weekend open thread – May 30-31, 2020

In the 11 weeks since we adopted him, Shadow (left) has never responded to the name he came to us with. So we have renamed him Theodore Laurence, and he will go by Laurie, like his namesake in Little Women.

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand. (This one is truly no work and no school.)

Book recommendation of the week: We Are Not Ourselves, by Matthew Thomas. A long family saga (the best kind) about love, loss, and the American dream. Every character in here frustrated me at some point, but that made them more real.

* I make a commission if you use that Amazon link.

updates: the not-flirting coworker and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, when I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. My coworkers think I’m flirting with them

I wrote to you just about a year ago to ask for advice on how to deal with an awkward situation at work where some coworkers thought that I was flirting/“had a connection” with them, and others were trying to set me up. I wasn’t interested, both for professional reasons and also because I am a lesbian and did not want to disclose that due to company culture at the time. I really appreciated all of the advice I got from yourself and the commenters, both in some reassurance that it might not be totally my fault, and also some practical tips on how to handle some of the problem coworkers. My biggest takeaways were to be more aware of how often I talk about personal matters with some coworkers, being more aware of personal space, and being more explicit about boundaries.

I do think that those measures helped somewhat, but the biggest change was actually out of my control. We had a new high-level manager come in who was openly gay, and our fairly conservative culture surrounding LGBTQ+ issues in the workplace seemed to shift almost overnight. He has been a huge positive force in our office for the community, and I came out to my coworkers (in a lowkey way) a few months ago, and awkwardness around trying to set me up and interest in my dating life have gone way down since then. There have been some weird conversations, but in general my work life is so much happier now. I think the big takeaway for me is how important it is to have diverse groups of people in visible positions of influence.

Many thanks to yourself and all the members of the AAM community who weighed in on my question!

2. What’s our responsibility for fixing a coworker’s poor work?

I am pleased to say that John no longer works for our organization! I don’t think I can take credit for it, but I did change my attitude towards him and my messaging towards Rupert as a result of the feedback I got from you. While I never had to give John any feedback, as he never completed another significant work item in the few months he kept working here, I was more upfront with Rupert at pointing out any time John’s failure to produce work or poor workmanship made things more difficult for me.

It turns out that shortly after the letter was published, Rupert gave John notice that he would be laid off in two months. It didn’t go smoothly, John was in denial for over a month and insisted that it was not actually going to happen even after the rest of the staff had been notified and continued trying to plan vacation time and work events for after his layoff date. The layoff was delayed at one point to deal with John’s difficulty processing this. John did not complete any work assigned in his last few weeks, did some very strange things around clearing out his desk, and refused to speak directly to anyone besides Rupert in his last week. Rupert is still trying to help John find a job somewhere doing work more suited to him, but unfortunately it’s become very clear that John advanced beyond his abilities and all the positions that John might legitimately do well at make far less money and have less prestige so John refuses to apply for them. Rupert has apologized to the rest of the staff for the drawn out process thanked us for our patience.

I did leave one point out of the original letter because I thought it wasn’t relevant but would be distracting. In retrospect, while I don’t think it’s very relevant to John’s behaviour, it is relevant to Rupert’s, and I did a disservice to Rupert by leaving it out. John has autism. I didn’t think it was relevant because John had been given every possible accommodation anyone could think of and “allow him to waste time all day and not actually work” is not a reasonable accommodation. John has autism, and John is a lazy jerk, and I don’t see those things as in any way connected. Rupert was concerned that John would have problems processing and adapting to a normal lay off, so tried to soften it by first allowing John to try and find other work while still technically still working for us, and then by giving him a very long notice period for the layoff. Putting aside whether or not it was handled right, Rupert is a genuinely kind person who was trying to do right by a long-time employee.

3. Getting news of a death right before an interview (#3 at the link)

I was the person who was informed of a friend’s death just before an interview.

I wasn’t able to reach out to the previous hiring manager because I didn’t have their contact info, and because I was in such shock I did not track people’s information well enough to try and find it. I did apply to the new position, and made it through to the final round of 1/2 day interviews, I don’t think they even tracked I was the same person from the year prior. I did really well in those interviews, very much due to your advice, but ultimately did not get the position. I got a lot of positive feedback, and feel that if another position opened up, I could apply if I was ready to make a move. I’ve stayed with my current position because I was accepted into a student loan repayment program, and I am about to be offered a supervisory position here. It will be my first time negotiating my salary, and look forward to using your advice for that as well.

it’s your Friday good news

It’s your Friday good news, with more accounts of success even in this weird time.

1. In November, I was laid off from my work where I had been happy and successful for eight years. As required by employment law in Germany, effective in three months. I was devastated. Luckily my boss allowed me to go home for the rest of the day.

After crying a little and reaching out for support from my TeamMe, I immediately found two job postings that sounded perfect for my qualifications. So I updated my resume and wrote smashing cover letters, following advice from AAM. Since I am not in the US but in Germany, I was a little worried that the style might violate application norms — especially listing accomplishments instead of responsibilities. However, within two weeks after sending in the application, I was invited to an interview, and two days after the interview I received the job offer.

Since March, I am working at a great organisation, have interesting work, a modest salary increase, a 30% shorter commute, and am not affected by the furloughs at my former employer.

This was an incredibly fast job search, and I believe that the resume and my enthusiasm for the position (which I let show clearly in the cover letter and in the interview) are the reason. Many thanks to Alison and the AAM commentariat!

My take-away lesson from this is that a seeming catastrophe can be the beginning for something extraordinarily wonderful.

2. I’ve been an avid AAM reader since college, and it’s helped me grow so much in my first job and my move into a managerial role. It really hit home recently when, after a few months from working from home, I began to realize that I wasn’t feeling the same passion for my current industry as I was several years ago. After doing some searching, I found a position in an entirely different industry (online education) and applied.

Thanks to your cover letter advice, I was able to get an interview and, as of yesterday, a conditional job offer! Not only have I nearly doubled my salary, I now have an amazing benefits package and I’ve positioned myself in a fairly safe industry given the current circumstances.

The biggest thing I’ve learned from this is that you don’t have to check every single box on a job description to be a good fit. I was worried that my technical skills wouldn’t be enough for the job, only to find out during the interview they were more interested in my ability to work in a team. I’m so excited to get started in this new job and it wouldn’t have been possible without all of y’all here at AAM. Thank you!

3. I started reading AAM last year after an abrupt change in supervisors turned a fantastic job into one that had me sobbing at the end of every day. Reading your advice helped me realize that my situation was not okay, was not my fault, and helped me leverage my talents into getting a new job in the middle of the pandemic. Even though I’m taking a pay cut, my new managers and coworkers are amazing and already supportive, and the job will give me the opportunity to develop new skills that I have been wanting for a while. They’re even making time for me to visit the physical work environment, so I know where I’ll be working when we eventually go back to in-person work (which this job most certainly will).

Here’s what I learned from your columns:

-A toxic work environment is NOT NORMAL. There should never be public shaming. Feedback should be constructive, not destructive, even when an employee is not meeting expectations. Managers should use professional language at all times. Any deviations from those expectations are not my fault.

-My mental health is worth more than my salary. Period.

Group interviews are demeaning. During my job search I ended up in a surprise group interview via Zoom, and thanks to your columns I had the confidence to exit immediately and express my willingness to participate in an individual interview. When I was told that “all the candidates are collaborating” in the group interview, I knew that wasn’t the right position for me, and withdrew my application.

-Interviews are as much about finding the right candidate as they are about finding the right job. I spent some time identifying where I thought my current position was problematic and crafted a few questions I could ask during interviews to probe for their approach. I thought about what I wanted a manager to say, and what would be red flags.

-I identified my non-negotiables before the job search, and advocated for them during interviews. I phrased it like this: “If you hire me, it will be to do [my specialty] not to do [a common function that I despise]. While I understand the needs of the company may mean I have to do [despised work] from time to time, what can we do to make sure that is minimized?” Absolutely none of my interviewers batted an eye at that statement, and the job I accepted even modified the job description to address my concerns. This was huge in my mind – any company that is willing to adjust a job to match the strengths of a candidate recognizes they’re hiring a person, not a machine. When difficult situations inevitably arise, I bet they’ll remember the humans involved, and deal with them in a positive manner.

-If possible, ask to speak to an employee who doesn’t have a stake in the hiring process. When I had an offer, I asked if there was another employee I could speak to about the work environment. Neither company had a problem with it, and I was able to ask some more specific questions that needed answers from a non-manager. It might not work in all industries, but I don’t have the benefit of Glassdoor for mine and didn’t have contacts at the specific departments I would work in. This was a great way to get the “inside scoop” on what the work environment was really like.

-Hold out for the right position – decline offers that aren’t the right fit even if you don’t have a better one. I had a gut-wrenching time when a job that I was iffy about made me an offer, and I felt so desperate I was almost ready to take it. But I slept on it, and realized I’d just be trading the devil I knew for the possible devil I didn’t. I waited two more weeks for other possibilities to come through and found a position that is a much better fit.

open thread – May 29-30, 2020

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 do not repost it here, as it may be in my queue to answer.

my boss wants me to make DIY disinfecting wipes to mail to employees, company won’t reimburse my plane ticket, and more

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

1. My boss wants me to make DIY disinfecting wipes to send to employees

My role is administrative in nature and I tend to do any ad hoc projects for the company. My boss is suggesting we put together COVID care package for our team, which I think is a great idea. However, supplies are still limited and I feel she is asking only for herself because SHE does not have any of the supplies and this would be the easy way for her to get them.

I was able to get together masks and hand sanitizer after much going around town. Now she wants disinfecting wipes, which are very hard to get anywhere. She suggested I look up do-it-yourself recipes to make my own for the team. I got really annoyed at this; it involves trying to obtain more resources that are not readily available, like bleach. This puts me in a position of running around trying to obtain things that aren’t easy to get, and frankly I do not want to wait in long lines and have to visit five Costcos around town. Plus I have other work on my plate. Isn’t hand sanitizer and masks enough to get the message across to employees that we’re trying? Am I completely being selfish in not wanting to do this?

You’re not being selfish; she’s being unreasonable. Asking you make do-it-yourself disinfecting wipes for your colleagues?

Say this: “I don’t feel equipped to make disinfecting wipes myself, or to risk the amount of public exposure it would take to try to find all the ingredients for them. I think everyone knows wipes just aren’t available right now and will appreciate what we were able to get. So my plan is to go ahead and put the packages together with what we have, and I should be able to send them out by (date).”

If she pushes you to do it anyway, say, “I needed to visit a lot of stores to get the other items. I’d need to visit even more to do this, including waiting in long lines with people not wearing masks. I don’t feel safe continuing to do that. I’m also really not equipped to make them myself. I’d like to send out what we have and then return to focusing on X and Y.”

2. Company won’t reimburse me for my plane ticket because they canceled my interview

Earlier this year, I was interviewing all over the U.S. for positions in a field where long hiring timelines are normal. One organization had me purchase a flight to be reimbursed, but the interview turned virtual as the pandemic escalated. At the time, we agreed to keep the flight credit in hope that I’d be able to use it later if they went forward with me as a candidate. However, they now have a hiring freeze on that position. Meanwhile, I received a different offer that I’ve just finalized (yay!).

I still have this non-refundable and non-transferable $750 flight credit. Unfortunately, the organization told me they can’t reimburse it because the flight credit is essentially like cash that I could use for something other than traveling to their site. For a lot of reasons, I’m unlikely to use it before its expiration date — I won’t be flying for my upcoming relocation, my new city will be close to my hometown and family, and I consider planning optional travel amidst a pandemic to be reckless and unwise. Is there a way I can politely ask them to reconsider reimbursement?

Yeah, that isn’t at all okay of them. You spent this money only because they assured you they’d reimburse you, and you shouldn’t be out $750 (!) as a result.

Say this: “If the sticking point is the credit, I’d be happy to ask the airline to cancel the credit entirely, but I do need you to cover the expense as we had agreed. I advanced the cost of the ticket because I took your promise to reimburse me on good faith, and could not have purchased it otherwise. I can’t afford to be out $750, which is a significant sum to me. How do we get this taken care of?”

If that doesn’t work, I’d seriously consider asking a lawyer for help. This is spectacularly crappy of them.

3. Should I interview just for practice?

I work in academia and currently have a non-tenure-stream appointment. In my case, that means a full-time position with full benefits, and a four-year contract that can be renewed indefinitely but limited potential for salary increases and a higher workload than people in tenure-track positions.

Due to some recent modest success in my field, I’m in a position where I’m pretty sure I could get a tenure-track job if I were willing to move to another university in a smaller city or more remote area (and more senior professors have told me the same, so I don’t think it’s just my ego talking). However, I don’t really want to do this. I live near family and cherished friends, in a city with a low cost of living that I love, and I don’t think a better job elsewhere would match the other benefits of staying where I am.

A few of my friends (who are also professors) have suggested that I should go on the job market and see if I can get to the interview stage, just for the sake of practicing interviewing. That way, if a tenure-track position does open up in my home city (at my current university or another nearby college), or if I change my mind about moving some day, I’ll be better prepared for the process and will hopefully get the job.

I can see that this would be beneficial. Academic interviews are typically day-long affairs, and though I have learned some things about them by attending the interview proceedings at my own university when candidates visit, I’ve never gone through the process myself. However, it seems like kind of a jerk move to use a university’s resources to interview for a job that I know I don’t want. In addition to them paying the cost of flights, hotel, etc., there’s the time that everyone in the department invests in interviewing and considering candidates. And I’ve seen first-hand how exhausting and disappointing it is for a department to conduct a search and not end up with a hire at the end of the whole (loooooong) process.

Is this just the cost of doing business for them, and something I’d be smart to try? Universities have been known to do the opposite, interviewing a couple of candidates out of obligation to have a complete hiring process, when they already know who they want to hire. Or am I right that I shouldn’t waste their time and resources, and shouldn’t take the chance away from someone who really wants the job? Most schools only bring in the top three candidates for an interview, so I know it’s a long shot that I’d even find myself in this position if I did apply.

Don’t do it. Not only will you be wasting the university’s time and money, but you’ll be taking a coveted, highly competitive slot from someone who really wants it and could potentially get the job otherwise. The academic job market is awful enough without people taking very limited interview slots just for practice.

If you were genuinely open to accepting the job, that would be different — but if you’re just doing it for practice, you’d really be operating in bad faith. Don’t do it.

4. Can I ask for time off in between jobs?

I’m currently interviewing for a job and as the prospect of switching jobs during a mandatory work-from-home edges its way into reality, I’ve been wondering if I can still ask for a week off between start dates. Granted, I’ll still be at home and technically able to work but I’d still like to have that time to have some time to reset my brain. Is it still okay to do this? And if it is, what’s a better way to request that time other than “Brain tired! Brain want rest!”

It’s completely fine and normal to take some time off in between jobs. You don’t even really need to “ask” for it — you can just say, “Would June 20 work as a start date?” If they ask if there’s any way you can start sooner, you can say, “I need to give my current job two weeks notice, and then I’d like a week in between to wrap some things up and to have a few days in between the old role and the new one.”

One additional week is highly unlikely to be a big deal, but if for some reason it won’t work for them (for example, if they need you there for a training class that’s only offered every few months or something), they’ll tell you. But it’s a completely normal thing to do, people do it all the time, and it’s not any less acceptable just because they know you’ll be at home.

5. Hiring freezes and job offers

I love your advice and am sure it contributed to where I am now — two competing (kind of) job offers! Unfortunately, the first job, which I like a little more, told me about a month ago that they had a hiring freeze. However, they said they would be able to move forward with hiring “hopefully by September.” They said they would not ask me to wait until then, but that they would contact me when they are in a position to hire again and see if I hadn’t already found full-time work. I was disappointed but said yes of course I understand and that I hoped they’d be in touch. I continued interviewing and have been offered another job with a start date in mid-July. It’s less close to what I want, but the pay is about comparable.

Would it be worth it to get back in touch and say I received another offer, and could they offer me the position with a start date later in the year? Should I even say anything at all, or just assume it’s not going to happen and move on? Luckily I am in a position where I could forgo a new job for a little while, but I’m hesitant to turn down this most recent offer without a more solid plan in place. For context. I am in an industry where many jobs are going virtual with little interruption in business, but fewer new clients are being referred so many places have had hiring freezes. Although I’m not worried at all about things bouncing back to normal in a few months, new postings have been very scarce in the month or two I’ve been job searching.

I’d be very wary of doing that. For one thing, if they felt confident about offering you a position to start in the fall, they probably already would have done that — but they sound like they don’t know for sure when they’ll be able to move forward. They hope it will be the fall, but it might not be.

More importantly, though, even if they did agree to do that, you can’t rely on the job truly materializing in the fall. You don’t want to be in a situation where they you offer you a job with a fall start date, you accept and stop your job search, and then in September they tell you they won’t be ready to hire this year after all — and so you’ve got to start a new search from scratch at that point.

That job might never re-materialize. Or if it does, they might not offer it to you again — they might have someone else come along who they think is stronger, or it might go to someone internal in some reshuffling, or so forth.

You’ve really go to proceed as if there’s no job offer there (because right now there isn’t) and evaluate the offer you do have on its own merits.

my company charges us PTO when we work from home while sick

A reader writes:

I work at a small employer (under 100 employees) that, while dynamic and forward-thinking in its work, can be quite behind-the-times when it comes to administrative policies.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, my employer made all of us sign an addendum to our work policies/procedures, saying that if we are sick and don’t want to go into the office, we can still work from home. However, when we do this, four hours of PTO will automatically be deducted from our PTO bucket, even if we work the whole day from home. While this policy has been temporarily lifted during the pandemic as we are all working from home anyway, I’m worried about them reenacting this policy after the pandemic ends.

This policy concerns me for three reasons:

1. We have a very small amount of PTO, lumped together as both sick and vacation. We don’t have separate buckets for sick, vacation, or personal.
2. I’m not sure if this policy is completely legal.
3. We have a few 100% remote employees who live out of town, so this policy doesn’t apply to them. Therefore, it’s not a totally fair policy for the rest of us, since we don’t get extended the same privileges as these employees do just because we live within driving distance of the office.

I am not senior enough to feel I can challenge this policy. I’m also afraid of any sort of retaliation from the company owners, especially as they reassess whether or not they need to lay off people in the future. But I also don’t think we deserve to be cheated out of our PTO when we do indeed work a full day from home while sick.

This is a ridiculous policy, but it’s legal in most states.

What the law generally cares about is that you’re paid for the work you perform. If you’re not getting paid, the law has a problem with that. But it mostly doesn’t care whether your employer charges that pay to “work time” or to “PTO.”

California, which often has stronger employee protections than other states, might be an exception to this but I haven’t been able to find anything that says that definitively. (In California, if you work during a vacation, your employer has to count that as time worked and can’t dock your PTO for it — but they treat sick leave differently, and when it’s one big PTO bucket there’s some complicated stuff about how they assess what part of your PTO is really sick leave.) But this is moot because you told me your state (removed here for anonymity purposes) and it’s not one of the exceptions.

So they’re allowed to do what they’re doing. But it’s a terrible practice!

There’s no reason you should be charged PTO when you’re actually working. I’m guessing that they’re doing it because they think you’re less productive when you’re working from home while sick — but if that’s their worry, then they should just tell people not to work at all when they’re sick, not dock your compensation (which is what PTO is) because you’re not working at a fast enough pace. (They also don’t get to dock your pay when you have a less productive day than usual. Ebbs and flows in people’s productivity is part of employing humans. Plus, this ignores the very common existence of people who accomplish just as much while sick at home as they would at work.)

It’s also a bizarre disincentive to work from home while you’re sick. If you’re going to be charged four hours of PTO, why would you work any more than four hours that day? (And again, if they don’t want people working full days while they’re sick, they need to say that — not institute this punitive and unfair system.)

If you felt comfortable pushing back, I’d tell you to push back with a group of your coworkers, pointing out everything above. But since you don’t feel comfortable doing that, I would simply … not work when you’re sick. At least not more than four hours, since you know they’re going to penalize you if you do.

If you’re pressured to do more than four hours of work while you’re taking a sick day (which by definition shouldn’t be happening anyway), try saying, “I can do that but since it will take more than four hours, I’d want to make sure I’m not being charged PTO for the day.” It’s possible your manager, when faced with work not getting done that day, will either push back on the policy herself or exempt you from it on a case-by-case basis.

But yes, this sucks.

updates: none of my coworkers have contacted me after my layoff, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, when I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. None of my coworkers have contacted me after my layoff

I was the OP of the “none of my coworkers have contacted me after my layoff” post published 10/31/19. I appreciate it! Seeing that others went through the same experience was healing in itself. Though I never did hear from anyone in my department, I did keep in touch with a few others. I think it’s either human nature or our busy lives (or both) that cause people to disengage from relationships with those they no longer see on a daily basis – the wonderful exceptions being those rare bonds that form over something other than work.

I’ve been very fortunate to be hired by another company a couple months ago, with good people and a challenging position. This time, however, I’m careful not to read too much into work relationships. When the day comes that I leave (hopefully of my own accord!), I’ll have a better understanding of what and what not to expect. With time comes insight, and hard lessons are often the most valuable.

2. I can see a coworker doing work for me incorrectly over her shoulder — can I step in? (first update here)

I wanted to update you again on the situation with my [EX!] boss, after everyone’s lovely advice and empathy last time. I didn’t reply on the post, but reading everyone’s comments really helped me, so thank you.

First things first… I am no longer working for the crazy toddler boss! I’ve been in a new role for about a month now, back in the industry I started out in and missed dearly. I am a little overqualified for the role, but it’s a lovely place to work and I’m just grateful to be somewhere normal, with friendly coworkers and actual HR processes.

After I handed in my notice things got so much worse at Old Job. My manager gave me a list of 30 tasks to complete in my 4 weeks, I completed all of them other than 3 in less than 2 weeks [by the end, I completed almost double that]. When I told him that I wouldn’t be able to complete one task due to outside circumstances [the person I needed to speak to not being available], he flipped out, calling me lazy and saying that I was just making any excuse not to do any work at all. For the first time, I stood up for myself and pointed out just how much work I had been doing to get him, and the company, into a good position before I left.

The next morning, I came into the office and all my passwords had been changed. I couldn’t access my files, emails etc. My boss then proceeded to completely ignore me when I tried to speak to him about it – as in, he wouldn’t make eye contact and left the room whenever I approached him. It was pretty humiliating and I was ready to walk out, but his business partner intervened. They spoke privately, and I think his partner probably pointed out to him that he needed me, because no one else knew how to do most of the work I was doing. My boss then gave me back my passwords, called me into a meeting room and just acted like it had never happened! He asked what I needed to speak to him about, seemed totally confused about why I thought he was upset with me, and then just said it was a standard security process.

For my last two weeks we had no contact at all. His business partner stood in as my main manager, while he continued to refuse to speak to me unless he absolutely had to. At my leaving do he refused to buy me a drink because ‘I wouldn’t appreciate it’ [I couldn’t care less about this, it just seemed hilariously petty] and refused to shake my hand when I left, having hugged everyone else.

On my last day I had a meeting with his partner where I told him everything that had been going on, including screenshots of messages he had sent me. He was shocked and upset – he knew he had a temper, but didn’t realise how much was happening in private. I’ve since heard that he has reported Old Boss to their board of investors and he has been on best behaviour since then, though no one knows what action was actually taken, as his responsibilities have stayed the same. I expect he just got a warning.

Thanks again to you Alison and all of your commenters for your support. I’m still suffering from some of the after effects from this job – I get really panicky any time I think I might have done something wrong, even if it’s just a really standard or minor piece of feedback on some content. I’m working on it and things are looking up!

3. My boss punished me by removing the tools I need to do my job

My boss eventually gave me back my access and I continued to work there for another 5 months. During that time I was listening to Allison’s advice but trying to tough it out because it was a very meaningful non-profit. I ended up quitting because I was working approximately 80 hours a week and it severely impacted my health, to the point I went to the ER for stress-related heart palpations. My coworkers and I approached our boss to express our exhaustion. She the told us, “If you don’t like it you can resign.” We sat there stunned to which she followed up with “haha that’s just a joke.”

I resigned the next morning. I truly take Alison’s advice with me as I’m still hoping to settle back into my career after a year of searching. But I no longer have stress related health issues and am so happy!

Thank you to Alison and everyone who gave such good advice! (P.S. For everyone who told me to go to HR, our HR was even worse.)

am I going overboard with praise for my team?

A reader writes:

One of my struggles in managing my team is with recognition – but oddly, not the usual problems of under-recognizing effort. I’m afraid I may occasionally get too effusive with my thanks for my team’s comfort, or thank someone one time too many. Additionally, I find that I occasionally stun some of them by thanking them for doing tasks that I find incredibly helpful, yet they consider to be business as usual.

I have frequent one-on-one’s and team meetings and have built a strong rapport, and I have determined that they operate from a sense of equal fairness while I prefer equitable fairness. I have factored that into public recognition. I’m not sure that my team members even really have a problem with my saying thanks too much – it might be that they haven’t heard it before.

How would you suggest I broach this topic – if even bringing it up? Is this something I should mention to my team, or is this something I should work on for myself and not mention?

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

let’s talk about mid-life career changes

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I would love a whole post on mid-life career changes! Especially if people are willing to share their specific fields.

I tried to quit accounting and become a TV writer around age 29 and found that I was already too old, given the competitive field and the fact that I wanted to start a family, which I have since done. I’ve progressed in my accounting career and have found some intellectual satisfaction, but I still fantasize about doing something more interesting or glamorous.

Let’s do it. People who successfully changed careers — or who tried and ran into challenges — this is an invitation to share your stories and advice in the comments. Please name your field(s), if you’re willing to.

should I wear a mask to a job interview, candidate interviewed in a see-through shirt, and more

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

1. Should I wear a mask to a job interview?

I live in a state where masks were mandated in public spaces until recently as we move to limited reopening, but generally everyone is still wearing them in stores. My state has been hit hard, but less so my specific area. I have an in-person job interview tomorrow and was wondering whether or not I should wear a mask to the interview. I would prefer to as a precaution, but am not sure if that would look unprofessional. If it makes any difference, the business I’m interviewing at is not currently open to the public.

Wear the mask! It’s a public health recommendation, and you want to anyway. It does not look unprofessional in the current context.

If you happen to be interviewing with someone who has a problem with that, that’s incredibly useful information for you about whether this is a place you’d want to work. An employer that looks askance at you wearing a mask to an interview is an employer that’s going to be cavalier with your safety once you’re working there (and not just with COVID-19 either).

2. Job candidate wore a see-through shirt on a video interview

So this didn’t happen to me, but it did make me curious on how to handle this situation while keeping it appropriate.

My friend Bob was tasked with performing the first in-person interview for a candidate. Obviously, because of quarantine, all interviews are now being performed over webcam. The candidate he interviewed chose to wear a simple white t-shirt. I imagine this normally wouldn’t be a huge problem, maybe a bit too casual for an interview, but their office dress code is pretty casual anyway. Unfortunately, she also chose to wear no bra and we know this because Bob could see her nipples in full view! He conducted the interview as normal.

When Bob reached out to me, he was curious what my thoughts were and how to handle it. As much as I agree that it’s strange, I have also worn items of clothing that appeared fine in my home but turned out to be more translucent than expected.

My recommendation was to give her the benefit of the doubt and to make his decisions based on her resume and the actual interview itself. I would hope that next time around she’ll choose something more appropriate. That said, as a woman I desperately want someone to reach out to her to let her know but I imagine that’s probably too risky to bring up.

Do you have any thoughts on this? Is there a better way to handle this and do we need to reconsider how we judge an applicant during quarantine?

Assume it was an unintentional wardrobe malfunction, since it’s highly unlikely that she deliberately decided to expose her nipples during a job interview. And it doesn’t make sense to hold an unintentional wardrobe malfunction against someone, particularly on a video call during a pandemic (when it’s common for people not to realize how something will appear on camera).

If she otherwise seemed professional and to have good judgment, it’s not something that needs to be A Thing. If Bob already had concerns about her professionalism, I can see why he’s wondering if this is part of that larger picture — but then I’d focus on whatever those other concerns were and decide where to go from there (which could be deciding those other issues are prohibitive, or doing a second interview to get more data, or so forth).

And yeah, I understand the impulse to let her know, but this is one of those things where you just politely pretend it’s not happening.

3. Writing notes on your hand at work

Is it ever acceptable to be writing reminders or notes on your hand? A coworker of mine does this all the time, and I am intrigued as to why she does this as there is plentiful paper in the office.

Her hands are predominantly full by the end of the day and don’t look particularly appealing, especially when there could be clients around. My daughter is a student and has done the same in years gone by, which I have accepted but I was shocked when she recently came home from a professional work placement with these scribbles on herself. Is it just me or is this practice becoming more and more common, and should it be deemed acceptable? I have been known to do this myself on the odd occasion, but only at a pinch and would certainly not say it’s my norm.

It’s not a big deal to do it in a pinch, but if someone does it as their normal M.O., it’s going to come across as disorganized and a bit … professionally immature. It’s not something you’d see a senior exec doing (and if you did, they’d look very scattered). Carrying a small notebook will serve you better.

4. My colleagues are uninterested in my work

I started at a new job less than six months ago, joining a small team from a (mostly) family business. It is a complicated job managing a lot of different accounts but I dealt with the steep learning curve pretty quickly, even though it was tough. My coworkers are nice people and did their best to answer any questions I had.

The COVID crisis has complicated a lot of things, and it’s been even harder trying to do this job from home, but I have done okay, I think. What I don’t understand is why my boss and coworkers seem so uninterested in what I am doing. Everyone else is put on the weekly meeting agenda for project updates except for me — even though what I’m doing for the company at this time of year is absolutely central to their mission. (I don’t have delusions of grandeur — I’m the sole point person for the logistics of one of the major initiatives they do every year.) When I ask to be put on the agenda, they seem puzzled and instead say, “We can handle this through email if you need to.” During the “check in, what are you doing?” part of our weekly meetings, nobody asks about my (really huge!) project. When I speak up about how this project is going — and I always do it in a positive, prepared manner even when I have issues to discuss — I am mostly greeted with silence that other people don’t seem to get, and it’s awkward.

Recently, I found out that my predecessor in this position also felt ignored before she left after only a couple of years (and I heard that my boss seemed puzzled as to why she left). And this job has had relatively high turnover compared to the other jobs at the company. I am beginning to dread the weekly meetings because I always feel confused and demotivated afterward. I’m working at 150% on this project and yet I feel like my boss just isn’t at all interested in what I’m working on. What can I do to connect with my coworkers with what I am doing? It seems they don’t care “how the sausage is made.” Should I even care that much?

Talk to your boss! She’s in the best position to give you insight into what’s going on or help you change things. Why not say to her, “I’ve noticed I’m not included on the weekly agendas for project updates and when I’ve asked to be included, people have seemed resistant. And when I’ve tried to proactively offer updates anyway, there’s not much engagement. I’m reading it as lack of interest in the X work, but I’m wondering if there’s context I’m missing.”

5. I’m being offered a new role but without a clear salary

I’m a mid-career professional and have recently been offered the opportunity to take on a higher-level role starting next month. The last time I had a promotion, I had been doing higher-level work for a long time prior to the promotion, so I accepted immediately and was happy with the salary adjustment, and continued on with the roles I’d already been playing. This time, the jump would be bigger, both in terms of stress and responsibility, and in terms of the salary gap between levels — I would essentially be replacing my boss.

I’ve been assured that the role would come with a promotion, but no one has given me a time frame (typically we promote people only once a year — nine months from now) or a new proposed salary. It seems like they assume we’ll figure that out later. Frankly, I like the work I’m able to do in my current role and I’m not sure I want the promotion unless it’s fairly compensated, and not in 6+ months. Is there an appropriate way to say, “Thanks for the opportunity, but please make me a clear offer?”

“I’m very interested in doing this work, but I want to make sure I understand what the title and salary will be before we move forward. Can we iron that out so I have a clearer picture of what this would look like?”