there was, it ended up that I shared a bed with Coworker instead of Boss.

I hope it doesn’t require much explanation to convey how very, very upset I was to have to share what amounted to every last inch of personal space. It’s bad enough to lose any potential downtime during these trips because I am sharing a room with a coworker who usually is more interested in continuing work conversations late into the night, or who snores, or who talks in their sleep, or who gets up an hour before I need to, or who simply by virtue of their presence means I won’t be able to take my brain out of work mode after a 12- or 14-hour day. But to share a bed?! There is a very, very short list of people who I want to share a bed with, and no matter how much I will ever like the people I work with, they will never, ever be on that list. I have enough things to worry about on these trips. Kicked or being kicked by my coworker as we toss and turn, or not being able to actually sleep because there is a strange person in my bed, should not be one of those things.

To me it is so incredibly obvious why you should NOT EVER SHARE A BED WITH A COWORKER. However, when I made a comment about it just as an aside to my coworker, Coworker replied wondering why bed-sharing was a problem, and I found myself at almost a complete loss for words to explain why this was so out of bounds. My manager never made any comment about the room or beds, either, and I suspect that they saw nothing wrong with the arrangement.

I plan to bring this up with Boss, but I’m having difficulty on finding words that would be effective when I’m the only person who seems to find what happened unreasonable and unprofessional. Seeking advice from friends and family doesn’t bring my phrasing out of the “apoplectic” category. Do you have any advice you could share any advice on how to bring this up like a calm and reasonable adult?

Your letter has given me nightmares.

Under no circumstances is it reasonable to expect you to share a bed with a coworker.

Good lord.

Was the front desk not willing to send up a cot, at least?

In any case, yes, yes, yes, speak to your boss. Say this: “Somehow on our last trip, Jane, Lucinda, and I ended up booked into a room with only two beds, and Jane and I ended up having to sleep in the same bed. I don’t know if it was intentionally booked that way or if it was a fluke. I’m not comfortable sharing a bed with a coworker, and I’m sure others aren’t either. I want to make sure we’re not intentionally booking people that way. Also, if it somehow happens again, I want to make sure it’s okay for me to expense a separate room at the hotel for one of the people.”

I don’t think she’ll push back too strongly because sharing a bed with with colleagues is not normal (despite your coworker’s weird stance), but if she does, say this: “I’m just not comfortable with it and don’t want to do it again.” If necessary, you can add, “Sleeping in the same bed as someone is an intimate activity, and we can’t require employees to do that.”

This is a reasonable position to draw a line on.

As for the room-sharing, separate from the bed-sharing … It is indeed true that there are some industries where sharing hotel rooms is the norm, like academia and some nonprofits, but frankly I think there are times when it’s reasonable to push back on that as well. I come from nonprofits too and I get the desire to be responsible with money — and I shared some hotel rooms with coworkers in my 20s, so I know that it’s a thing that happens although Never Again, Holy Hell, No, Never Again — but there’s a point where it’s just not reasonable to ask that of people, especially senior people, and especially on particularly draining trips or when there would be three of you (!) in the room. You know your organization best so you know if there’s room to advocate change there, but I wouldn’t write it off.

But sharing a bed? Sticking with a flat “I’m not comfortable doing that again” is the way to go here. And then follow through — if you ever find yourself in that situation again, pick up the phone, call the front desk, and get an additional room. Part of business travel is that you sometimes need to adjust your travel arrangements on the fly, and discovering that you’ve been booked into an intimate slumber party certainly qualifies as a good reason.

how do I explain that I don’t want a management job anymore?

A reader writes:

About a year ago, I was promoted to a supervisor role, which I have since realized is not a good fit for me. As a result, I’m looking to return to a senior analyst role, but I am finding a lot of resistance from prospective employers. In a recent interview for a position that was eerily similar to the position I had before becoming a supervisor, I told them I was looking to return to a role that allowed me to use my analytical skills and that I truly enjoyed that type of work more. But I could tell the hiring manager was worried I may up and leave, as there were no future opportunities in the department, and I think that is why I didn’t get the job, even though HR said my references were great.

How can I make it clear in an interview that I have no management aspirations, at least not in the near future, without it sounding negative? Is there a good way to say you feel more comfortable as a worker bee rather than as a supervisor?

I answer this question — and four others — 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.

I’m worried my manager has lost confidence in me

A reader writes:

I tend to be a perfectionist, and I have a hard time coping when I feel like someone isn’t happy with work that I’ve done, or when I feel like I haven’t lived up to my own standards.

I’ve been at my current job for a little more than a year, and for the vast majority of that time, my supervisor and coworkers have seemed very pleased with me. My performance reviews so far have been completely positive. But I’m aware that over the past month or so, I’ve run up against more challenges than usual. I’ve taken on some new projects that I haven’t felt entirely confident about, there have been some organizational changes, and because this is a busy time for my department, I don’t always feel like I can easily get help when I have a question about something.

To make things worse, I struggle with anxiety, and while I’ve been working very hard to manage it, all it takes is a few bad days to put me behind on things. I really want to step up to the plate, and I’ve been worried that expressing concerns would make me look like I’m not capable or like I’m a complainer. But the truth is, I’ve been getting in over my head a bit, and I worry that it’s reflecting poorly on me. I haven’t made any terrible mistakes, but it’s taken me longer than usual to complete or follow up on tasks and I haven’t been as organized as I usually am. My supervisor hasn’t gotten upset with me, and she’s expressed understanding, but I’m worried that she has less confidence in me than she used to.

To be fair to myself, over the past couple weeks I feel like I’ve been doing a good job at catching up and getting back to my usual level of efficiency. I feel optimistic about my ability to handle things from here on out, at least for the most part. But I’m scared that a few “off” weeks will damage my reputation and workplace relationships, and that people are thinking poorly of me now. I think because I’m so hard on myself (I feel guilty whenever someone praises me, because I don’t feel like I deserve it), it’s hard for me to have an accurate perception of how things actually are.

Also, do you have any tips for addressing challenges when they come up? I struggle with asking for help or clarification sometimes because I don’t want to come across like I need my hand held. And do you have any suggestions for how to deal with it when things just aren’t going smoothly? I know that in the workplace, what matters is results. The fact that I might be having a bad day due to anxiety or a late night with a sick pet isn’t an excuse. But while I think I’m generally good at managing stress and anxiety and that bad days are uncommon, I can’t guarantee that I won’t ever go through a tough time and that that won’t impact my focus at all.

You are being too hard on yourself! This is both good news and bad news. It’s good news because you just had a few bad weeks and now you’re getting back to your normal self. A few bad weeks is really not a big deal (and they don’t even sound like you were terribly off in a way that others would notice and be distressed by). It’s bad news because being so hard on yourself over something that isn’t that big a deal can be a really hard way to go through life.

Let’s take these one at a time.

First, a few weeks of being off and feeling less organized and on-top of things than usual is seriously not a big deal. I think it happens to most (all of us?) now and then. It happens because we are humans, not automatons, and we get sick, have outside stresses and distractions, have sick kids/pets/parents/friends, and just have months where we’re inexplicably off.

Only a really awful manager would think that your year of good performance is canceled out by a few off weeks. I mean, sure, if during those few weeks you screamed at a client, flipped off the CEO, lost a major account, and left graffiti in the elevator, people would have concerns. But that’s not the sort of thing you’re describing. You’re describing what sounds like a pretty normal “eh, that wasn’t my best few weeks” period.

And now you’re catching up and getting back to your normal level of performance. This was a blip, and it will be fine.

If you will help give you peace of mind, it’s always fine to say to your manager, “Hey, I’ve had a tough few weeks and I just wanted to let you know in case it’s showing. I’m working on getting back on track though.”

Also, not only is it totally okay and normal to ask for help or clarification when you need it to, it’s actually necessary. It’s part of doing a good job. Managers expect you to ask for clarification and help when you need it. People ask managers for help and clarification all the time! Managers are used to it, it’s part of their job, it’s part of your job, and they are not going to wonder what’s wrong with you or why you need all this hand-holding. They’re going to think, “Good, I can count on Jane to tell me when she needs help. I don’t have to go poking around since I know she’ll come to me” and “Ah, I’m glad she asked that so I could weigh in.” (I mean, obviously there’s a point where requests for help could cross over from being normal and good to being too numerous, but someone who has the worries about this that you do is almost certainly miles away from that line.)

Now, the issue at the heart of your letter: You don’t feel like you’re good enough and deserving of the praise that you get, and everything must be perfect 100% of the time for you to feel okay in your skin. That’s an impossible and painful standard, and I bet you don’t require other people to meet it in order to have good will toward them, or even to respect and admire them. It sucks so much to go through life that way, letter-writer, and it’s a recipe for anxiety and for totally throwing off your perception of reality. So for this part, I say therapy — so that you can dig into where this came from and how to evict it from your brain. (And that is not further evidence of imperfection! That is evidence of you being perfectly, beautifully human.)

Good luck!

my boss retired but still won’t leave us alone, do people still put phone numbers on resumes, and more

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

1. My boss retired but still won’t leave us alone

What do you do when your old boss finally retires and then still won’t leave you alone?! My old boss loved his agency and line of work so much that he worked beyond 40-hour weeks and was reluctant to retire in the first place. Then the arthritis in his hand got the best of him and he retired. We rejoiced. Now he won’t stop sending personal emails loaded with his opinions on how we should handle various situations that he intentionally sought to find out about through various social back-channels. Is there a polite way to say please just butt out already!?

Absolutely. Someone with authority could say to him, “Fergus, I’ve got to ask you to stop emailing the team about work matters because it’s confusing the message over here.” Or, if you don’t feel like you have the authority to say that, you could try, “Hey, Fergus, we’ve got this covered. Enjoy your retirement, and don’t worry about stuff here.”

And if that doesn’t work, you really could just ignore his messages. If that feels too rude, try verrrrrrry long waits before you respond, and then when you do respond, make it unsatisfying — just a quick “noted!” or something like that. It might wean him off the satisfaction he’s getting by still feeling involved. But really, ignoring is okay too, once you’ve done that initial “we’ve got it covered” message.

2. I’m terrified by the intensive business course I’m about to take

I managed to get a last-minute place in a course that runs for a few days, but I am terrified. The course is an intensive business/finance sort of thing, with speakers and lots of team work on the four days with a final presentation at the end. I decided to give it a go to challenge myself, maybe network a bit, and see if finance/business would be a career for me. I’m currently at university studying humanities.

Words cannot even begin to express how nervous I am about this and I need help in beating these nerves. I think it’s a combination of:
– having little to no business/finance knowledge so feeling out of place/inferior
– because my friend recommended me, I am an extension of their professional reputation and now feel like I have to do well (in fact they have reminded me of this, which is fine but it’s extra pressure and I’m very conscious of this)
– I’ve never networked before and worry just saying “I’m here to see what I’m interested in” is too vague or unambitious – it is designed for ambitious people and though I am ambitious I don’t know what I want to do
– no office/professional experience – the most I’ve done is part-time retail gigs

I suppose what I’m asking is, how on earth can I a) calm down about this and b) network effectively with little experience? I want to make a good impression on the other course mates who I’ll have to work with and the business people who will be there, and I know I can be collected and confident but I’m still panicking. Please help!

It’s is very, very likely that there will be lots of other people there who are similar to you. You definitely won’t be the only person who’s new to networking (and really, people with decades of work experience still feel awkward about networking — possibly most of us), and if the course is targeting university students, lots of them won’t have professional experience (or what they do have will be very minor). And “I’m here to see what I’m interested in” is totally reasonable; anyone who judges you for not being sure what you want to do professionally while you’re still in school must live in a bubble, since that’s a very normal way to feel.

And really, 99% of the time when you’re dreading something like this, it ends up being much, much better than you fear it will be. Will it help to realize that the level of anxiety you describe is out of sync with the reasons for it — that you’re stressing yourself out far more is warranted? I will send you a cupcake if I turn out to be wrong about this. (You just need to report back and send me your address if I’m wrong.)

3. Do people still put phone numbers on resumes?

I am job hunting in New York City for a luxury retail sales jobs. I got an interesting question yesterday. Although the interviewer had my resume with my phone number in front of her, she asked for my number. When I asked her why, she said, “Now no one puts their phone number, just email.” So, is this a new thing? And would you recommend I keep or lose my phone number?

It’s not a thing. I suppose maybe it’s a thing in luxury retail sales in NYC (I’d have no idea), but it’s not a thing in general. I can’t think of the last time I got a resume without a phone number.

Loads of employers still contact candidates by phone rather than email, and most of them are not going to be pleased to discover that they can’t do that. Keep the phone number on there. (And really, if for some reason it is a thing in your field and region, you’re not going to be judged for having a phone number on there, since it’s a totally normal thing to provide.)

4. Should I push back on this change to one of my job duties?

I work for a school district, for our child care program. Throughout the school year, we have a dozen schools with about 600 children enrolled. I handle the deposits of fees for our program, and all parents are required to pay online with credit or debit card; I reconcile a monthly report of fees collected and hand it in to our accounting department. We also have a preschool, which is part of our department, that has about a fifth of our enrollment. Soon, all of the parents at the preschool will also be required to pay online, which will increase their volume. Since I am the only one in our department who does our card deposits, the office manager will not need to process deposits anymore.

I don’t mind taking over the deposits, since I think it will streamline things and it only accounts for a single line on the spreadsheet. However, I am wary of taking on a function of her job, considering she already make more than me because of her particular title. I’ve brought it up to our program coordinator, who is actually retiring this week, and she agrees with my point, and thinks I ought to have the office manager reconcile her own account. It may not work in practice, though, and the director of accounting might not go for it. Should I just suck it up and accept it?

Yes. Job duties switch around all the time. This isn’t like being asked to take on a whole new area of responsibility; it’s just a change to an area you’re already involved with.

If there’s some reason why it would make more business sense for the office manager to reconcile her own accounts, that would be different. But it sounds like you agree that the change makes sense.

5. Do I have to paid for a full week when my last day is mid-week?

I am an exempt employee. I have given my two weeks notice and will be ending mid-week. Does my employer still need to pay me for the full week or does this change because I’ve given my resignation?

Nope, this is one of the few exceptions where the law doesn’t require exempt employees to receive their full salary for the week. They can pay you for a partial week if it’s your first week or your last week. (If anyone is baffled by what the hell “exempt” means, here’s an explanation.)

how much should we accommodate employees’ dietary restrictions at work events?

A reader writes:

I plan a LOT of events for my company both during business hours and social outings. Recently I have run into a bit of trouble with some dietary restrictions for some of my coworkers. When planning food for events, I always make sure that there are substantial vegetarian items available because being a vegetarian is fairly common, and all of these foods are generally on the regular menu and able to be consumed by anyone whether they are vegetarian or not.

The wild card is that I now have someone who keeps kosher and someone who is gluten-free. Am I obligated to provide special meals for these people? If the meeting was mandatory and the food provided was the only way that they were going to be able to eat lunch that day, I’d get it…but that is generally not the case. There was a very awkward moment a month or so ago when the gluten-free person came up to me during lunch (which was a buffet before a presentation) and asked me if there was a gluten-free entree that she could eat (the lunch was sandwiches, salad, chips, etc.). I also once special ordered an expensive kosher meal to be delivered for a lunch meeting and the guy didn’t even show up to the meeting! Frustrations abound.

I am struggling because if food is provided people will come expecting to be fed…but can I really expected to remember and accommodate the dietary needs of everyone in this organization of 200+ people? I want to make everyone happy but where do I draw the line? Please tell me if I am being a grinch.

It’s not that you’re being a grinch, but I think you’re losing sight of the point of this responsibility. The point isn’t to just cross this item off your list in the way that’s easiest and fastest for you; it’s to provide food for a group of people with diverse dietary needs. And it’s also probably to use food to make people feel generally taken care of and appreciated. That means that, yes, it might end up being more complicated than just placing one straight lunch order; you might need to make special arrangements for people with different needs — but you should see that as part of the job, not an annoying distraction from the job.

Deciding not to bother to provide food that some employees can eat is a really good way to make those people feel left out or like the company doesn’t think their needs matter. But on the flip side of things, making a point of ensuring that those people have food they can eat is a pretty good way of making them feel valued and supported.

And you definitely don’t want to exclude people because of their religious needs (your kosher employee or anyone in the future who needs halal food) or health needs (the gluten-free person or any future people with allergies or other health-related food restrictions). Part of having a diverse workforce is that you’re going to have people with diverse dietary needs too, and you don’t want to signal that only the dominant culture’s eating habits are accommodated there.

So yes, if you’re charged with handling food for events, make sure you’re getting food for everyone who will be there.

my coworkers think I’m having an affair — but I’m not

A reader writes:

I recently learned that there’s a rumor at my office (a company of ~250 employees) that I am involved with a male work friend of mine. This news is extremely upsetting since there is no truth to it. While we do talk quite a bit at work, it has never “crossed the line.” We’re both happily married, don’t have romantic feelings for one another… our friendship is strictly platonic. This friend and I frequently have lunch together, but always with other friends and always in the office cafeteria. We don’t do one-on-one lunches, we’ve never left the office together, etc. His wife (who doesn’t work with us) is also a close friend of mine, but I don’t think our coworkers are aware of this.

I’m perplexed as to how this rumor started since there is no evidence supporting it. I feel strange even writing this letter because the whole thing is just so ridiculous and immature.

I don’t know who started the rumor, nor does my friend. He was given a heads-up about it from another friend of his. Immediately upon hearing it, my friend went to his manager to set the record straight. He said he wants her to know the truth in case someone comes to her about it. I doubt that was the best move, but I honestly have no idea what else to do in this situation.

What can we do, if anything, to stop this rumor in its tracks? Or do we just have to wait it out and hope it goes away? I feel like my reputation is on the line, but I refuse to stop talking to a close friend at work on account of petty gossip. This news has affected my productivity level and, frankly, made it quite difficult to come to work because I’m so disturbed by it. Please help! Do we have any recourse here?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today, along with my answer to someone who’s bored and has no work to do. (In case you missed it last week, I’m now writing a weekly advice column for NYMag! Head over there to read it.)