Sunday free-for-all – December 21, 2014

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Olive with menorahThis 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 non-work only; if you have a work question, you can email it to me or post it in the work-related open thread on Fridays.)

Have at it.

update: a company I want to work for blocked me on social media

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Remember the letter-writer who got blocked on social media by a company she wanted to work for (after blogging about them and tagging them on Twitter)? Here’s the update.

For those who wondered, I applied and did land an interview. I was pretty excited, as it was a job posting from this company that originally brought the desired industry to my attention in the first place.

Unfortunately, the experience once I got there was quite disappointing. I felt out of place from the minute I walked in the door (the building was very artsy, and mostly occupied by techy hipsters). It took several minutes to track down the interviewer (there was no one at the front desk), and once the interview started, I felt even more out of place. The team interviewing me asked very generic, basic questions, and their body language screamed “uninterested!” I just got the feeling that they were looking down their noses at me, despite selecting me for an interview. It was like being a nerd sitting with the popular kids: there may be some pleasantries exchanged, but it’s just awkward.

As it turns out, I didn’t really have to worry about if the social media issue would come up–the entire interview was only 10 minutes long (I know this because I checked my watch when I left). I left with a bad taste in my mouth, but I still wrote a “thank you” email, to which I got a response a few days later saying that the position had already been filled.

Even though I wasted a whole day off for what ended up being a very short interview, I am glad it happened because I would have always wondered what working there would be like. That day, any illusions I had came crashing to reality, and now, whenever I see a posting for that company, I steer clear. I am still searching for a new job, and hoping a great opportunity will come my way soon.

4 updates from readers

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Here are four more updates from letter-writers who had their questions answered here this year.

1. How to respond to an anonymous note that says a temp is stealing

Unfortunately my update is not all that exciting. The person who was accused of stealing resigned a few months after my letter, entirely voluntarily. We hired a new admin who controls all of the receipts, and at my request I was able to hand off all purchasing to that person. We never got to the bottom of who sent those emails. I have my guesses, but no concrete evidence. As far as I know, no further anonymous emails have been sent.

One product indirectly related has been HR doing a lot more to try and fix some of the toxic work environment. The anonymous emails were more likely a product of some bad chemistry in the office, and there have been efforts to clean it up. It’s not perfect yet, but it has gotten better. But being saddled with the knowledge that there might be an anonymous person falsely accusing people of things, in my opinion, was much more indicative of a bigger internal problem.

Either way, sorry there is no concrete conclusion – but know that and a few other incidents have caused HR to try and help fix some of the chemistry internally.

2. How to reward an exceptional employee (#2 at the link)

I did take much of the advice to heart. Was she going to burn out? Was there professional development that I should be encouraging? Were the rewards not appropriate thank-you’s?

Exceptional employee continues to be exceptional.

I got budget approval and hiring approval for a part-time assistant for her. That position will start in January.

I was able to find the money and approval for her to attend a national conference important in our field next summer.

I was able to offload some interesting projects from my desk onto hers. She is still exceeding expectations.

I took back a responsibility that she mentioned that she found onerous (I had no problem and when things ease up, I will have her give it another try)

There have been no more giving of power bars or swag as I haven’t been to COSTCO and there is no more swag.

She will receive a merit raise next May.

3. Applying for a job with someone you previously interviewed with (#4 at the link)

I realize this is from 2012, but it has taken a while to work out. I left my job in December 2012 after filing a group harassment grievance against my supervisor. I have since received trauma counseling (clearly I could have written you many many times!). I ended up getting a part time job at the nonprofit I mentioned, which was given to me without an interview based on our previous encounters.

The former classmate interviewed for my similar position and was unsuccessful in being hired from the candidate pool. I went back to front line child protection in fall of 2013 when my hours were cut to four per week at the non profit. The previous classmate managed to get on in my division a few months ago.

I’m happy to say that while I have a very stressful job I have generous benefits ($73k plus 6 weeks PTO and overtime if wanted).

4. My coworker is making hateful comments about a foreign country (#1 at the link)

I wrote in about the radical coworker concerned about his home country. Well, fortunately, the outlandish comments and posts have died down, especially with all the new crises and problems going on. I did my part, and printed out and shared some of his posts with my boss, and that’s as far as it went. The concerned employees no longer feel he’s a threat to the office. (In fact, there’s another employee who has been having his own meltdowns, but that’s a story for another post.)

is this request from a networking contact weird?

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A reader writes:

I am transitioning out of my current career (military) and am in the job search process. I recently received a LinkedIn connection request from someone who claims to run a nonprofit to help veterans in my particular skill area find civilian jobs. From his profile, he looks pretty legitimate, with lots of recommendations from people he’s helped in the past. However, I can’t really find any information about his nonprofit on the web, except for a couple of blog posts that only mention his name and the nonprofit’s name.

He then sent me a message telling me to “get his email from the most senior person I know” and to send him my resume once I have it.

This seemed a very strange way to offer assistance and made me balk at following up with him. He sent another message a few days ago emphasizing the free assistance but again instructed me to “talk to senior people about this job network.” It was very oddly phrased and didn’t make a lot of sense.

Is the “get my email from someone senior” thing simply a way for him to ensure that I’m legitimate? Is that normal? That seems odd, especially since his email address is in his LinkedIn profile.

My current gut feeling is that this person is well-meaning but, based on the oddly phrased messages, would probably not be very helpful and that I’m better off not following up.

Yeah, that’s weird.

I can’t say for sure whether this guy could be helpful or not. There are certainly weird people aplenty out there who, in addition to their weirdness, also manage to be helpful. It’s possible that this guy is one of them. It’s also possible that he’s weird and unhelpful and doesn’t know he’s doing.

Do you know anyone who likely knows him or knows of him? If so, you might as well ask about him and see what you find out. If not, I wouldn’t put a ton of time of time into tracking down information about him, but hey, since his email address is available on LinkedIn anyway, why not use it to send him your resume and see if anything comes of it? You’re not obligated to work with him if at any point you conclude that you don’t want to, but there’s no real harm in taking a step further and seeing what you learn.

open thread – December 19, 2014

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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 :)

HR manager wrote us up for drinking at a party she attended, my assistant goes overboard on gifts, and more

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

1. HR manager wrote us up for drinking at a party she attended

I attended an unauthorized party in the office where alcohol was served (clearly against company policy). Everyone in the department was invited, and many of us took part in the libations. No one got drunk, everyone behaved professionally. It was intended to be and was a great morale booster.

The HR manager came and did not drink. The next day, she called everyone who did drink up to her office for a verbal/written reprimand. She told me, and everyone else I presume, that it was confidential and that she was having to do this because someone from another department found out and told her about it and she felt compelled to reprimand us.

I inadvertently learned from her boss that she had all the documents prepared immediately after the party, which was the day before she claimed she got a phone call from outside the department.

She was right, we should not have had alcohol at work. My beef is that she came to the party, I believe she knew alcohol was going to be served, and she took names and lied about why she was reprimanding us. My gut tells me to shake it off and learn from it. On the other hand, having a deceitful HR manager is a huge problem. Should I call her out for lying?

It’s a little weird and I can see why you’re wondering about it, but I’d let it go. Who knows, maybe your source got the timeline wrong. Or maybe there was no source, and she said there was because she was too wimpy to admit it was based on her own concerns and what she herself witnessed. Who knows. But I don’t think there’s much/anything to be gained by bringing it up, let alone “calling her out for lying.” I’d let it go.

2. My assistant goes overboard on gifts to me and even my kids

You’ve answered several questions already about whether it’s appropriate to give a holiday gift to one’s boss, and I completely agree with you that gifts should go “downhill” and not the other way around. Here’s another spin, and I’m hoping you have a good answer. I am the boss (female, if it matters), and my amazing, overqualified secretary sends small gifts to my home, for not only the holidays, but for my kids’ birthdays as well. It makes me really uncomfortable, but I don’t know how to tell her.

Her work is terrific, and she’s a lovely person, but I’m really concerned that if I don’t couch it in the right way, she’ll be (1) mortified, (2) more anxious than is her norm, and/or (3) really hurt if I tell her that she really need not send me gifts. To give you a glimpse into her personality, she sends (via snail mail) handwritten thank you notes for everything–she even sent me a handwritten thank you note for a grocery bag full of my kids’ books that I thought her (younger than mine) kids might enjoy. It’s very sweet, but it’s just too much.

It’s too late for this year, but I’d love to find a gentle way of making it stop.

Oooof. I don’t know that you can, not without hurting her feelings. She’s going so far beyond what can normally be the result of obligation (basic holiday gifts) to something so different (gifts for your kids’ birthdays, etc.) that it sounds like this might just be her personality. And if that’s the case, and she takes pleasure in it, I think you risk doing more harm than good by making her feel that she’s been in the wrong all this time. It sounds like you’re really happy with her work and she’s just an incredibly thoughtful person, so I wouldn’t risk causing awkwardness. This is a case where I think you can make an exception to the usual advice on this stuff.

You could certainly say something like, “I hope you never feel any obligation to do this — your fantastic work is all the gift I’lll ever need,” but I wouldn’t push it beyond that.

3. Should I help answer the phones when it will distract from my work?

I’m in a new position, which only allows us to work part-time, but we have to accomplish a lot in five hours. We usually have to perform tasks that involve coordinating dates, while working on complicated spreadsheets. Things need to get done in tight deadlines. Many of our tasks demand full attention, and a mistake can carry serious consequences.

The office has a customer service representative who answers calls, but when things get really busy, sometimes we’re supposed to pick up the extra calls (which happens fairly often).

I’ve seen many times where the phone has rung and nobody has answered the call, even though we’ve been told that everyone should participate in answering the phone. What should I do when there’s a coworker with seniority telling me to pick up the phone, even though I have a deadline and only five hours to complete everything? Should I ignore her request? Should I be sincere and tell her I’m too busy? Or should I simply respond the call and delay all my work? I’m new, and I really don’t want to have any confrontations.

No, you shouldn’t just ignore her. If she has seniority over you, and you’ve been told you’re supposed to be helping with the phones, you need to help with the phones. However, if you’re concerned about how helping with the phones will impact your ability to get your work done, you should raise that with your manager. (Even better would be if you and your coworkers all raise it as a group, since it sounds like you’re all in the same boat.)

4. I was promoted without a raise

I work in a small company as a manager supervising just one person. Besides me, there is another manager who supervises four employees. Though he and I have the same grade level, he is considered the “right hand” of the VP who we both report to.

A few months ago, the VP shared with me that that the other manager is not efficient in his position and she wanted me to supervise him instead. I told her that my job was to help her and the company to the best of my abilities but that her decision has to be clear and documented so that other employees will see the new reorganization as being fair. This was my way of telling her that we needed to discuss the salary and the “promotion” details first before I assumed the new position. She said she would discuss it with the president of the company. During the following days, she mentioned a few other times that her intention was to have me supervise the whole team (the manager and his 4 direct reports). She said she also talked to him about this.

Today, she called both of us in and announced that starting the first of the year, he will be reporting to me. I was shocked. I was brave enough to ask her (after the other manager left the room) how this change will affect my title and work. I should have really said what I thought, which is what will be my new salary? She responded that she was still thinking about this and that I should be having an office now (I am currently in a cubicle and so is the other manager). How do I go about telling her that I do not want this new position if I will be paid the same salary for a higher position? I know for a fact that the other manager that she wants me to supervise has a higher salary than me.

Well, first, telling her that you wanted the decision to be clear and documented is not the same thing as telling her that you wanted to discuss the salary. It doesn’t really sound like that at all, in fact, so I don’t think you should be irked that she didn’t interpret that correctly.

It’s a little tricky now because she’s moved everything forward without having talked about salary with you, but you could go back to her ASAP and say, “We haven’t had a chance to discuss the salary for this new role. I’m hoping for something in the range of $X — is that feasible?”

Unfortunately, because you didn’t raise it earlier, you’re not in an especially strong negotiating position (and you also risk her feeling like you already accepted the job without a raise, since … you kind of did), but it’s worth a shot. If she pushes back for that reason, you could try saying that you were caught off-guard at the earlier meeting and hadn’t had a chance to think everything through since you’d expected a one-on-one conversation with her before things were finalized.

5. Why has my title change stalled?

My question is about updating my title. I’ve been at the organization for three years, and my role has changed and expanded quite a bit. I’ve asked both our division director and the head of HR about updating my title to reflect my current role. About a month ago, both agreed that was a good idea and said my list of potential titles looked good, then told me they’d have to check with the other to finalize. Neither have done so, to my knowledge, and I’m not sure with whom to restart the conversation. I’m not asking for or expect a raise along with it, so I don’t know what the cause of the delay is.

The delay could just be caused by it not being super high on their priority lists, but it’s fine to nudge them. You could approach either, but I’d start with your manager and just say something like, “I’m wondering if you’ve had a chance to talk to Jane about changing my title, and what the timeline might look like for making that happen.”

update: I reported my awful manager to HR and it’s not going well

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Remember the letter-writer who reported her awful manager to HR, and then HR stopped talking to her? Here’s the update.

I took everyone’s advice and got out of there. Actually, when I resigned, two of my coworkers resigned the following week.

When I returned back from my approved FMLA, I had a meeting with HR and my manager to “discuss” the finding from the investigation. The director of HR gave me the findings along with the formal statements from my coworkers (which were in support of my manager’s behavior and painted her to be the victim). I was shocked, but I continued to complete my job responsibilities and my manager ignored and avoided me the rest of the month (October).

Adam*, a coworker, gave me a copy of his formal statement which didn’t match at all what I was shown in the investigation upon my return and I asked him if this was the same statement he submitted to HR. When he said yes, I told him HR gave me a different statement that didn’t match the his original.

It turned out, the director of HR altered and fabricated the formal statements from my coworkers and showed the false ones to my manger (which gave her an ego stroke) before I returned from FMLA. She then went around her department badmouthing my disability to these coworkers, calling me a cripple, and telling Adam*, Frank* and Chad* that this is the reason she hates hiring people with disabilities because there is always a possibility that they will need to be out of the office on leave.

When I found out all of this information, I knew nothing was going to change, so I resigned. Shortly after my resignation (less than 24 hours to be exact), my coworkers told me in an email that they all sat down with the director of HR and manager and were forced to sign a document or be terminated from the company by the end of the week. The document said that if I took any legal action against the company that they were to make it seem like I was the one attacking the manager and I had made up everything in exchange for a hefty raise the following month. Adam* snapped a picture of the letter and submitted his resignation letter. A few days later, Frank*, another coworker, submitted his resignation letter, and the last coworker, Chad, requested he be moved to a different department within the company immediately, which was approved in mid November.

The four of us ended up retaining an highly rated and recommended employment lawyer and I filed an EEOC complaint. We were all able to find stable employment weeks after our resignation, but one thing continues for me. Every Monday, I get a voicemail from my previous bad manager sobbing, crying, and apologizing, then telling me if I need anything to let her know and she will help me. I’ve sent her an email and CC’d the director of HR about the odd behavior and asked her to stop contacting me.

Thank you again for your advice and assistance! It helped me out tremendously.

*= Names have been changed

3 updates from readers

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Here are three more updates from people who had their questions answered here this year.

1. My boss is infesting our office with fruit flies

Shortly after the fruit fly incident, our offices were moved from the auxillary building into the main corporate building, which provided a new environment. Part of this move involved the boss losing his private office, and being partially demoted (his job duties were restructured and although he retains the title of “manager” for now, he no longer has any actual manager duties). That move for him was due to many factors which had been brewing for a while.

I on the other hand, have been promoted, and with the company structure my new position has me under the wide HR umbrella (all of our training is under the HR division) as the LMS (Learning Management System) Administrator/Training Coordinator. I no longer work for the fruit fly breeding boss, but I do still have to interact with him. He is rarely actually at his desk, which cuts down on the amount of time he has to make food messes.

Also as part of the move, I was able to have a sincere chat with the VP (his VP and my former VP) about a lot of things, and some other issues involving that boss have begun being resolved.

I love my new position though, and I am still an avid reader of Ask A Manager, although I haven’t had anything strange happen lately to contribute to it!

2. My coworker was arrested for a horrifying crime and is returning to work

You and your readers were insightful and helpful and I wish I could provide a better update, but the man involved never did come back to work, he was completely deleted from the company email address book, all traces of him were removed from all work projects and documents and he was never spoken of again by anyone, ever. It’s like he was vanished.

I hear he still lives in the very small town the company operates out of and he keeps in touch with one of my coworkers (who doesn’t talk about him or answer questions about him), but at work no one speaks his name.

Probably for the best.

3. Giving gifts to my team when one person can’t accept gifts (#2 at the link)

Just a follow-up that I took my team out to lunch. Everyone was excited to go out to eat again (and actually, they seemed pleasantly surprised that we were doing so), and it was a very pleasant experience. Conversation was not as stilted or awkward as I feared, and everyone helped carry the conversation when there was a lull.

Otherwise, my big take-away’s from this are:

a) to be cautious when looking to other departments for examples. As a new manager, I find myself often looking to see what everyone else is doing, in an attempt to match campus culture. However, just because other departments are doing something one way, doesn’t mean it is a good idea or a good fit for my team.

b) to be less possessive about my manager bonus. When I finally started getting my manager stipend ($70/ month) in September, I excitedly started docking it away in my savings, thinking of it as my reward for the extra work I was putting in. I have since realized that I need to be prepared to spend a lot of that on things to support my team (whether it be supplies or thank-you lunches). It is hard to phrase that without sounding like I am whining, but I am not. I have realized that is just the expectation of this position.

c) to be gracious with gifting. I realized that if I was going to be a sourpuss about spending money to take the team out for lunch, that would come across to the team no matter how hard I tried to hide it. I made the conscious decision that I was doing this to sincerely thank them for their hard work, not because I “had to.” When the end of lunch came around, I sincerely encouraged everyone to get dessert, and everyone seemed delighted & surprised to do so. One teammate pulled on my sleeve and asked if I or the college was paying for lunch (because she didn’t want to order dessert if I was paying). The kindness of that gesture blew away my last reserves of selfishness, and I quickly explained that I got a small raise for being department head, and that is what I was using to pay for lunch. I told her to think of it as the college paying for it, just via their raise to me.

In the end, I did end up spending several month’s worth of my manager’s bonus on lunch, but it was very much worth it.

I want to thank you and all of the commentators for their helpful advice. This experience of asking for advice has taught me to have a great deal more empathy when people do something that seems completely villainous (because they probably just weren’t thinking!). I really, really appreciate the patient, constructive help that people offered in the comments section.

Just a note from me here: It’s very much not normal to be expected to spend your own money on gifts, lunches, and supplies for your team (especially when your pay only increased by $70/month for taking on management responsibilities). If that’s the culture of your organization, just know that it’s very, very weird — not something you should normally expect to find, and it’s absolutely reasonable to be annoyed/disgusted by it, as well as to choose not to play along.

how to throw an office holiday party people won’t dread

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Every December, I receive tons of complaints from people about ways their companies are mishandling the holiday party — from making employees pay to attend, to throwing a lavish event right after laying people off. The whole point of throwing a holiday party is supposed to to increase employee morale, so holding an event that does the opposite is a serious fail.

Three years ago, I put together eight rules for throwing a company party that employees will want to attend. They’re here. (It’s a repeat while my thumb continues to recover!)

my boss wants to personally reimburse me for a payroll error

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A reader writes:

Early this summer, my workplace switched to a new time tracking system. Sometime in the first few pay periods that it was in use, my paycheck came up 8 hours short. I brought it to the attention of my manager the next week; he said he would check with payroll to find out what happened. It’s not clear from the time tracking system where the error originated: I may have made an error when I entered my time, my manager may have made an error when he approved my time, or the system itself may have introduced the error.

I followed up with my manager several times, though in retrospect I probably wasn’t doing so as often or as aggressively as I should have.

My manager came to me the other day, and told me that he’d goofed. He waited too long to talk to payroll about the error, and by the time he did, they told him it was too late to correct that paycheck. And because I’m salaried exempt, there isn’t any mechanism for them to just add 8 hours to an upcoming check. My manager’s solution: he’s going to reimburse me out of his own pocket for the error. He just needs for me to tell him what my hourly rate was for that paycheck.

I’m not sure how I should respond. It’s great that my manager wants to make sure I get payed at his own expense, and maybe that’s fair since apparently it’s his procrastination that prevented it from being corrected through payroll. On the other hand, I’m not particularly comfortable taking money from him personally, when we don’t know who’s ultimately at fault for the original error. And finally, despite any procrastination, I feel that this needs to be addressed at the corporate level, by payroll. If their system is capable of preventing a salaried, exempt employee from receiving additional pay, shouldn’t it be equally impossible for it to short that pay within a single week or pay period?

What do you suggest? Should I just accept the money and be happy I got it? Should I push back on corporate taking responsibility (are they responsible by wage regulations?)

It makes no sense that they claim they’re unable to fix it now. First, if they’re able to dock pay from an exempt employee (something that shouldn’t generally be happening except in very rare and limited circumstances), of course they’re able to add it back in. Even aside from that, of course they’re able to add it back in — in the same way they’d do any other pay adjustments, like a one-time bonus. So you’re right to call BS on that.

Second, it doesn’t matter how easy or difficult their system makes this. The law requires employers to pay employees correctly, period. So they need to find a way to pay you the money owed. They can’t arbitrarily decide that it’s been too long; the law obligates them to pay you correctly.

I’d say this to your boss: “I really appreciate you wanting to make this right at personal expense to yourself, but I really think it needs to be corrected by the company so that my payroll records and tax reporting are correct. Also, the law is really clear on companies being obligated to pay employees all money due, even if it’s from a mistake discovered a few months later, and I don’t want us to get into legally problematic territory. Is there someone we can escalate this to so that it’s handled correctly through payroll?”