weekend free-for-all – May 23-24, 2015

Olive!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: The Best of Youth: A Novel, by Michael Dahlie, in which a rich, hapless 20-something trying to become a writer is regularly humiliated, often a bit tipsy, and frequently very funny, particularly after he agrees to ghost-write a novel for a dreadful B-list actor. I was delighted and amused the whole way through. (This review gives a better plot description than I do.)

new hire is frequently out of the office, should I start job-searching if my boss is leaving, and more

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

1. Talking to a new hire who’s been frequently out of the office

I have a question about how to handle a relatively new hire who is having some attendance issues.

We are a five-year-old, fast growing company and we hired him on ful-time as director of marketing in January after having worked with him on a contract basis for 6 months. He has 4 direct reports and is responsible for managing a team of 10 people. Over the last 4 months, he frequently emails same day asking if he can “leave early” to do something with family and has come in “late” several times for a variety of issues – car problems, sprinklers broke so there is flooding in his yard, kids were late getting up, etc. Today he emailed again asking if he could take this Thursday off because his stay-at-home wife is just came down with a cold and she was supposed to take the kids on a class trip to the zoo on Thursday…he is asking to take them now.

He is doing a good job so far – we are close to hitting demand targets – but my concern is that his frequently being out of the office will have a negative effect on the rest of the team. He is in a leadership position in the company and constantly coming in late or leaving early does not set a good example in my opinion. I don’t want to come off as inflexible (he is the only employee in our office with kids). How would you recommend I handle this situation?

Well, the first thing I’d think about is whether it really does matter. If he’s performing at a high level (I’m not sure if “good” means that or if means something closer to “okay”), why does it really matter? But if he’s more okay than great, or if it’s making him less accessible to people than you want him to be, those are legitimate reasons to be concerned. In that case, you should just be straightforward about explaining that to him: “Bob, I’ve noticed that you’ve been out of the office a lot — leaving early, coming in late, or taking days off at the last minute. This is a role where you really need to be here during business hours most of the time, because there’s so much interaction with people throughout the day, and it can be tough when you’re not around when someone needs you.”

But make sure it really matters. If it doesn’t actually impact his work or other people’s, giving this kind of flexibility can be a good way to retain good people (and you should offer it to all high performers whose jobs wouldn’t be impacted by it, not just him).

2. Would it be weird to suggest a flexible start date?

I am about to have a third round interview with a startup in late May/early June. We had previously talked about a potential start date in mid June being mutually beneficial, but the hiring manager mentioned they don’t currently have the work available and their time frame may change (and has already shifted out about a month or so from their initial projections). Would it be weird to discuss some sort of flexible start date if the hiring manager brings up start dates again?

In my mind, I’m picturing some sort of written agreement included with a potential job offer that says something along the lines of “Start date no sooner than 3 weeks from now, but no later than 3 months from now, to be finalized with at least one week notice from the start date”? It seems like a win-win to me, as (1) they’re a startup and don’t necessarily know when they need this particular position filled (2) I want to leave my current job, but not before getting a new job offer. At the same time, I would prefer at least a week off between jobs, but would not mind even multiple months off.

Does this ever happen? Or would talking about something like this just make me seem undesirable/weird?

I don’t think it would be weird, and there are cases where it would be really helpful. My only caution is that if you set up an arrangement like that, you might be opening the door to the start date getting pushed back further and further and possibly never materializing (despite the “no later than 3 months” clause). Because of that, I’d be inclined to get a firm start date if you can.

3. Should I start job-searching if my boss is leaving?

What do you do when your boss is leaving? I work on a small team, and the idea of reporting to someone new makes a big impact on me. Is this a good enough reason to start looking for another position? I’m just wondering how people navigate this kind of thing.

Why not wait and see who the new manager is? You could end up loving the person, so it feels premature to start planning to leave before you even know that. There’s no harm in putting out feelers now so that you’re not starting from scratch if it does turn out that you want to leave, but I’d keep an open mind about the new manager for now.

4. Does this second interview mean the first group of people thought I was a “yes”?

So many jobs lately have me come in for a second or third interview. My last interview, I was scheduled to first meet with HR, the assistant manager and then the manager. I guess I did well because I was scheduled for a second interview with the group director the next day. This is a corporate job. Now my question is, does this mean, I got a “yes” from those 3 people and the group director is the deciding person?

You’re looking at it as more yes/no than it probably is. It means you’re still in the running, but it doesn’t necessarily mean an unqualified yes from the earlier people. I’ll sometimes move people forward in a hiring process even if I have reservations, if they’re otherwise strong enough; I’ll flag those reservations for the other people involved, or simply give myself more time to mull over my assessment and/or compare them with other candidates.

5. Can I ask my references how strong of a reference they’ll give me?

You have written about making sure your references are strong, but I was wondering if there’s a way to find out how good a reference someone will be. I usually ask my references if they would feel comfortable being a good reference for me, but is there something else I should be doing? I don’t want to be blindsided and get a bad reference.

The big thing is to be honest with yourself about how strong the work you did for them was and how they likely regard you. Ideally, you know them well enough that you should have an idea of what they thought of your work. But yes, it’s always reasonable to say, “I’d like to offer up references who will feel comfortable really speaking glowingly of my work. I’m hoping that’s you, but it’s of course okay if it’s not. Are you able to give me a sense of how strong a reference you’d be comfortable giving me?” The key here is to make it really safe for them to say “not that strong” — which means that you have to sound genuine and sincere in asking this, and you can’t react badly if someone gives you a disappointing answer.

the right way to leave a toxic workplace

A reader writes:

I’ve been in a fairly toxic workplace for two years, and in one week I’m finally done with my contract and am moving on to greener, and saner pastures. This is all well and good, except I’m leaving behind a small team of people who I’ve grown very close to while I’ve managed them.

And I know things are about to get much, much worse for them at work. The company is in trouble financially, which we all know: it was used as an excuse to downsize, move us to tiny offices, increase unpaid overtime, not give raises, bonuses or paid leave, etc. We’ve all pulled together to make that work because we loved what we do. We used to have a really incredibly bad owner, who recently sold the company to her partner and fled: we’re still uncovering the mess she made of things.

Our direct manager as well is feeling the pressure, and with the prospect of me leaving, has started to make some changes to the workplace that I feel will be detrimental, to the work, the culture, and the team I’m leaving behind. Add to that that I found and hired my replacement, who I’m now worried is going to get burned by all this, and I’m feeling incredibly guilty and confused.

Do I have a responsibility to stick my nose in all this mess that is going to come raining down or does my leaving mean I can’t have anything to do with it? Is there some trick to just washing your hands and moving on?

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

open thread – May 22, 2015

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 :)

a request for help from someone I can’t stand, paging troubles, and more

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

1. Do I have to respond to a request for help from someone I can’t stand?

There’s a woman a few years younger than me (i’m in my mid-30’s, she’s in her late 20’s) who is a friend of my parents through a church community, but who, simply put, irks the heck out of me. There are a number of little personality things that she does that get under my skin, so I just try to avoid her in my personal life. I’ll call her Monica.

At my most recent former job, Monica ended up interning while she worked on her Master’s degree. She talked over people, interrupted my director while he was talking to vendors, and offering up ideas as solutions, and this was the first meeting she had ever had in our office. I read your article on annoying coworkers, and Monica is both an “interrupter” and a “know-it-all.” My director didn’t correct her (he’s a super nice guy and is great at avoiding what he sees as unnecessary conflict/criticism). She also had a tendency to show up to the office wearing inappropriately short dresses, spending all day tugging at the bottom of them to cover herself.

Because I knew I had personal issues with Monica, I tried to put all of that aside and work with her in a professional manner. But even trying to get along, I just can’t get past being annoyed with her.

I am now at a new firm in a new position, working with someone who is a mutual friend with Monica, and who thinks the world of her. Monica is now applying for a job with this new company. I don’t expect to be working directly with her, so I think I can keep up my keep-to-myself policy and not be overly annoyed with her. However, I just received a message via LinkedIn from her asking me for advice as she prepares for her interview. Normally, I’d suck it up and hold my nose while I replied with something helpful. (It’s not Monica’s fault she gets so under my skin.) But, she spelled my name wrong in the message, which is ridiculous, considering this was through a networking site where my name is clearly written right in front of her! (On the other hand, I have an unusual name and NEVER take it personally when someone misspells it, which makes me think it’s really all about her.)

My professionalism is slipping and I really just want to pretend like I never even received this request. How terrible would I be if I just ignored her request for help over this mistake? I feel like it just goes back to the overall feeling I get from her that she thinks she is better than everyone, and therefore, doesn’t need to pay attention to the details.

I’m not a fan of ignoring a direct request like this from someone you know, but I also don’t think you’re obligated to help her get a job at your company when you don’t want to work with her. One option is to reply back with something like, “Unfortunately, my schedule is packed this week and I don’t think I’d be of much help, but good luck!” Frankly, you could also wait until after the interview and reply that you realize it’s too late to be helpful. Neither of these will feel especially kind, but you’re really not obligated to help her get a job when you don’t think she would be a good coworker.

I actually think the bigger thing here is that you have legitimate, work-related reasons for not thinking she’d be a good hire and you should be sharing them with the hiring manager. If I were the hiring manager, I’d absolutely want to know what your experience working with her was (probably limited to the interrupting and poor interpersonal skills and not about the short dresses).

2. My coworker asked us if we’d support him becoming our team lead

I work on a team that has seen key individuals leave my company within the last few months. It has left the remaining of us a bit confused and overwhelmed with picking up the pieces as we try to cover the departed employees’ responsibilities.

Recently, one of my colleagues called a meeting with those of us who remain. My colleague wanted to get our thoughts and feedback about whether we would support his efforts in becoming the new team lead so he could then approach the director about a potential new role. We were asked point-blank.

I did not answer the question directly because I did not feel like this person is fit to be in this new position. (There are several reasons behind this, mostly because I do not believe he has done his fair share of the workload even before anyone quit, is not reliable because he or someone in his family is constantly sick, and periodically sends email blasts that are unprofessional). Instead, I simply told him that he should have this conversation with the director because the director had previously told me his own vision of rebuilding the team.

Is this an appropriate answer? How else could I have answered this? I didn’t want to be rude but I didn’t want to just say, “Yes, totally, of course I support you being our new team lead” when I felt entirely the opposite.

Your answer was perfectly fine — better than fine, considering that you were put on the spot and in an awkward position. Other options could have been “Hmmm, that’s interesting, I’d want to think about it” or “I’m not sure — I’d want to hear more about your plans for the role” or even, if you were comfortable saying it, “I’m not sure I see you in that role, but I’d be glad to think about it.”

3. Paging a coworker with his first, middle, and last names

We have a paging system at work that we constantly use to page coworkers to locate them on the floor. I recently paged a coworker by his full name — first, middle and last. I then got in trouble with my manager and was told it was unprofessional. The reason we know his middle name is because he has told us. I was really confused when I was told not to do it and got reprimanded. Can you shed some light on this for me?

I’m guessing your manager assumed you were joking around (since that’s what it sounds like to me), and doesn’t want the paging system used for mirth.

4. Listing one-time volunteer work on a resume

Is there a way to appropriately list one-time volunteer experiences on a resume?

I do consistently volunteer with one organization and have that listed, but every once in a while I do a one-time thing: I helped out at a local Rotary event for “breakfast with the Easter Bunny,” both helping with raffle tickets, and actually being the bunny; I’ve cooked food at a local Ronald McDonald House; etc.

On the one hand, I completely understand if it’s not appropriate to list those things. I just don’t want to short change myself, either.

I’d leave them off. They do demonstrate community involvement, but they’re so short-term that they don’t really rise to the level of resume-worthy.

5. Update: Can I ask to work from home for a few days if I can’t stop crying?

Remember the letter-writer in January who was wondering about asking to work from home for a few days because she was facing a possible break-up and couldn’t stop crying (#2 at the link)? Here’s her update.

The request to work from home wasn’t approved, but not for any reasons personal to me. There’s been some general “cracking down” on folks working remotely past their typical one day a week schedule, and so I was asked to stick with my normal schedule if I could — that said, my boss suggested I use any sick or vacation time I needed. So I did that, and in doing so, realized I needed some general larger-scale help with my emotions.

As I was going through this breakup, my long-present-but-dormant depression and anxiety were really starting to pop up. I ended up taking leave for a month to attend an intensive outpatient treatment for people with depression and anxiety, and I can’t tell you what a relief it was to have the time and space to focus on just getting better.

Anyway, I’m in a much better place now — a single place, but a place where I have many more tools in my toolbox to handle my up and down emotions when they swing too far in either direction. Thanks to you and to your readers for the advice and support.

which is better: a handwritten thank-you note or an emailed note?

A reader writes:

Do you have any thoughts on candidates who send handwritten thank-you notes instead of emails?

I’m interviewing candidates right now and I always expect to receive a thank-you email within 24 hours. One candidate never sent me one, so I had mentally declined her. (She wasn’t a superstar in person, so that contributed to my decline.) Well, fast forward to a month later: I checked my physical work mailbox and it turns out she had sent a very nice card.

I only check my mailbox once every two weeks or so…and I’m sure I’m not the only one. (All I receive are marketing materials there.)

I’d like to see it become customary for candidates who wish to send physical cards to ALSO send emails…am I crazy?

I can’t get behind people sending handwritten notes and emails — that’s overkill. They should do one but not both. But yes, of the two options, the better one is an email — because of what you mentioned about how people don’t always see their physical mail quickly, and because hiring decisions are sometimes made before the mail is delivered, and because, frankly, this is business correspondence, not social correspondence, and it doesn’t need to be handwritten. Some people disagree with with me on that last point and still like receiving handwritten thank-you notes from job candidates — but I think they’re quickly moving into the minority.

You didn’t ask this, but I need to say it: You shouldn’t be rejecting otherwise good job candidates for not sending a thank-you. (You should reject this particular one for not being great in her interview though, and a thank-you note wouldn’t have changed that.) Whether or not a candidate sends a follow-up note after an interview, and the specific content of that note, is one piece of the overall package that a candidate presents. It’s not the piece that should make or break your decision (unless there’s something truly compelling and outstanding about the note that pushes and already great candidate over the finish line, or something problematic).


should we reject job candidates who don’t send thank-you notes after interviews?
are interview thank-you notes going out of style?
thank-you notes: they’re not about thanking anyone
how much do thank-you notes really matter after a job interview?

how to repair a bad relationship with a staff member

When a manager’s relationship with a team member becomes rocky, it can make working together effectively feel nearly impossible. As the manager, you might stop trusting the employee, avoid giving them assignments that would put them in close contact with you, skip out on giving them feedback, and generally find it tough to have them on your team.

Unsurprisingly, being on the employee side of this equation is even worse; it can have such a negative impact on an employee’s daily quality of life that it will often result in the person just leaving the team.

At Intuit QuickBase’s Fast Track blog today, I talk about how managers can (sometimes) repair the relationship when this happens. You can read it here.

my coworker wants us to drink at lunch every Friday

A reader writes:

A few weeks ago, two coworkers and I went to lunch on a beautiful, warm, sunny Friday. We sat on a patio of a Mexican restaurant and perused the menu, when we casually mentioned our margarita craving. Well, I can’t remember who dove in first, but we ordered a round of relatively weak margaritas and enjoyed a leisurely lunch before returning to the office. Honestly, it was nice.

But, one coworker now ALWAYS wants to indulge on Friday drinks. I have no problem turning down lunch, turning down drinks at lunch, or going on occasion. But, I worry that it’s become an expected occurrence and this coworker is slightly peer-pressure-y towards me. It’s not a huge issue, just a mild annoyance. What are your thoughts on drinking at lunch? Should I worry that it might grow into a bigger situation than it currently is?

Drinking so much that you’re in any way impaired when you need to return to work is obviously not okay to do. For most people, a single drink won’t trigger that limit, but it’s really about knowing yourself and when you’ll cross over from pleasantly relaxed to tipsy (or worse).

But importantly, it’s also about knowing your office. There are plenty of offices where having a beer or glass of wine or a margarita at lunch wouldn’t raise any eyebrows. There are others where it would be An Issue. So you really want to know your own workplace’s culture on this, as well as your manager.

You didn’t say specifically what your coworker is doing that feels peer-pressure-y to you. If she’s just urging everyone to order margaritas with her again and takes a “nah, not today” for an answer, I wouldn’t worry too much. But if she continues to push, you should say, “I don’t feel right having a drink when I have to go back to work” or “I need to be as sharp as possible for the work I have scheduled when we get back to the office” or, if she’s particularly insistent, “No. I don’t want to drink today. Please don’t keep asking. Does someone want to split fajitas?”

If you want to address the larger pattern, you could say: “I love coming here and it’s fun to get margaritas on occasion. But I don’t want to get into a drinks-every-Friday thing; I’d feel weird about that, and like it might reflect badly on us if people heard we did it every week. Can we keep it special-occasion-only?”

is “FYI” rude, coworker’s girlfriend keeps hanging out in his office, and more

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

1. Is “FYI” rude?

Is FYI considered rude in a work email?

In general, no. But there are always weird workplaces out there where something perfectly normal is considered rude, and if you’re working in one of them, it’s good to be aware of that.

And of course, the way you’re using it matters. “I did your work since you were nowhere to be found, FYI” sounds snarky. “The information about the phone system below is just FYI” is perfectly appropriate. “FYI” at the top of an email you’re forwarding to fill someone in on something should be perfectly appropriate, but I can imagine that there are some offices where that would feel overly brusque if you didn’t add in a line about why you were sending it — again, you need to know your culture.

2. Coworker’s girlfriend keeps hanging out in his office

I am writing about a similar issue you raise in this post (“coworker’s husband hangs out in our office every afternoon”). This time there’s no snuggling, and the reasons the girlfriend stops in are reasonable (lunch, birthday, his car was rear ended). Today she stayed for 1.5 hours. They kept the door to his office open. At one point they were going over flashcards for her schoolwork. This was from 3:00-4:30.

What is the etiquette here? I am not his direct supervisor, but I am above him in title and supervise others in the office. We work for admissions at a university and while accepted students are protected by law I don’t believe prospects are. Still, we discuss transcripts and items with personal info that a non-employee shouldn’t see.

Our supervisor is the type who avoids any kind of conflict and doesn’t address people-stuff head on. The culture is somewhat relaxed. I am wondering if it’s even worth mentioning. I believe I am justified to think it’s wrong to allow her to stay but am looking for your and other perspectives.

Yeah, that’s ridiculous. Hanging around his office for an hour and a half? Doing flashcards for her schoolwork? It’s unprofessional and it doesn’t reflect well on his work ethic; that’s a lot of time for him not to be working. I’m more concerned about that than I am about her seeing students’ information, although that’s a concern too.

This is really for his manager to deal with, but if you have the kind of seniority where you could give him a pointed, concerned look as you pass his office, I’m grinch-like enough to do that.

3. Who should announce my promotion to my team?

I have been working for my dream org for about seven months. I was a manager previously in a somewhat different industry, so I very willingly took an entry-level position there. My manager (who was amazing) recently left the organization for a higher level position, but before she did, she sought me out and asked me to apply for her position.

So I did, and they just offered it to me (hurray)! However, both HR and my now-direct-manager have asked me to wait to tell my team. My now-manager is going to come into our office and announce it to everyone, and I am uncomfortable with that. I would really prefer to get my team together and tell them myself; I don’t want them to think I was hiding it from them (I just wanted to be sure I had the job before I said anything) and I worry that it will feel to them like a big shot coming in and essentially proclaiming me their boss. I know the personalities of the people I work with, and I am just not sure that this will go over very well; I really don’t want to blindside them, and I feel like it may erode their trust in me a bit. It’s already a huge jump for me from where they’re sitting: basically from Teapot Representative to Master of Teapots in a very short period of time. This position means the world to me and I don’t want to start off on the wrong foot with my team or my new manager!

Is there any way I can bring this up to my new manager that won’t negatively impact his perception of me? Everything seems so fragile right now, I’m hesitant to make a move. Am I overly worried about the announcement? Is this common practice regarding promotions? I’ve never done this before in quite so formal a setting, so I’m a little lost.

It’s actually pretty common to do it this way. That way, they can talk about why they selected you and why they think you’ll do a good job, and hopefully set up the transition to be a smooth one. In fact, it could be a little weird if you yourself announce out of the blue that you’re their new boss, particularly if they didn’t know that this was a possibility being considered.

That said, if your knowledge of your coworkers points to a particular framing or way of delivering the message being better than the others, you should certainly give that input to whoever is making the announcement. But I’d let it come from them, rather than from you, so that you can avoid an Alexander Haig “I’m in control here” moment.

4. Is it better to contact someone via email or LinkedIn?

I have received several excellent recommendations from employees of a company that I want to work for. I have been told by one of those employees – a former colleague from a past employer – that the hiring manager was included on those recommendations and is interested in finding the “right fit” for me at this company (they’re in the process of expanding and are evaluating their future needs before proceeding with opening up new positions).

I recently updated my resume by using a number of things I have learned from reading AAM and sent him an email through LinkedIn earlier this week, asking if it would be okay if I sent him an updated resume. I have not heard back from him yet, and was wondering if it would be a bad idea to contact him via “regular” email – or if I should just let things be. I did see that he had viewed my profile (for the second time) literally the day I had sent the LinkedIn email – but I have no way of knowing if it was because he read that email or it was just a coincidence. I certainly don’t want to come across as pushy or annoying.

Eh, I’d let it be for now. Ideally you would have emailed him directly the first time. There’s really no advantage to using LinkedIn for something like this, and there are some disadvantages, like the fact that the message is less noticeable there than it might be in his actual in-box and the possible annoyance factor of having to use LinkedIn to communicate when most people find email more straightforward. Also, ideally you would have just sent him the resume rather than asking if he wanted you to; there’s no need to have a whole email chain about it when it’s more efficient to just include it the first time.

But at this point, it’s in his court.

5. I don’t want to provide a letter of resignation

I gave two weeks notice and my employer wants a letter of resignation. This is after 23 years of employment. I live in PA and do not have any contractual responsibility.

It’s not uncommon for an employer to ask for a letter of resignation. It’s to document that you resigned voluntarily instead of being fired. It’s going to look really weird to refuse, and I can’t think of a reason not to provide one; it’ll take about two sentences and 20 seconds, and it won’t create any contractual responsibility.

company wants me to pay back half my salary since I only worked a few months and “didn’t add enough value”

A reader writes:

I recently joined a startup, and I didn’t like it all. They lied to me multiple times:

1) The founder told me they were were profitable, but four weeks in the job I found out they do not make money at all. They have some revenue, but it’s pretty minimal compared to the expenses. They survive on VC money.

2) We agreed that I would work remotely and visit the office once a month. However, on my first visit there, the founder was trying to force me to sign a lease at an apartment in the city, so that I could move there ASAP.

3) They told me they were pretty relaxed and they worked only the standard business hours, and understood that family comes first, blah blah blah. First day on the job, the founder emails me and tells me that the working hours are 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. every single day. But I can have weekends for myself (thank you?).

I’m pretty disappointed. I saw many red flags and chose to ignore them. To begin with, the founder refused to give me an offer letter until I had officially resigned from my current workplace.

I just quit because I can’t stand it anymore. I gave the standard 2 weeks notice, and now the founder has emailed me saying that since I worked less than six months with them, and I did not add enough value to the team, I should reimburse the company half of my wages.

Is that even legal?!?! I’m pretty pissed off that they lied to me, and they want my salary back?

They’re welcome to ask you to turn over your firstborn too, but that doesn’t mean you have any obligation to do it.

They can ask for whatever they want, and you can refuse, assuming no contractual obligations to the contrary.

Obviously you should under no circumstances even entertain the possibility of returning any of your salary, let alone half.

But just to be thorough, I’ll point out that, depending on what your total salary was, it’s possible that returning half of it could (a) put your pay for the time you worked under minimum wage, which indeed would be illegal, or (b) put you beneath the minimum salary to be considered exempt, which could make you retroactively non-exempt, which would mean they’d owe you overtime for any hours over 40 you worked in a week, plus penalties and interest.

Please decline to return any money to them and count yourself lucky to be getting away when you are.