weekend free-for-all – May 28-29, 2016

Sam OliveHappy Memorial Day weekend — and happy birthday to Ask a Manager, which came into life nine years ago today and was supposed to only be a six-month project!

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. If you have a work question, you can email it to me or post it in the work-related open thread on Fridays.)

Book recommendation of the week: Tepper isn’t Going Out, by Calvin Trillin. You wouldn’t think a book about a man sitting in his car to protect his parking space would be very interesting, but it is, oh, it is. And it’s Calvin Trillin, so it is also charming and funny.

my boss moved down the street from me, putting keywords on your resume in white font, and more

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

1. My boss moved down the street from me and is being a jerk

My boss just moved in down the street from my house. She has a new husband, who has been my neighbor for a while. We live in a rural area so not right next to each other. She is probably an acre away.

Her father-in-law, who lives with them, had an issue with my husband walking the dogs in front of their house, to the point that he threatened to shoot one of the dogs. The dogs were on a leash and not on his property. A bad interaction took place and words were spoken. Later, my husband took the initiative to make peace in the spirit of not having a feud with neighbors.

After that, my boss made it sound like it was all my husband’s fault. She even talked about it at work. Someone overheard it and told me. After that, she has been been talking to everyone at work about everything that goes on in my house. People at work know when I leave the house, when I come back, when my husband leaves and comes back, what time he walks the dog s(even though he no longer walks by their house anymore), if I yell at for whatever reason in my own house, and that about once a month, my husband has a few beers and like to be in the front yard and talks to his friends so as not to wake up the kids. Mind you, we are on about an acre and the front yard faces opposite to them.

This lady is embarrassing me by talking to others about my private life. I’m never at work because I’m a home health nurse and always on the road, so only go into the office once a week for five minutes and never hear any of this firsthand. I hate being in this situation and feel that my privacy is being invaded in the worst way and feel bullied, because to avoid problems now I can’t even walk the dogs down the street that I was accustomed to. I’m not in a position to sell and buy a new house right now and am afraid to speak up and confront her in fear of retaliation at my job. I’m a per diem nurse and they can simply stop sending me patients, but at the same time my reputation is at stake. I don’t know what to do.

Whoa. Your boss is being horrible and totally out of line. You have three choices: (1) Ignore it. You’re only in the office five minutes a week, so maybe you can decide that you don’t care if she’s sharing this sort of things with coworkers (who really can’t be that interested in what time you leave the house or what time your husband walks the dog — surely people are going to sick of hearing this?). (2) Talk to your boss. Be polite and straightforward: “Clarissa, now that we’re living on the same street, I hope we can agree to protect each other’s privacy at work. I’d rather my coworkers not hear about my comings and goings at home. Can we agree that for the purposes of work, we’ll pretend we’re not actually neighbors?” (3) Talk to someone above your boss, possibly HR, and be particularly clear about your fear of retaliation.

Which of these makes the most sense will depend on how bothered you are and your sense of how vindictive your boss is. But if you can, I really do think ignoring it might be your most effective option. I can totally see why you’re rattled to have her reporting on your movements like this, but the stuff she’s reporting is so mundane that it has to be making her look pretty terrible to other people.

2. What’s up with this job ad?

I was just wondering what your thoughts were on this job posting:

At [company], we want people who are tenacious and hungry to learn. You will work with smart, creative and passionate people to create excellent user experience and highly collaborative platforms. You will create solutions that will impact hundreds of thousands of students and companies. Be a part of [company] and join us as we shape the future of job training and job recruiting.

We deal with Projectships, NOT internships, PROJECTSHIPS. If you can handle that, you’ve passed round one. You’re a professional amateur who isn’t afraid to try the crazy! You are so bright, people mistake you as the Greek God Apollo. You’re so motivated, you’re already on our FB, helping us get fans! PS: You’re not accepted into the program yet. You crush deadlines like how your ex crushed your heart. You’re OCD when it comes to details and organization. You dance like MC Hammer, smart like Zuckerburg, innovative like Jobs, tweet like RainnWilson, and party like the Kardashians. We don’t care if you’re smaller than Thumbelina or eat like Kobeyashi. We want you because you are you! If you’re offended, Shut Your Face! What does that even mean anyway? So if you are ready to throw cool events/challenges like we do, write dope blog posts, spread the word about [company] to your campus + social network, win prizes, internship/networking opportunities, earn cash, score scholarships, network with some influential people, and most importantly, go to WAR with other colleges, START APPLYING!
And just in case you didn’t get the position, we guess that happens sometimes. We tried something but it didn’t work out. We hope we’re still friends!

I think they are trying way too hard to be cool and in the process have achieved the opposite. It’s always a bad sign when an ad spends more time trying to convince you that they’re hip than talking about the actual work they need done.

Notice too how they snuck a request for free work in there. It’s pretty crappy to pressure people into promoting your business for free in the hopes they’ll get a job — sorry, projectship — out of it.

I am skeptical that anyone should want this job.

3. Putting keywords on your resume in white font

I recently heard a suggestion to type a bunch of industry “buzzwords” into your resume, but in white font. The idea is that those words would be picked up by any automated filters/software but wouldn’t look strange to a hiring manager looking at the resume. Is there any merit to this, assuming that the visible portion of your resume isn’t awful?

Nooo, don’t do that. If your resume is going into an electronic application system (and you won’t always be able to tell that it is), the formatting is going to gegt stripped out and those words are all going to appear, no longer in white, and you’re going to look like you (a) don’t trust your qualifications to stand on their own, (b) don’t trust the employer to assess your qualifications, and/or (c) are trying to game the system.

Also, the whole idea is based on the belief that you need a jumble of keywords to be seen. You don’t.

4. Can our employer require us to make up the time if we come in late or early?

I work for a small (34 employees) nonprofit organization in Colorado. Although many of us are salaried employees, we are told we have to make up time we take for doctor appointments or if we leave early or come in late, even by half an hour or hour.

I was under the impression that as salaried employees, if we work any part of a day, we are not required to make up the time.

Nope, that’s up to your employer. If you’re exempt (not just salaried, but classified as exempt according to the federal government’s definition), your employer can’t dock your pay for coming in late or leaving early, but they can dock your vacation time or require you to make the time up.

They shouldn’t do those things to exempt employees, especially if you regularly work extra hours, but they’re legally allowed to.

5. Should I explain in my cover letter that I’ve been laid off?

So I got laid off yesterday from a job where I had sort of seen it coming. They nicely told me it was absolutely no fault of my own and that all my work for the company had been fantastic, but with the reorganization of the department, my role was becoming far more junior and they wanted to rehire for that. They’re setting me up an internal recruiter to maybe find another position, but I’m more worried about applying for jobs.

I know everyone says it’s always easier to find a job when you have a job, and I have started hunting — but what do I do moving forward? Should I address this in cover letters when it’s clear I’m currently working nowhere? I was laid off as part of a reorg, so I was laid off with a lot of good friends and coworkers in one fell swoop. Should I ignore this in cover letters? I don’t want potential employers to think I was laid off because of anything I did.

Don’t get into it your cover letter; your cover letter shouldn’t be about why you left your last job, but why you’re interested in and would be great at the job you’re applying for.

Employers who want to know why you left will ask, and you can explain it then. But loads of people have been laid off, and it’s not something you need to proactively explain in your application materials.

can I make getting to the final round of interviews – and not getting the job – count for something?

A reader writes:

How can I make getting to the final round of interviews – and not getting the job – count for something?

Yesterday I received the news that I did not get the job at a great charity. It was a role that I have not come across before, and it would have been an exciting career change into a new sector. I was told I was a “fantastic” candidate and I had gotten to the final two out of 200 candidates. The successful candidate “had more experience.” I completed two phone interviews and one face-to-face with two interviewers. I sent the requisite follow-ups and gracious thank-you email.

I joked to a friend that I wish you could make getting this far in an interview process count for something, and say in your next application “I got to the third round with this employer so let’s skip all the stages and cut to the chase.” Of course, that is madness, but is there any way you can make getting so far in an interview process count for something? What would your next steps be?

I have a very low success rate in terms of the volume of CVs sent out to the number of interviews I get. My work history can appear hard to grasp to some, but then I have had companies and recruitment agencies praise my CV and think it sounds interesting. I also seem to do relatively well once I am in an interview room, prep hard, and can control my nerves. I think my downfall in the recent job I lost out on was that I was too comfortable and didn’t push some of my work history that I would have had if the interviewers had been less friendly/harder to convince. I also got to the final round of a job at Christmas but I think I failed in a written test. I was interviewed for the exact same type of role at another company and knew by the end of the first interview I had not been successful. I never even heard from them again.

My current job is awful, pretty soul-destroying, and is not good for mental health (I have a history of depression). My career is stagnant. My job search is now reaching 18 months! I either seem to not get off the starting blocks, or I am runner-up. My CV and cover letter either crashes and burns, or I’m told “it sings.”

Having got so close to securing a new job, but losing out, what would you do next? I am back at square one after an interview process that lasted three months from first application to rejection, and the thought of time slipping away while I pursue that elusive job horrifies me.

Yeah, you definitely can’t use “got to third interview round with another employer” as a selling point for other jobs.

You can learn what you can from the experience, though. Sometimes that’s nothing — sometimes you did everything right and someone else was just a better fit. And other times, there are lessons that you can take away for next time. In this case, it sounds like you did draw some useful lessons about how to better frame some of your work history, and about the need to do that even if the interviewers are friendly — that you shouldn’t be lulled into thinking that you don’t need to.

The other thing you can do is to not let your focus get too taken up by a single job prospect. The fact that you’re left feeling like you’re back at square one after this rejection and that time has slipped away tells me that you might not have been searching for other positions too actively while you were in talks for this job. You don’t want to fall into that trap — no matter how interesting a job opening or how promising your chances seem, you should always keep searching as actively as you would if that opening didn’t exist. In fact, the smartest thing to do is to assume that you’re not getting any job you apply or interview for — proceed as if you’ve already been rejected, because otherwise hope has a way of convincing you that you don’t really need to keep putting effort into other prospects.

A few other things that could be worth doing —

* Check up on your references. It’s possible that something’s happening with a reference post-interview that’s keeping you from getting offers. Even if you think your references are glowing, it could be worth having a professional-sounding friend call your references to make sure that nothing is being said that could hold you back.

* Look at who was ultimately hired for the jobs you interviewed for. (You can often find out on the company’s website or LinkedIn.) If they have significantly more or different experience than you, that’s useful to know. If they don’t, that’s useful too, since it might signal that you need to work on your interviewing skills and/or that you’re not communicating your achievements well.

* If you had particular rapport with an interviewer, try reaching out and asking if they’d be willing to give you feedback on how you can make yourself a stronger candidate. Say something like this: “I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me about the X job last month. I want to ask you a favor: I’m extremely interested in moving into a position like X, and I would be grateful for your feedback about how I can better position myself to do that. Is there anything in the way that I interview that you think might be holding me back? Are there weaknesses that I can tackle, or anything else that you think might help me pursue a similar position in the future? If you can spare five minutes for a call or even just an email, I’d really appreciate any advice you can share with me (and I have a thick skin, so I can take it!).” Some employers won’t give feedback no matter how politely you ask for it, but  framing it like this increases your chances of getting it.

update: managing a student organization when no one else does any work and you’re stuck doing it all yourself

Remember the letter-writer in March who was running a student organization but getting stuck with all the work because no one else would follow through on their commitments? Here’s the update.

As most people mentioned, this was a problem with a clear end date. Graduation has passed. I finished my thesis and internship, and I got to walk the stage summa cum laude (though technically my final grades put me at magna). I’ve been accepted to the graduate program of my choice and honestly, I feel fantastic!

I did not leave my organization, as some people recommended. When I emailed you originally, I was losing my mind over one specific officer who was failing HARD at his role and giving me a lot of trouble and pushback when I tried to get him back on track. There was a lot of bristling at taking criticism and orders from a peer, but as time went on it became a lot clearer that he didn’t have the skills needed for his job even if he were putting in all the effort. I had a talk with him about respecting my experience and taking orders/corrections in good faith, pushed through our big project, and restricted him from taking on any more for the rest of the semester. I also cut back on certain nonessential things that no one else was putting the time in for.

It stayed really, really hard for a long time, but there’s a happy end! I got an email from a respected local member of my industry who I had met through school and my organization, asking me if I was looking for a job! I had to turn her down due to grad school (down payment was in and it’s what will work best for me right now), but I saw her again at a professional banquet later the same week. After explaining my situation and the complications I’m looking at this summer, she offered me a remote freelancing gig! This is exactly the type of work I need right now, and I honestly couldn’t be happier. I also got lots of recommendations and connections at the banquet for my new city (~2 hours away from my undergrad town).

Sticking with all of my commitments instead of cutting some off sucked. I felt awful for my last month and barely ever slept, but this was one of those situations where it seemed more worth it to push through. I want to especially thank the people here who encouraged me to stick it out and made me feel less crazy for doing so. This time, it was worth it!

Thanks again for your feedback!

open thread – May 27-28, 2016

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 :)

I have a crush on a manager at work, my coworker keeps encroaching on my desk, and more

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

1. I have a crush on a manager at work

I’m a happily married woman, but I have a crush on a male supervisor at work. The nature of my work requires that I advise management staff on various issues, so I often meet with several managers multiple times during the week. There’s a younger (close to my age) but established high-level male supervisor who I find myself attracted to. I wasn’t sure what my feelings meant at first, but I find myself getting nervous around him, I tend to care more about my appearance when I know we’re going to meet, and I think he’s attractive.

I get a vibe from him too. I may be making assumptions and his behavior can be explained otherwise, but he’s called me personally to ask questions, emailed me personally to congratulate me on a job well done, left his water bottle in my work area and his manager teased him for “accidentally” leaving it there, his manager teased him for seeming giddy and laughing more than usual during one of our meetings together.

I have no intentions of having an affair and even if I were single, dating someone at work comes with too many risks. Do you have any advice on how to quell this crush? How to conduct myself professionally around him? I feel like my feelings are obvious. I saw him at lunch the other day and walked away just to avoid him. I had a crush on a high-level supervisor at my last job too, but left the workplace for unrelated reasons so it never became an issue.

Noooo! It’s normal to occasionally find yourself attracted to people who are Not Your Spouse, but don’t let yourself start speculating on whether there’s a vibe there or not. The behaviors you described from him — calling you to ask questions, congratulating you on a job well done, leaving a water bottle behind, and being more laughy on some days than others — are normal work behaviors. He is just being a normal person, doing his job.

As for how to conduct yourself professionally around him — pretend he’s your uncle? Pretend he’s Ramsay Bolton? Imagine your husband dropping by to surprise you and walking in on a libidinous scene? Or, turn it around and imagine the genders were reversed — if you were a married dude crushing on a female colleague and reading things into her perfectly normal, non-flirtatious behavior that weren’t actually there, that would feel pretty skeevy, right? (I don’t mean to imply you’re skeevy — just to hopefully help you reframe it in your head.)

2. My boss is dragging his feet on hiring a temp for my maternity leave

I disclosed I was pregnant in December and noted my due date of July 12 at that time. It is now the end of May and my boss still has not posted the position for a temp fill-in. We are an office of three people, and so having a temp is crucial. My boss has even said on multiple occasions that he will not post the position and will only fill it by direct referral. What do I do? He expects me to train this person, yet refuses to take any steps to hire anyone that isnt referred to him personally. What can I do to protect myself from being expected to come in during maternity leave and/or train someone while I’m supposed to be on leave?

You can let him know right now that you won’t be able to do that. Say this to him: “I want to make sure you know that I could go out on leave as early as (date) and that I’m going to be 100% unavailable once I do — I won’t be able to come in to train someone or help out once that happens. So if you want me to train the temp, that person should start no later than (date).”

He’s now warned, and then you just stick to that. Remind him again right before your leave that you’re not going to be available, and if you do get contacted, either ignore it or take a week to respond and then say “nope, that won’t be possible.” (And know that if you’re taking FMLA, there’s something called “FMLA interference” that makes it illegal for them to keep contacting you or to try to get you to come in.)

Beyond that, this isn’t your problem — don’t make it yours.

3. My coworker keeps encroaching on my desk

My employer recently replaced our desks and lockers with smaller versions in order to make room for new colleagues in our open plan office. The desks are in banks of four, adjoining each other. There is a small partition with the desk facing me but no partition with the desk beside me. The lack of space is challenging but we have adapted.

I sit next to a more junior colleague. She is great at her job and we have always had a good relationship. Unfortunately, since the new desks arrived, she has been encroaching on my space. She likes to use big hard-backed files and she uses some of my desk space to accommodate them while she’s working with them. I tried moving my in-tray and other items over to the side of my desk, where it adjoins her desk, in an attempt to create a physical barrier. It doesn’t work. She uses them to prop up her own papers and folders. If that side of my desk is clear (as we are required to lock our in trays away at night) she will just use the space. As I start work after her, I either have to slide her stuff back to her own desk or ask her to move it. I find this a stressful way to start the day.

Today I decided to address the pattern of behavior as a whole. I explained that it might seem weird but I am someone who likes to have their space clearly defined. She seemed to acknowledge that and immediately moved her things. However, 10 minutes later she reverted to form. I had to lift the cover of her folder away from my area and balance it on my arm to fish in my own in tray for what I needed. Ridiculous. I then moved her folder, making sure she noticed – she was on a conference call so I couldn’t address her directly. 10 minutes later the same happened again, and this time I got completely exasperated and made a bigger show of closing her folder and shoving it back to her desk. I gave her an imploring look – she was still on the phone.

I am sure she is not deliberately trying to wind me up. She just genuinely doesn’t care much that I am bothered by this, and has no interest in changing her behavior. I love where I sit. Window seats are much coveted and generally given to people with long service, which is why I have one. I don’t want to give up this perk by moving to another desk. How should I handle this?

Repetition. Every time it happens, slide her stuff back over or tell her too. And be direct: “Jane, your stuff is in my space again. Please move it.” … “We have tiny desks here, and you’re making mine one-third smaller.” … “Your files are back.” … etc. If she’s anything approaching a reasonable person, a few days of doing this will get her to permanently stop.

Also, she’s being rude. You might feel rude by continuing reminding her about this, but you’re not the one being rude — don’t let let that get shifted to you along with the folders.

4. Weight loss surgery and work

I am currently in the process of getting insurance approval for weight loss surgery. This process takes months, but once the insurance approval is given — the surgery date can come pretty quickly thereafter (2-3 weeks). I don’t really want to alert my coworkers or my boss to the fact that I’m contemplating such a surgery in case I decide not to go through with it or insurance doesn’t cover it for some reason. I work in a small office where someone’s absence is very noticeable, and we do a lot of shuffling to cover tasks when someone is out. Is 2-3 weeks enough notice that I will be out of the office for 10-15 days for surgery? Do you think a reasonable employer would be upset if they found out that I had been planning this procedure for months without alerting him to the fact earlier?

Also, I’m not keen on letting my coworkers know why I will be getting surgery (they’re typically pretty nosy) – could you give me some guidance on how to explain my absence and my subsequent weight loss?

You have justifiable reasons for not wanting to announce the surgery before it’s a definite thing, and two to three weeks isn’t unreasonable when it’s for a medical reason. Plus, it’s not like you know the date and just aren’t telling them yet; there’s no date to share yet. I think your plan is fine. Also, when you tell your boss, you don’t need to specify what the surgery is or that you’ve been contemplating it for months. It’s fine to just say “I’ll be out for surgery on (dates). It’s nothing life-threatening, but it’s something I need to get taken care.”

You can use that same answer with nosy coworkers. If you don’t want to discuss it and anyone pries for more details, say, “I’d rather not get into it” or “nothing I want to discuss at the office” and then change the subject. As for the subsequent weight loss, that’s your call too. Share if you want to, but if you don’t, you can say, “Oh, I’m trying to avoid weight loss talk — it’s so easy to obsess” or any of the suggestions here.

5. If I’m told to leave after I resigned, was I fired?

If you go to your supervisor to turn in your letter of resignation and he/she tells you to just leave, is that considered being fired?

Nope. You resigned. They gave you a different last day than you were intended, but that doesn’t make your resignation a firing.

Some employers do have people leave immediately when they resign (in fact, there are whole industries that do it as a matter of course). Sometimes that’s a legitimate approach, but more often than not it’s punitive and silly.

I have to pay to be “honored” at an event

A reader writes:

I was recently nominated by a senior work colleague and selected by a local organization’s committee to receive an award for making a positive impact in my community along with approximately 15 other community leaders. While I’m touched to have been nominated and selected, in order to receive this award, I have to pay $100 for my ticket to their annual fundraiser. The organization is also asking that I ask 10 friends to support the organization by purchasing tickets and making a $100 contribution.

While I feel touched to be nominated, I can’t afford to pay for my ticket and can’t commit to getting 10 people to attend and make a $200 contribution because of my circle’s own personal circumstances. This particular organization works in a limited geographic area and most of my friends and family are from out of town and wouldn’t be impacted by this org’s work anyway. In fact, I don’t even live in this org’s area.

I work for a nonprofit so I understand how fundraisers with honorees work, but this feels more like using me to get money than actually “honoring” me for my work, especially considering that that there are 15 other honorees. My colleague is thrilled they chose me and is going to the event, but I explained to her over text that I can’t commit to what they’re asking. She didn’t respond.

The event is next week. I got the notice earlier this week and I haven’t yet responded, but they are already billing me on their program. Can I or how do I get out of this graciously and without insulting the person who nominated me or creating bad blood in the workplace? I highly respect this person and I know she did it to try and help me in my career, but frankly, I feel insulted and think this “honor” is ridiculous. I’d really appreciate your insight.

It sounds like the event version of the old “Who’s Who” scam, where you get a letter or email telling you that you’re being included in the new edition of Who’s Who in American Teapot Making (or whatever your industry is) and you can order your own copy now for $100 … in other words, they gin up cash by “honoring” people and then charging them for it.

Whether or not this is really a scam (and it’s possible that it isn’t one, but the fact that they’re already billing you in their program before you’ve even said you’ll attend is pretty scammy), you can absolutely decline to attend. At a minimum, you could just say that you’re not able to attend and imply a conflict with the date. But it would also be perfectly reasonable to say, “I’m not able to buy a ticket or sell tickets for the event — how should we proceed?”

As for the colleague who nominated you, you’ve already told her that you can’t do what they’re asking. I’d just stick with that — and maybe add, “I’m flattered that you thought of me.”

Any chance she was a target of this same event herself previously, and now is being prompted by them to ensnare others? It wouldn’t surprise me if that’s how this went down.

update: my coworkers mercilessly tease me about my drunken holiday party behavior

Remember the letter-writer who got blackout drunk at her company holiday party and her coworkers wouldn’t stop joking about it? She was mortified because she’d realized that she had a drinking problem and needed to get help, but people at work were treating it like a hilarious joke, not realizing that it was a painful episode for her. Here’s the update.

In February, you gave me advice on how to stop my coworkers from teasing me after I got embarrassingly drunk at my holiday party. I wanted to send you an update about how it all went down.

I decided to talk directly to my coworkers instead of my manager. (I just thought my manager would either be unsympathetic or feel really bad since he had exacerbated the teasing by sending around that video of me.) After someone would bring it up, I’d privately speak to them. With two people I was honest about the alcoholism stuff, because I knew them well enough to think they’d understand. With most people, I said something along the lines of, “Gosh I was such a mess that that night! I can see why it’s so funny, although you can imagine I’m quite embarrassed. Actually, I was hoping we could put it to rest at this point. Could you help me out by changing the conversation when it comes up?”

Almost everyone responded well to this, and the teasing dropped off very quickly once I had asked 4 or 5 people to stop. It has come up occasionally since then, but it’s at a level I can deal with. Beyond that, my professional reputation doesn’t appear to have sustained any long-term damage, as I’ve been taking on more responsibility with great success.

So, my situation is resolved! Thank you for your excellent advice and for the compassion from all the commenters. I had intended to come back and reply to each comment individually but I became overwhelmed and, frankly, was not ready to accept so much understanding when I was feeling so much self-loathing. But I did read every single one, multiple times, and I really appreciate the support.

On that note… I’m up to four months sober. Learning to live without alcohol has been really hard and my life is pretty crappy right now, to be honest. But I don’t ever want to be in that situation again, so I’m sticking with it. Hopefully some day I will look back on this and be grateful it happened, since it prompted me to change.

Anyway, thank you for all the advice.

my coworker keeps telling me not to worry when he’s slow in getting back to me

A reader writes:

I have a colleague on another team who I rely on for information, etc. to complete projects, and who is often very slow getting back to me.

When I chase him up, he implies I am overreacting and says (in what I perceive to be a condescending tone), “Don’t worry, it will all get done” or “it’s okay, it’s okay, I will help you get it sorted” or “Don’t get upset, I’ll do it.”

I’m not upset. I am just trying to do my job, and I want him to do his! He often comes to my desk to say this, and I’m worried that it appears to other colleagues like I’m overly worried and in need of this reassurance/ support.

I have considered whether I am seeming overly stressed in my communications with him, but I haven’t had that feedback from others. I can’t help but feel that he is acting like this because he wants to deflect attention from how many deadlines he is missing (and maybe because he doesn’t like to be chased for deadlines by a much younger woman).

What can I say to him to convince him that I’m not stressed, and stop him talking about my feelings all the time? It’s very hard to say “I’m not worried” in a way which doesn’t suggest the opposite!

Ick, that would irk me too. It’s possible it’s a sort of verbal tic, but you’re absolutely right that it’s condescending whether he means it that way or not. And yes, it’s deflecting attention from the fact that you’re having to chase him down in the first place.

I’d say this: “Fergus, I don’t need to be reassured and I’m not upset. But I frequently have to follow up with you to get items, and that’s time I’d rather be spending on other things. Is there a better way for me to get this information from you?”

I like that language because it puts the focus back on him and forces him to answer a question about his work habits.

If you try this a couple of times and it still continues, then I’d say this: “Is there something I’m doing that make you think I need to be reassured like this?”

Making him fumble for an explanation is likely to discourage him from continuing it in the future. But if he still keeps it up, at that point your choices are to ignore or to keep calling him out on it. If you choose the latter:
– “I don’t need to be soothed. I just need X.”
– “There’s no need for all this emotional support. I just need X.”
– Or if you’re comfortable with it and your dynamic with him allows for this: “I’m sure you don’t mean it this way, but it comes across as awfully condescending to to say things like that.”

Of course, with all of this, make sure you’re speaking in a flat, calm tone or you’ll undermine the message.

talking to job candidates about our kickball league, handling complaints about an employee, and more

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

1. How should I handle my employee complaints about her coworker?

I’m a budding supervisor and there is one employee who has brought forward many complaints against another employee. She claims that our clients have felt written off or discouraged by this other person but the clients do not want to come forward. The employee who’s being accused doesn’t seem to be doing these things but I am not fully sure now that these complaints have been brought forward. How should I move forward with this employee bringing up issues that are not her own?

You can ask the employee for more details about exactly how she knows this and weigh it against what you know of all parties (including her credibility), you can talk with clients yourself (saying that you’re checking in to see how things are going and in order to get feedback that will help your team do their jobs better), and/or you can observe things more closely yourself for a while — or some combination of these things.

You asked about how you should handle the employee “bringing up issues that are not her own.” I don’t think you should tackle it from that angle. If there’s a problem with her routinely raising issues without much merit, then yes, that’s something you’d need to address. But you want an environment where people feel safe talking to you when they have legitimate (to them) concerns, including worries about how clients are being treated. There’s certainly a point where that can become disruptive (such as when it’s constant or they keep bringing it up after you’ve told them you’ll handle it or the complaints are about things that don’t impact anyone). But imagine if it turned out that an employee was being rude to clients, and no one mentioned it to you because they thought they didn’t have standing to?

Of course, if you don’t think she’s operating in good faith, that’s a very different issue.

2. Is my coworker on shaky ground talking about our kickball league in interviews?

My office hosts a kickball team. The organizer of the team, who is very passionate about it (he sends weekly all-staff emails detailing the results of every game) is also in charge of hiring our entry-level employees. I found out that he may be discussing the league in interviews – maybe as an example of office culture? – and there’s a joke going around that he hires people who will help the team win. (This is a joke. I do think he would like new employees to join the
league, but I doubt he actually makes hiring decisions based on that.)

I worry about the perception applicants might be getting, that their desire and ability to play on the team could affect their hiring. The job has no relation to physical fitness – it’s an office setting. Could this be a liability for our organization, in terms of something like the Americans with Disabilities Act? Or am I way overthinking this?

It depends on what he’s actually saying. If he’s just mentioning the league as an example of office culture, which is what it sounds like you think it is, that’s fine to do. If he’s actually making hiring decisions based on athletic ability, or leading people to believe that he is, then yeah, you could have some ADA issues.

Even if that’s not happening, though, if he’s talking about it too much, he could be inadvertently alienating job candidates who aren’t athletic or aren’t interested in an office culture that is.

But it doesn’t sound like there’s actually reason to think any of that is happening. You say he “may” be discussing the league in interviews, which isn’t really enough to go on. If you’re worried, though, why not just ask him and tell him what you’re concerned about? He probably hasn’t even considered that angle.

3. How many vacation days can I take at once?

What is the maximum number of vacation days that should be taken at once?

I recently requested a two-week vacation, which my manager approved without hesitation. My company allows three weeks of vacation time per year, and it appears that most of my coworkers use their full allotment. I gave several months of advance notice and ensured that my trip would not coincide with any major deadlines. However, when I told my parents about my plans, they thought that two weeks was too long, and I should only take vacation in installments of one week or less.

Flights are already booked, but I’m wondering for future reference – is two weeks too long for a vacation?

There’s some variation on this, but nope, in most offices that’s not too long. There are some offices that prefer people to limit it to one week, but if you work in one of those, they’ll tell you if you’re asking for too much at once (and even then you can usually get exceptions made — some trips really can’t be done in one week).

But the most relevant question is what’s okay in your office, and it sounds like this is just fine with them. Tell your parents that it’s fine with your boss, who approved it without hesitation.

4. Before taking time off, we’re supposed to email our whole team to see if anyone objects

I recently started with a new company as a manager, and I work directly for the director, who is also a good friend of mine. He requires that if anyone in our department of nine wants to take time off, they have to email the rest of the team to see if any of them have any issues with the time off request and they need to reply if they do or not (of course nobody ever replies with “yes, I have an issue”). What is your opinion on this?

It’s pretty odd and feels like it’s giving other people more power than they should have. I mean, if Cecil has an issue with you going to the doctor on Friday, does that mean he gets to veto it?

I assume he thinks that this will help prevent scheduling snafus — like if Cecil was counting on you to help with a project that absolutely must happen on Friday, now he’ll be able to speak up and tell you that. But a better system — and the more typical system — would be for your manager to expect you to manage your own workload and alert people who might be impacted by your absence. After you’ve been there longer, I’d suggest that.

5. Letting employer pay for future expenses when I think I might be gone by then

I have what I think is an ethical question. I’m interviewing for a position outside of my company. I’ve had two interviews with different companies, and I think they went well. My professional association membership fee is due that my company pays, but I feel a little weird about having the company pay if if I’m leaving. Also, we have some training scheduled in a few months and now is the time I’d usually buy my plane ticket. I’m wondering if I should wait and not buy the plane ticket until I know what happens with these interviews.

What’s the right thing to do when you might be leaving your job but have expenses that are customarily paid by your employer?

Act as if you’re not leaving until you know for sure that you are (meaning that you have a job offer that you’ve accepted). It’s just not practical to put things like this on hold while you wait to see how your job search plays out. You could get an offer tomorrow, or you could still be at your old job in six months. (You could also get a job offer and turn it down, if you can’t come to terms on salary and other details.) The only reasonable course of action is to proceed as if you’ll still be there until you know otherwise with certainty.

Your employer is very used to having people leave after they’ve already paid for plane tickets, conference registrations, membership dues, training classes, and all sorts of other things. That’s just how this stuff goes. It’s a slightly inconvenient but very normal part of doing business, and no reasonable employer will hold it against you.