weekend free-for-all — November 18-19, 2017

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: Free Food for Millionaires, by Min Jin Lee. The daughter of Korean immigrants tries to figure out her life in New York. It’s long and sprawling and engrossing. One review I saw called it a modern-day Middlemarch, which seems right to me.

4 updates from letter-writers (the unfair work-from-home set-up, the IVF, and more)

Tis the season of updates from letter-writers who have had their letters answered here in the past. Here are four of them.

1. Is my boss’s work-from-home set-up unfair?

I was kind of annoyed at the time of writing because the winter can be busy for my company, and my boss was going to be doing a series of really hard-to-set-up interviews during their ski cabin time that would have really sucked for me to try to jam into two days a week. Because of that, they decided to shorten their rental for this year which made my life a lot easier. They also took our department out for lunch on one of the municipal holidays we don’t close for, which was really nice.

The main reason I wrote though, was because I was debating telling my boss how disgruntled the staff were getting and using this issue as an opening. I can honestly vouch that there are managers here who are definitely *not* really treating their work from home days as working days (not checking email, taking calls, etc.). Ultimately I decided not to say anything to my boss, though.

However, staff mood continued to worsen and they voted to unionize this fall. The execs are supportive of their right to do so but NOT happy about it. Meanwhile my job has actually been going really well and I’ve been enjoying it lately. I took steps to get more looped into our department work and have been more successful and fulfilled, which I was NOT at this time last year. Cheers!

2. Avoiding work travel during IVF (#5 at the link)

I did end up telling my boss about the IVF, although the talked-about trip didn’t happen. He was wonderfully supportive and told me anything I was doing at home was more important then what I was doing at work. I was very grateful for this when cycle was a bust and I needed a few extra days off to emotionally recover. I can’t imagine having to come up with an excuse during that time, or trying to tell the truth in the state of mind I was in.

When I changed departments, I told my new boss and again, was completely supported and given a lot of flexibility during a very busy time at my job. Unfortunately all of our cycles have been unsuccessful and our lives are taking a new direction, but we’ve made this decision knowing we did all we were capable of to have a child of our own. I am so glad I was up front; I’m so lucky to have had great managers at a company that truly values work-life balance.

If you are struggling with infertility, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. There are wonderful local support groups through the national infertility association RESOLVE; additionally it’s very likely someone you know has gone through it too. It’s such a hard thing to talk about (I definitely cried telling both bosses what was going on) but infertility can be so lonely, and my wish for all couples going through this is that they find someone to talk to about it. It’s too much to carry alone!

3. How can I convince my coworkers that I like being a temp? (#3 at the link)

TLDR: I found a better job.

It turned out that my coworkers were aware of some things going on behind the scenes, like that my manager was forbidding other managers from offering me a permanent position.

The last straw actually came from my employment agency the following January, when they retroactively challenged my unemployment claim for the client’s winter shutdown and my claim for my 30 day furlough from the client that past summer. They said that I “could have worked,” except that they hadn’t wanted to place me during my time off, for fear of angering the client. The judge at the hearing was not amused, and my unemployment claims stood. I realized then that if I stayed, this would definitely happen again. Most of the long term temps there gave up around their third furlough, so after five or six years.

I started applying for permanent positions as soon as I received the letter for the hearing. About a month later, I had an offer for a permanent position at a growing company. As it turns out, I ended up in what would have been my dream job a decade ago. I know there is no such thing now, but it’s still pretty great. I went in with my eyes open, so I have more realistic expectations.

4. Company wants me and another finalist to bid against each other on salary (#2 at the link)

I named my salary and they finalized the offer. I definitely had twinges occasionally, wondering what the other candidate may have asked for and if I had left money on the table. Well, it turns out I did. My company did a company-wide salary assessment, and I received a substantial increase as a result.

The salary assessments took place before reviews, so my merit increase and bonus will be based on my new base salary. Since it was more than I would have ever asked for, and the increase was retroactive, I’m satisfied.

I’m really thankful for your advice and definitely credit your website and book with helping me move my career forward. I have a much better idea of what’s normal in the workplace, as well as areas I still need to work on, like negotiation.

open thread – November 17-18, 2017

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.

when an employee is too sick to call in sick, my boss steals all the holiday gifts, and more

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

1. When an employee is too sick to call in sick

My employee, Fergus, is in poor health. Over the years, he’s taken time off for many serious medical issues, and recently took a few months off for cancer treatment. He had medical clearance to return to work, but his health seems to be worse than ever and declining.

Fergus lives with his his adult daughter (Jane), who drives him to work and back home. She picks him up on her lunch break every day, but sometimes Fergus is too sick or tired to even be roused by Jane. Sometimes on these days, Jane calls me to let me know that Fergus won’t be in … but sometimes she doesn’t. It’s the “sometimes she doesn’t” days that I don’t know how to deal with. Fergus knows that he can take basically unlimited sick days as long as he notifies me, but some of these days, there isn’t much he can do. Sometimes he wakes up after Jane has left, but his pain or meds make it impossible for him to operate a phone. (I don’t know why Jane doesn’t always call, but she isn’t my employee so I don’t think it would be appropriate to make her part of my solution.)

What is my best move here? Of course “didn’t feel like going to work today, too lazy to call boss” is hugely different from “medical condition made it impossible for me to notify boss I couldn’t work.” Yet I still need to know where my staff are at their scheduled start time! Sometimes Fergus has meetings with customers or other things and it’s hard to cover for him or reschedule without knowing if he’s running late, not coming in at all, out for the rest of the week, etc.

As a human person, I am filled with compassion for Fergus and my heart breaks to witness his suffering, as well as the financial strain this puts on his family. If I won the lottery, I would give them a million dollars and throw Fergus the best retirement party of all time. But as a manager who is unlikely to be rich any time soon, I am frustrated by his inability to notify me when he will be out and embarrassed when I don’t know when or if he’ll be coming in.

I don’t want to be the monster who fires a sickly old grandpa. But what we’re doing now isn’t working for me or the company. My boss has told me to deal with it however I see fit, and we don’t have an HR department for me to consult, so I’m at a loss. Help! What’s a manager to do? (For the record, Fergus came to us after retiring from a career elsewhere; he is an hourly employee and has no retirement or insurance through us that he might lose by quitting.)

Have you talked to Fergus about it yet? If not, that’s your first move. Explain that you want to accommodate him as much as possible, but that the one thing you need is to be alerted if he won’t be in because you need to arrange cover for him or reschedule meetings. Tell him that sometimes Jane calls to say he won’t be in, but not always, and ask him what he thinks will work so that you’re consistently notified. It sounds like you’re being really accommodating with him, and this is a reasonable thing to ask for to allow you to continue doing that.

If this doesn’t solve the problem, your other options would be restructuring his work so that an unannounced absence doesn’t cause problems (if that’s possible; it might not be) or talking to him about going on disability leave. But I’d start with the conversation. He might just not realize it’s causing issues, or might not know that Jane isn’t contacting you every time.

2. My coworker is on an aggressive crusade about keeping the kitchen clean

So a few weeks ago a lady who works on my floor started a break room crusade — passive-aggressive notes on the fridge and microwave, aggressively pursuing people who left things out, etc. I didn’t think much of it because I’m generally conscientious about cleaning up after myself and I never thought the break room got that messy anyway.

I’m one of the only people who sometimes uses reusable dishes in the break room. I would always make sure to wash the dishes I used and stack them neatly on the counter to dry. Admittedly, sometimes when I knew I’d be using the same dishes the next day, I’d leave them out until then. After this lady’s crusade began, she came into my office a couple times to ask me to dry and put the dishes away, which I did. Kind of nitpicky, but not a big deal, or so I thought.

Last week, she emailed my supervisor, asking him to do something about my horrible messiness, saying that I was creating an unsanitary environment, not respecting the space that belongs to everyone, and generally making it seem like I was regularly leaving huge messes in the break room. My supervisor forwarded me her email, adding that he expected me to fix the problem because it would be bad news if he had to escalate it to the department head.

I was really surprised and hurt by this. I don’t feel like it was at all necessary to involve my supervisor over something so banal, especially before actually having a conversation with me about the conflict. Now I feel like my relationship with my supervisor has taken a hit and I honestly feel a little terrorized. I’d like to speak with my supervisor to set the record straight, but I’m genuinely afraid that doing so will have negative repercussions for my job. Any advice on how to approach this new, dumb workplace dynamic?

Your manager handled that really oddly. This would be a bizarre thing for him to escalate to your department head and would likely make him look bad if he did, unless your department head loves getting involved in petty drama. That said, I’d just email back and say: “Hmmm, this is strange because I’m vigilant about cleaning up after myself in there. I’ll talk to Jane and find out what the issue is, and will resolve it directly with her.”

But then … I’d just stop leaving your dishes on the counter in the break room. Your coworker sounds like she’s gone off the deep end with her crusade, but it’s true that it’s mildly rude to leave your stuff on the counter of a shared kitchen since other people might want to use the space for preparing food.

3. I want my coworker to stop touching my neck

I’m friendly with a lot of my coworkers, though I generally don’t see them outside of work other than at company-sponsored events. I have one coworker who’s a married man in his late 40s/early 50s (I’m a 30-year-old woman, also married) who I have friendly, joke-y kind of relationship with, but it’s always been professional between us. We stop to chat with one another once a day or so, tend to joke around a lot, and sometimes will run out for coffee together once every couple of weeks.

Lately, he’s developed a habit of walking up to me and grabbing me firmly by the back of the neck. This has happened three times in the last two weeks or so, and every time, it’s made me really uncomfortable. I’m not a touchy-feely kind of person, and I’ve never initiated physical contact with him. I’m fine with coworkers touching me on the arm, shoulder, or even hand, but this just seems weird or too intimate. (Or maybe I just have odd physical boundaries?)

It’s probably worth noting that I’m pretty sure, based on his overt friendliness and various comments he’s made, that he finds me attractive, although I don’t think any of his comments would get in him trouble with HR. I’m not really sure what to do or what to say to him. I find myself avoiding him, but we work in the same building and his cube is right next to my boss’s office — we can’t avoid running into one another. Do you have any advice or scripts I can use?

Just be straightforward! Any of these would work the next time it happens:
* “Hey, please don’t grab me on my neck. I don’t like that.”
* “Ack, please don’t do that.”
* “Hey, quit it with the neck grabbing. Thanks.”

This doesn’t have to be a big deal. Just be matter-of-fact, as if of course he’ll immediately stop now that he realizes that you don’t like it (since any decent person would). That will probably take care of it, but if it doesn’t, then you get more stern: “I told you to stop touching my neck. It’s really weird that you’re continuing. What’s going on?” (And keep in mind that any awkwardness or tension that results from this is 100% on him. He’d be the one ignoring a clearly stated boundary.)

4. My boss is bogarting all the holiday baskets from vendors

The main part of my job is to be a liason with external vendors for my company. At the holidays, I tend to get a lot of gifts and baskets. What I receive never violates any of our company policies for accepting gifts.

When I get the baskets I tend to open them up and ask fellow coworkers to take what they want. I take some things home, but generally these baskets are chocolate and those types of goodies so there is only so much a person can stand and everyone really enjoys having a look and getting to pick.

Last year, my boss (who is really quite bonkers in so many ways) called up all my vendors after the fact and demanded that all gifts be directed to her in the future. I know this because three of my vendors called to ask who she was as they had never met or heard of her before. She apparently told them that she pays the bills and not me so she deserves the gift. This isn’t even true — she is just a level above me, she is not an owner or even close to being senior management.

She did not tell me she did this, but with the holiday coming around again, I am not sure how to proceed. Should I tell all the vendors to send them to her? She will just whisk them all away and none of the other employees will get to share in the loot. It’s so stupid and petty in some ways but I feel like I am managing these relationships and that her doing this also undermines that relationship with the vendors.

Sorry to hear you work for a petty tyrant. Your boss is making herself look like a loon with a really bizarre set of priorities.

You’re not under any obligation to tell the vendors to direct gifts to her. It sounds like she did this behind your back and didn’t tell you to ensure the gifts are sent her way in the future, so I think you can wash your hands of this and just let it play out. If she calls them again, so be it — but you don’t have to do that for her.

where are you now? (a call for updates)

At the end of each year, I publish a slew of “where are they now” updates from people whose questions I answered here in the past. So…

If you’ve had your question answered here in the past, please email me an update and let us know how your situation turned out. Did you take the advice? Did you not take the advice? What happened? Leave no juicy detail out! I’ll post updates as they come in. (Don’t post them here though; email them to me.)

And if there’s anyone you especially want to hear an update from, mention it here and I’ll reach out to those people directly.

Posted in Uncategorized

update: my employees played a horrible prank on a coworker

We already have an update on yesterday’s post about the horrible prank where two employees made their coworker think she was being arrested for embezzlement, and terrified her to the point that she threw up from crying. Here’s the update, in which the letter-writer answers a lot of the questions that came up in the comment section yesterday. (In particular, people had a lot of questions about whether the coworker might have been targeted for her gender, race, or other type of difference in a way that could bring discrimination law into play.)

The incident had happened almost three weeks before I sent in my question.

Because there was speculation on the possible dynamics in several of the comments: All three persons involved, both pranksters and the prankee, are women. They are peers with the same title. The pranksters are both in their late 20s, and the prankee is in her mid 30s. One of the pranksters is the same ethnicity as me (Chinese-American) and the other prankster and the prankee are both white. One of the pranksters is gay, the other prankster and the prankee are not. As far as I am aware, myself and the three of them are all the same religion (Anglican). My other report was on a two-week vacation at the time and he had no knowledge of or part in the prank.

There were no other witnesses besides my three reports. The wife who they said was a police officer there to arrest the employee was not wearing any kind of uniform and she didn’t enter the building. She was standing by her navy blue car outside the building on the public street. The pranksters gestured to her out the window when they told the prankee she was police and she gestured for the prankee to come outside. She never spoke to the prankee.

Since she never dressed as or told anyone she was an officer, there is no way she can be charged with impersonation. The officers at the real police station I went to, the lawyer I spoke to about this, and the company lawyer looked at me like I had two heads when I brought up impersonation charges. They all agreed what happened was awful but the wife of the prankster did nothing illegal and the prankster pointing her once and saying she was an officer also is not illegal. The prankee was also never handcuffed, touched, taken anywhere, or stopped from leaving, so no crime was committed there, as per the police and the lawyers.

My reports don’t have access to money to steal, making the theft allegation part of the prank baffling (but I understand why the prankee was scared, given how new she was to our workplace). We don’t deal with money in our work. We work in the Compensation and Benefits section of HR. We tell employees what benefits and other compensations they are entitled to and that’s all. We do not have any parts in administering these benefits and we don’t work with the books, accounts, or payroll. All of that is done out of a different office. 

My boss, the executive director, and our legal division know what happened. Multiple voicemails and letters to the prankee from me, the director, and legal have gone unanswered and the letters were marked as return to sender. Her LinkedIn profile shows the job she had before and when she was in school, the school she went to, and a current job that is with another company. The company I work for is not mentioned on her profile anywhere, and anyone from the company who tries to reach out is not responded to. I have accepted she wants to be left alone, and the company lawyer advised all contact attempts to cease.

The executive director’s idea of disciplining my reports was to give them a talking to/lecture and to send a memo division-wide saying no pranks of any kind are permitted at work (without giving context since no one else knows what happened).

I am going to resign. I wasn’t sure at first but the more I found out about what happened, the more angry I got. I was also angry about not being able to fire the pranksters. I promised my other report a good reference if he ever needs it because he didn’t do anything. I was not sure about resigning without another job offer but my girlfriend told me I would feel better if I did and we could make it work on her income until I found one, so I’ve made the decision to leave.

I appreciate your answer to my question Alison. I am grateful to you and see I am not wrong to be angry at what happened. Thanks so much.

weirdest office food stories: potluck mishaps and other times food at work went wrong

With the season of office potlucks and other food events approaching, I want to hear about your weirdest office food experiences.

Was there a scandal over a store-bought entry in the office bake-off? Did a coworker angrily eat seven ice cream bars in 30 minutes to make sure he got his “fair share”? Did your coworker steal your spicy food, get sick from it, and then blame you? Share in the comments.

I was replaced by a cartoon, managing a snide former peer, and more

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

1. I was replaced by a cartoon

I work in an in-house legal department for a large company as a legal assistant. As part of a recent move to promote the legal department to other departments in the company, a few of the attorneys have been doing presentations. Sort of a get-to-know-legal type of thing. One of the attorneys I work with has done a PowerPoint presentation that includes pictures of our “team” and descriptions of what we do. She replaced my actual picture with a cartoon depiction of a secretary sitting a desk with files stacked around her and papers and envelopes thrown up in the air. Every one else has their actual picture featured except me. Do you think this is cause to be offended or am I overreacting? I feel as though I am being considered a non-person by placing this cartoon picture next to my name.

That’s … definitely weird. Any chance that there’s an explanation for it, like that you weren’t there on the day she was collecting photos and she thought this was a cute way to still get you in there? If it’s not something like that, then yeah, it’s demeaning, even if she didn’t intend it to be.

Regardless of her intentions, though, you can ask her to fix it. At a minimum, you could something like: “Hey, can you please use an actual photo of me, like you did for everyone else?” But if you want to get into it more, you could say, “I’m baffled about why I’m a cartoon secretary while everyone else has a real photo. What happened there?” (Followed by, “Well, I’d prefer to use my photo like everyone else does. Can you swap it in?”)

2. Favoritism from a team leader

I’m part of the PR department in a company of about 300 employees. After some staff changes, my former colleague Cersei is now team leader for our group of four. After further changes are carried out, she will also be my manager.

Cersei is very close with one of the other team members, Arya. They live in the same neighborhood, work out together and drink bubbles and chat once a week. (All of this is on their social media and comes up in conversation.) Lots of people at our company are friends, managers usually socialize with HR or other managers. But the trouble is that it’s affecting the team dynamics. Arya gets to turn down assignments, leaves early, and simply mentions that she “will have next Friday off” before checking with the group. She sees herself as equal to Cersei.

This behavior is causing a rift in our group. If Arya does take on an assignment, she gets endless praise. If it is a rework of existing material, it is “her campaign.” If my colleague Jon or I create material, we must present it as our team’s effort.

Jon and I have brought up the issues with our current manager. He came back to us and asked what we would want him to do. Jon and I are uncertain how to proceed. We fear that bringing it up ourselves will only case a bigger rift in the group. Any suggestions how we can get the group back to a working dynamic?

Your manager sucks for throwing this back on you and asking what you want him to do. It should be obvious to him that he needs to talk to Cersei about the way she’s being perceived. So I’d go back to him and say, “You asked what we wanted you to do about this. We’d like you to speak to Cersei and tell her that she appears to be heavily favoring Arya and that as a manager she needs to be impartial and objective. And we hope you’ll continue to observe her and coach her on this, and hold off on any decision about promoting her to manager while this is still happening since it’s such a serious credibility issue.”

That said, I’m pretty skeptical about how well your manager will execute this, even if he does it. Handling this well is going to require more than a one-time conversation with Cersei; it’s going to require continual attention and addressing it if the favoritism just goes underground.

3. Managing a former peer who’s being rude and snide

I have recently been promoted and have a question about managing former peers. I work in a small team. There are just four of us and we have been working together for two years. My colleague, Fred, has been the manager for the last two years but, to put it bluntly, organization and management are not his strengths, so the company owner has gradually asked me to take on more and more of the management responsibilities. We have finally formalized this and I have been promoted to the team manager.

Fred has been happy for me to cover more and more of his duties over the past two years, but now that I have the job title and authority to go with it, he has been making snide remarks and generally giving me some attitude, which has never been an issue before. I should note that he hasn’t been demoted; he has retained his job title but some of his responsibilities have passed to me, and I have a newly made-up title that makes it clear I’m more senior. I also have management responsibilities for all staff, including him. I’ve always had a reasonable working relationship with Fred in spite of my increasing frustration about having to cover his duties, and I would like to nip this negative behavior in the bud before it becomes an issue. Do you have any suggestions?

Sit down and have a serious talk with him where you make it clear that the snide remarks need to stop. For example: “Recently you’ve made a number of remarks that sound dissatisfied with things here, like X and Y. Some of them seem to express dissatisfaction with me in particular. What’s going on?” … Followed by, “If you’re unhappy with your role here, I’d certainly support you in looking for a position that you’d be happier with. But as long as you’re in this one, I need you to treat everyone here, including me, with respect.”

That might be enough to stop it, by putting him on notice that you’re actually going to address this stuff and not turn a blind eye. But if it continues, then you treat it like you would any other serious issue (because it is one), which means a more serious conversation with him where you explain that if he wants to stay in his job, you need him to behave pleasantly and professionally. (Loop in your own boss ahead of time, because you need to ensure she’ll back you up if you need to act on this.)

4. I can see my team lead’s calendar reminder about layoffs

The leadership team at my company recently announced that we were shifting our strategy to focus on “rebuilding our product for scale.” While the leadership team is trying to spin this as a positive opportunity for the company, we’ve discovered that this means we will be terminating the majority of our client contracts to focus on a much smaller client base. For those of us in client-facing positions (like me), this has understandably caused a lot of anxiety around our job security. The leadership team has reassured us that we don’t have to worry about our jobs at this time, but they’ve remained tight-lipped on any specifics.

Today, I was looking at my team lead’s calendar online to check his availability for a meeting. In our company, it’s very common for everyone to have their calendars publicly viewable. On his calendar, I found a very visible event that appeared to be a to-do list item for himself that read “Improve Delivery of Lay-offs.” Obviously, this is not meant to be publicly viewable, but if I’m able to see it, the rest of my company can see it as well.

I’m torn on what to do here. It’s very likely that I would be included in any potential layoffs, as I’m the least senior member of my team. On the one hand, the most tactful thing to do would probably be to quietly let my team lead know that everyone can see his calendar events. Our leadership team has set up an anonymous web form where we can submit questions about the recent strategy changes, so I could send a quick note that my team lead could read, but the rest of the leadership team would be able to read it as well. On the other hand, I’m also inclined to just leave this alone so that I have visibility into any developments that could potentially affect my job. What would you recommend I do here?

If you like and respect your team lead, the right thing to do would be to let him know that it’s visible. If you don’t, it would still be a kindness but I don’t think you have any particular obligation to point out the mistake to him.

Mainly, though, I’d take it as useful confirmation that you shouldn’t believe the “you don’t have to worry about your jobs right now” assurances and assume that you should be actively job searching, if you weren’t already.

5. Can I get reimbursed for personal supplies that were stolen?

I work at a very small startup (nine of us, including the CEO) that requires a good deal of travel for events that we run. I know that a lot of our policies aren’t best practices (sharing hotel rooms while traveling, packing work items into personal suitcases, etc.) but we make it work.

We often bring our own items to these events. Usually, it’s not directly requested by our boss, but they’re how we make sure the event runs smoothly. For example, two trips ago, the one office supply that no one thought to pack for our event was scissors and our whole staff was constantly searching for them (running all around the convention center multiple times). On this past trip, I threw a couple of extra pairs from home into my suitcase (in addition to other supplies), labeled them with my name, and left them in the staff office to avoid the stress of last time. All of our office supplies came home in our COO’s personal suitcase, which was then stolen out of her apartment lobby!

There were things that were stolen that are way more important than my handful of office supplies. But since I now have to replace them, whose responsibility is that? Should the expenses be reimbursable? There’s no record of exactly what was lost but now I’m going to have to replace things like scissors and tape and envelopes that I keep in my home and use for personal business. It’s not going to be a huge sum of money, but I live in Manhattan and every bit helps…

Yes, you should submit those for reimbursement — at least the two pairs of scissors, which are an item that wouldn’t have gotten used up at the event the way the tape and envelopes might have been. You contributed your own items to help out at a work event, they got stolen, and a sensible organization will make that right.

our best employee may quit over holiday time off

A reader writes:

I have a colleague, Garnet, who is the highest performer in her department. She is a joy to work with and great at all she does. Many years ago, when she and I were both in different roles, I was her supervisor and she was just as great then as she is now. I do still work with her, but we’re more peers now. Her boss, Jasper, is incompetent and very taxing to be around. I have previously mentioned concerns about Jasper’s performance and behavior to our (my and Jasper’s) shared boss, Amethyst, to no avail.

Garnet has asked me to provide a reference for her, which I agreed to. I will give her an absolutely glowing reference and support her choice to move on. Frankly, I’m surprised she put up with Jasper this long. However, after I said yes, she mentioned that Jasper has told all her direct reports that no requests for PTO in the last week of December will be approved this year. There are two paid holidays when the office will be closed, for those who are full-time, but Jasper won’t approve any additional days in between. That’s what’s finally crossed the line for Garnet.

I know it’s not uncommon for companies to have policies that no PTO will be granted during busy times, but this is uncommon here. There is a chance her department will have a large project that spans that week, but it’s a small chance. Even if it happens, there’s no reason this couldn’t be a first-come-first-served situation, as long as they had enough people left that week for coverage. There is no way they’ll need everyone. Apparently, as a preemptive measure, everyone has been told to assume they’ll need to be in the office. That office is a mix of full-time and part-time staff, but Garnet is full-time and exempt. If this project doesn’t happen, that week will be their least busy of the year.

And we might lose Garnet over it.

I want to tell Amethyst something without betraying that Garnet is looking. But the problem is, I have no reason to know about this unless one of Jasper’s reports told me. The only one of her reports I frequently work with is Garnet. Because of that, I feel like even if I tried to bring it up in a more general sense as bad for morale, I’d probably give away my source. I don’t know if Amethyst even knows about Jasper’s new PTO policy. My gut says there’s a decent chance Amethyst would be against this, even without the Garnet element. I’m torn because it would be a real blow to have Garnet leave, but I also know that good staff leave bad managers, so this was probably inevitable. Is there any way I could try to alert Amethyst without directly telling her Garnet is looking? I do think the higher-ups would do what they could to keep Garnet. Or is my best bet here just to support Garnet with the great reference I plan to give and let things play out?

Well, it sounds like Garnet is doing the right thing for herself by working to leave the job. She has a boss who’s incompetent and taxing to be around, and her boss’s manager apparently knows that but nothing has changed. Yes, it will suck for your organization to lose an excellent employee, but as you note, that’s a natural consequence of keeping bad managers in place: top performers will leave.

That said, if you’re pretty confident that Amethyst would shut down Jasper’s “no vacation time at the holidays” edict, you’d be doing the right thing by letting her know about it. It would be the right thing for Amethyst (to give her the opportunity to intervene when a manager under her is mishandling something), the right thing for your organization (because a manager operating out of sync with how the organization wants her to operate is a problem), and the right thing for the other people who work for Jasper, not just Garnet (because their holidays are being impacted too).

You should not, however, tip off Amethyst about Garnet’s job search, at least not without Garnet’s okay. That’s Garnet’s information to share, not yours. You can certainly ask Garnet if you can discreetly talk to Amethyst about it, and you can share that you think Amethyst would want to try to keep Garnet if she knew … but ultimately you should let Garnet make that call. She may be at the point where she’s not interested in staying regardless, or she may not trust Amethyst to handle things well or at all. (I should note that if you were higher in the hierarchy than Garnet is, the calculation here could be different. Senior leaders have sometimes have conflicting obligations in situations like this one — the obligation to the person who confided in them, as well as an obligation to loop the organization in about serious personnel issues. Even then, though, you wouldn’t just share the information; you’d explain to Garnet that you were in a difficult situation and figure out together how to approach it.)

I know you’re concerned that you don’t have a way to bring up the holiday time-off thing without it being obvious that you heard about it from Garnet, but I don’t think that’s something that either you or Garnet would be expected to keep secret. Mentioning it to Amethyst doesn’t mean that Garnet was complaining about Jasper or his policy; it could just mean that she explained it to you when you asked if she’s traveling anywhere for the holidays. It should be fine for you to say to Amethyst, “Hey, you might already know this but in case you didn’t — I’ve heard that no one on Jasper’s team is allowed to use any PTO the last week of December. I can’t imagine they’ll need all that coverage, so wanted to mention it to you since it seems like it could really create a morale issue.” You tone here shouldn’t be “wait until you get a load of this outrageous action by Jasper.” It should be a matter-of-fact “I wanted to give you a heads-up in case this is something you didn’t know but might care about it, but I realize it might not be a huge deal to you.”

Ultimately, though, I’d accept that Garnet is pretty likely to leave at some point, and that’s okay.

my mentor doesn’t want to be a reference for me

A reader writes:

I am planning to apply for a couple of positions and recently contacted a former supervisor to ask if I could list her as a reference. She was my direct supervisor for a year and instrumental in getting me promoted to my current position. After my promotion, she served as my mentor until her retirement several years ago. Since then, she has worked part-time in our profession and we have stayed in touch. Much to my surprise, she turned me down. She felt that she’s not qualified to be a reference for me because of how long she’s been retired, and thinks that I should use more current references.

The thing is, I do have more current references and plan to use them. The reason I want to include her is that she has always spoken very highly of me and is someone whose opinion I have always valued. Also, I do not want to use my current supervisor for a number of reasons and she is the only other recent supervisor I could use. Although we have not worked together for the past few years, I think she can certainly speak to my strengths and weaknesses. Besides, she has always indicated that she would be happy to help me with my future endeavors and this certainly qualifies.

I am surprisingly upset by her rejection, and have not yet responded to her message. Would I be out of line to ask her to reconsider? Or should I just thank her for her honesty and leave it at that?

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Employee keeps bugging me to interview someone unqualified
  • I’m doing way more work than I signed up for
  • Did I irritate this hiring manager?
  • Should I mention I don’t have kids or pets when applying for a job that requires a lot of travel?