my old employer took me back — and two weeks later, I might need to leave all over again

A reader writes:

My partner and I had been living out of state for the past two years. As part of a series of unfortunate events, he ended up losing his job (we had moved for a work opportunity for him in the first place). After he was first let go, I immediately began networking with my work contacts in the city we had lived in prior to our move. Fortunately, I was able to get rehired with my previous employer where I had worked for four years, and so we decided to move back and I am now on the first week at my new/old job. My spouse has had several interviews and has been a finalist in multiple searches, but he has not landed an offer yet. So, I am presently the sole income provider for us and really need this job.

Here is my dilemma: I didn’t love my old job when I left it and I feel like I am only working here again out of lack of other options (not a great feeling). However, before I started at my old job again, I did have an interview at another company in the same city that went really well. I believe I could be much happier in this position and would advance my career in the direction I would like to take it. I am now anticipating an offer by the end of next week, which would be two weeks into working for my old employer.

Now, I’m not crazy and will absolutely not quit this job unless I have another offer that would be worth leaving for — I am just really struggling with what to do should I get that other offer. I definitely feel a sense of loyalty to my old employer that helped us out tremendously during a really rocky time for my spouse and me, but I could also see myself really regretting passing on this other job, should I get an offer.

Note: I have watched my partner struggle with unemployment for the past four months and I recognize that potentially having two job offers to choose from is a good problem to have… so please don’t think that is lost on me. I have been practicing gratitude daily as we deal with our current situation!

Loyalty to an employer is great when it means being dedicated to doing your job well or looking out for your company’s long-term interests, but it shouldn’t mean that you have to turn down a move that’s best for you.

It’s true that when you accept an offer, you should generally be committing to stay for a few years (in most fields). And if you had continued to job search after accepting this offer, I’d tell you that you had operated in bad faith. But it sounds like this other potential offer had already been set in motion before you accepted your current job.

Sometimes timing is just bad. And that sucks, but you are not obligated to turn down an offer that would be significantly better for you/your career/your family just because the timing isn’t great.

To be clear, this isn’t something you should do cavalierly (not that you sound like you’re feeling cavalier about it). It’s a big deal — you made a commitment to this job, they may have turned down other candidates who are no longer available, and they’ve probably invested time and energy in you already. But sometimes there are things that trump that, and it sounds like that’s the case here.

If you end up taking the other offer, just act with as much integrity as you can. That means that you should tell your current employer as soon as you can, and be genuinely apologetic and acknowledge the inconvenience and bad timing — as in, “I’m so sorry about this. I was so glad to get your offer and excited to be working here again, but this has fallen in my lap and it’s such an unusually good opportunity that I couldn’t live with passing it up. I know that the timing couldn’t be worse, and I feel terrible about the inconvenience it will cause.”

It is probably going to harm the relationship with your old/current employer. It won’t necessarily  completely torch the bridge (a good employer should understand this sometimes happens, even though they won’t be thrilled about it), but it’s at least going to singe it and it probably means that you’re not going to have another opportunity to go back there in the future. They’re likely to feel that you broke a commitment, even if they understand why you had to.

By the way, whenever this topic comes up, people say things like “they’d cut you loose without a thought if it made sense for them” — and I want to note that that’s just not always true. Yes, employers will lay off good people if their business needs demand it, but it’s rarely “without a thought”; it’s often with a lot of lot of angst and heartache. But ultimately, they do make the decisions that make sense for them, and that’s fair for you to do too.

how can I improve my work ethic?

A reader writes:

Do you think it’s possible to improve your work ethic? If so, how? I feel like I’ve been lazy my entire life and I’m wondering if there is some way I could get past that. I work in a very cyclical industry, where some parts of the year we’re very busy and other times we’re incredibly slow. During those busy times, I can make myself focus and get everything done because of the momentum and adrenaline of trying to beat a deadline. But during slower times, I can hardly force myself to do anything and procrastinate terribly. I have always gotten positive reviews, but I’m afraid my lack of work ethic during slow times will eventually catch up to me and bite me in the rear.

I love what I do most of the time. I work on fairly technical projects that vary greatly in terms of complexity and duration. Some I can finish in a few hours, some take weeks. I feel like I’m very good at the small projects and pretty good at but still challenged by the big ones. The projects left to do during the slow times are typically the messy and difficult ones where information comes in piece by piece or are client special requests that are a hassle to deal with. But the thing is, once I actually do them, they are never that bad.

I think I just hit a mental roadblock and shut down when I think something is going to be hard. I was always a smart student who did well easily, and I don’t think I ever learned how to work hard consistently, even though I’ve been in the workforce for a decade now. I have had goals in the past I’ve wanted to achieve, long-term goals that take a lot of effort, and I’ve been able to do them, so I think it’s possible for me to learn how to work hard. But it seems like such a hurdle to overcome and I don’t know where to start.

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

our office manager wants constant public praise, and other people are starting to resent it

A reader writes:

I am in my first formal HR job and I have a question about something that may not need action, but does feel a little off to me.

Our office manager is excellent — seriously. We have really prestigious folks walk through our office, and every one of them will remark on how wonderful she is at greeting them, making them feel welcome, and getting them where they need to go. Our employees adore her.

However, her emotional currency is public praise. Honestly, she’d prefer to be publicly recognized more than a raise or promotion. And she needs a lot of it, which we’re happy to give to retain her. However, I know that some folks bristle at seeing her get flowers on her anniversary/birthday cakes/cards signed by everyone at every work anniversary and administrative appreciation day, etc. because they’re not getting those things (departments typically do celebrate birthdays with lunch out, but don’t do much else). In all, it’s probably about 4-5 times per year that an actual, physical gift is given, but we also constantly praise her publicly at meetings, in emails, etc. The fact that nobody else gets this sort of attention makes others feel left out, and plus some folks also are tired of the show we put on for her.

To be clear: HR is not the one officially doing these things, but as I’m the most junior coordinator of our team, I am the one asked to deal with the logistics and I think people assume that HR is the one running the show. My boss (head of HR) also dislikes the attention we bestow on her, but isn’t really in any position to fight this any more than he’s already tried.

Personally, I dislike the lengths to which we bend over backward to give her attention, but I understand that’s what her supervisor does to keep her happy. On the other hand, I get why folks are mad, but in all honesty I think this is not a big deal — almost everyone is paid more than our office manager, have more opportunity to stretch their skills, and have the chance of actually climbing up the ladder. Our office manager will likely always stay an office manager (both because she likes it and also because her skills are best suited for that job). If periodic, but consistent, gratitude is what she wants, it’s difficult to come up with a reason not to give it to her. I try to tell people that, but it seems like an empty excuse.

So, what say you? Should we rein it in? What should I say to folks who are envious of the PDA? Does this matter?

I’m a big fan of rewarding people in the ways that are meaningful to them, so on one hand your office is getting part of this right: They’re noticing that your excellent office manager cares deeply about this kind of recognition, and they’re ensuring that she gets it.

But that’s only great until it starts feeling out of whack to others. It’s similar to any other type of reward in that way. For example, if you had a good employee who was strongly motivated by professional development opportunities, it would be smart to find ways to offer those to her — unless it became a situation where others who wanted those opportunities too (and whose work was good enough to warrant them) weren’t getting them and had to watch her getting handed a steady flow of training, conferences, and plum assignments.

So ideally your organization would be looking for ways to even this out. Why is she the only one who gets all this public praise? Can other managers be nudged to do more public recognition of their own people? Why not circulate birthday or anniversary cards for everyone (at least among their own teams if it’s a large office)? Etc. etc. etc.

And at the same time, the office manager’s boss should be thoughtful about the impact that the disparity in treatment has on the rest of the organization. Are there ways to tone it down a bit so it’s not always a public spectacle every time — like taking her to lunch one-on-one at a nice restaurant instead of doing the birthday cake, or giving her a heartfelt, detailed letter about her contributions on her work anniversary instead of a card signed by everyone? (I do realize that you said she thrives on public praise in particular, but I wonder if there’s a way to mix it up a bit.)

And frankly, it might make sense for her boss to say to her at some point, “Hey, I’m going to pull back on some of this because it’s such a contrast with what we do for others, and I don’t want people to feel neglected that we don’t do it for them. But please know it’s no reflection on your value, and we’ll continue to find other ways show our appreciation.”

On the other side of the equation, it’s also reasonable to say to others, “Jane is in a different type of role than everyone else here. You get recognition from clients/in your paycheck/at industry events, and her job doesn’t come with those perks. This matters to her, and we want to appreciate her in the ways that are meaningful to her.”

But this is all theoretical because it doesn’t sound like you really have standing to do anything about it. Your boss has tried to push back against this and failed. So from a practical standpoint, I doubt there’s a lot you can do here. I mean, you could try to make some of these points to your boss — especially the point about more praise for other people. And if you have credibility with the office manager’s boss (which you may not, as a junior person) you could try to talk to her about some of it too. But ultimately, it sounds like you’re going to have to be a bystander to the way they’re choosing to operate, at least for now, and just use it as an interesting demonstration of how even good intentions can come with complications.

my boss asked me to do her kid’s homework, are sandals considered business attire, and more

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

1. My boss asked me to do her kid’s homework

I’m a receptionist, and although I have a cordial relationship with my supervisor, it’s pretty strictly professional. The other day, she came to me at reception during working hours and basically asked if I would do part of her sons’s homework assignment for him. I think it’s because she knows I have a design background and the part of his project she was asking me to do was to create a logo. While she was technically asking me, her approach was the same as when she asks if I have enough downtime to take on admin tasks for the office, and although it was not explicit, I felt pressure to accept it like a work assignment.

I declined as politely as I could (mostly because I don’t think it’s right to do a child’s homework for them), using an admin task as a cover excuse. She did let it drop, but am I wrong to feel it was inappropriate of her to ask, homework ethics aside?

What! No, you are not wrong — that’s entirely inappropriate on multiple levels. She was asking you to do something that wasn’t work-related when there’s a power dynamic that she should have known would make you feel awkward about saying no if you didn’t want to do it, and the particular thing she was asking you to do was in itself inappropriate (her kid’s homework! WTF!). I am not a big believer in shame, but really, how does someone ask that with no shame?

You handled it really well — you came up with a way of declining that minimized awkwardness for both of you but allowed you to say no, and in a way that reinforced that you have actual work to do. Some people might advocate for addressing it more directly, but unless it’s part of a pattern of inappropriate requests from her, I don’t think you need to do that. If it happens again, then yes — but for now, I’d consider it handled.

2. Asking to work from home during office renovations

I work in a small department for a medium-sized organization. I’m in my mid-20s, the youngest employee in my department, and also the newest (I’ve been at this organization for almost a year now). About two weeks ago, the office where my department works began serious renovations. We are talking major construction work — they’ve been drilling through concrete and pulling apart walls and carpeting. They are extremely loud and distracting, and because the building is old their work kicks up dust and mold spores, which have been aggravating my allergies. I asked the office manager last week how long the project will take, and she said that it could be up to three months or longer before they are finished! I would love to work from home, even if only for a few days a week, just to have some reprieve from all of the construction work around me.

Here is the problem: working from home is not a common practice in my department, even though most of our positions could easily be done remotely, and I am the only person who is considering this request. 75% of my department works in offices where they can shut their doors, open their windows, and work in peace. I work along with four coworkers in a windowless room with cubicles, where we are subjected to the brunt of the construction work. Two of them work part-time, so they are rarely around anyway, and my other full-time coworker states that the construction (somehow!!) doesn’t bother him.

I fear that I will risk coming off as high-maintenance or worse, and when the time comes for a promotion, my coworker will be considered instead of me because he stuck it out through the construction and remained at the office. I fear that even bringing it up will jeopardize my standing within the organization, even though I am known to be a generally good employee with solid performance. Furthermore, when I ran this idea by a few trusted sources outside of the organization, they stated that I was acting entitled and that “all millennials want to do is work from home so they can screw around.” I have a gut feeling that my situation is unique and my supervisor won’t respond this way, but I’d like your opinion. Should I stick it out or ask for relief? I really like this job, but the idea of dealing with this for the next several months genuinely makes me consider leaving.

Please don’t ask those sources for advice on anything ever again, because they gave you advice that was both terrible and rude. This isn’t entitled, working from home doesn’t equal “screwing around,” and this has nothing to do with millennials. I hate your sources, whoever they are.

Even an only halfway good manager would very much want to know that this is aggravating your allergies, to say nothing of the noise, and especially if it’s at the point that you’d consider leaving over it! This is absolutely reasonable to ask your manager about. Explain the situation (heavy focus on your allergies, since that’s likely to be taken particularly seriously), and ask if it would be possible for you to work from home part of the time. You might also throw in the option of trying a different space if one is available, so that it’s clear that this is about getting away from the construction issues more than anything else.

3. Are sandals now considered business attire?

I’m relatively new to the professional world (mid twenties) and was always under the impression that open-toed shoes are not considered professional business attire. However, the past couple summers I’ve seen a lot of women who’ve been in the professional world for over 10 years wearing nice sandals, flat and heeled, to the office and events. My office is business casual and not very strict in terms of dress code, but I even saw a women wearing heeled sandals to an interview! She was hired and another woman started a couple weeks ago and wore sandals on her first day at work. I would love to be able to wear nice sandals during the summer to work but don’t want to misstep (ha!).

It depends on the office. In many offices, yes, nice sandals — not thong-type sandals, but dressier ones — are perfectly appropriate. In more conservative offices, they’re not and you’d be expected to wear closed-toe shoes. So it’s just about knowing your environment.

4. How to interview without disclosing my current employer’s internal chaos

I’ve been working at the same nonprofit for nearly five years. Due to new leadership, things are changing rapidly and it frequently feels like things in my current job are going down the toilet. I’ve been searching for new jobs and have been able to address the “Why are you looking for a new job” question with a direct and succinct answer.

However, on a recent interview at another nonprofit, the interviewer (who was the person the position would report to) started asking me about my current job’s operating budget and other more probing questions which led me to reveal more about the state of my current job than I wanted to. I felt stuck between wanting to honestly and quickly answer her questions and not giving away that my current job is a mess and I’m trying to get out quickly. At one point she literally asked, “Are you guys in turmoil over there?”

What’s the best way to deal with this situation? While I certainly hope I won’t be caught in a similar situation in future interviews, how can I redirect the conversation without it seeming like I’m blowing off certain questions?

Ugh, yeah, it’s natural that she’s curious, but that’s putting you in a difficult situation. Once you realize that things are starting to become more about your employer’s situation than about you — or at whatever point you start to feel like you’re not comfortable sharing what the interviewer is asking about — I’d say something bland and uninformative like “transitions are always tricky, but I’m sure things will work out fine,” which should signal that you’re not up for pursuing that line of inquiry. (I’m not recommending just being transparent and saying “I don’t feel like I can share what’s going on internally” because that can be read as “Something big and dramatic is going on,” and that can lead to gossip if this is an organization working in the same space as your current one. Although for something like a direct question about confidential budget information, it would be fine to say, “I don’t think I can talk about those numbers outside the organization.”)

In general, though, you might just head this off by not getting into what’s going on in the organization at all. You’ve been there five years, so simply saying that you’re feeling ready for something new is generally going to seem perfectly plausible.

5. Should I address my cover letter to the boss or to the person doing the screening?

I’m applying for a senior position at a small non-profit. The job notice states that resumes and cover letters need to go to a staff member who is not the executive director.

Do I address my cover letter to the person the job notice states to send it to, or do I address my cover letter to the ED? Silly question I know, but I can’t find anything anywhere that will answer this question.

Oooh, I’m glad you asked this because I see candidates doing a weird thing with this all the time. You should address your cover letter to the person they asked you to send it to. It’s not going to get you rejected if you address it to the ED instead, but it’s mildly rude — it’s like saying “It’s been clearly stated that you’re the one doing this work, but I’ve decided to act as if I’m speaking with someone more important than you.”

should I be wary of a company that offered me a job after only one interview?

A reader writes:

I was called in for a mid-level job at a global Fortune 500 corporation. They only wanted one 90-minute interview (full of STAR questions.) Granted, the interviewers are based overseas, so perhaps geography plays here. Still, any concern working for a company that is okay with just a single interview?

There are a lot of places that will hire after only a single interview.

I always caution managers against this though, because deciding to hire someone after talking to them for only 60-90 minutes is a pretty risky move. For most positions, it’s close to impossible to thoroughly assess someone’s fit for the job in that amount of time, so it’s taking a gamble. Generally you’d want at least two interviews (possibly three, depending on the position and who’s involved in the hiring process), and somewhere in that process you’d want to include some sort of opportunity to see the person’s work in action.

But hiring after only a single interview still happens with a lot of frequency.

Should you be concerned? I’d say it depends on how thorough that 90 minutes was, how much time you had to ask your own questions, and your overall sense of how much the hiring manager knows about you and your work at this point (and how good of a feel you have for them). You want to be able to trust that their decision to make you an offer is a good one, because you don’t want to get into the job and discover that it’s not a good match for you.

By the way, while they feel like they have enough information, that doesn’t mean that you’re not allowed to gather more.  If you feel like you don’t have a really solid feel for the job/manager/culture, or you have questions that haven’t been answered yet, it’s totally reasonable to ask for a call with the hiring manager to talk further before you make a decision.

do you have terrible job search manners?

usnewsYou probably/hopefully know to dress appropriately for job interviews and to turn your cell phone off beforehand, but there are some finer points of etiquette that can make a real difference in the impression you make during your job search. At U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about how what good etiquette looks like when you’re applying and interviewing for jobs. You can read it here.

my employees refuse to call their coworker by her real name

A reader writes:

One of my long-term staff has a common, easy-to-pronounce Indian name, but since well before I was hired, she was given a nickname: a westernised version of her name. We were chatting about my (slightly unusual) name one day, and she expressed that she hates the nickname, wishes people would just use her real name, and that she’s never felt confident asking people to do so. I offered, as her manager, to handle this for her, and she agreed, stating that she’d be grateful.

Responses were mixed but generally negative, and many of the team are refusing to call her anything but the nickname. The general consensus is that it’s “prettier” or that her name “isn’t very feminine.” When asked directly, she finds it difficult to be rude, so will only say that she prefers her full name. It’s now at the point where I’m having to inform my new senior manager that the nickname isn’t appropriate, because staff members have informed her that the nickname is preferred.

I had a conversation today with one team member about this, and she informed me that unless she’s told by the person with the nickname that she “only wants to be called by her other name,” she will continue to use the nickname when speaking about her to coworkers or clients, or directly to her. I feel that this is vastly inappropriate, but without my staff member having the confidence to address this more strongly, there doesn’t seem to be much I can do. That said, it seems disrespectful at the very least.

Should I push further on what, to most of the team, is a minor issue, or let it go and hope that my team member can stand up for herself?

This reminds me of last week’s letter from the manager whose employee was harassing a coworker about her prosthetic limb.

That manager needed to use her authority to put a stop to something offensive, and so do you. You don’t need to talk anyone into behaving respectfully; you need to tell them that it’s not optional.

Your staff members’ behavior here is, frankly, disgusting. They want to westernize someone’s name because her actual name isn’t “pretty” or “feminine” enough for them? No. That’s not an option, they’re being offensive and racist, and you need to require them to behave respectfully and not like the giant assholes they’re currently being.

Talk with each of the offenders individually and say this: “We’ve talked about this before and I erred in not being clear enough — Parvati’s name isn’t Polly; it’s Parvati. She’s asked that we use her correct name, and that’s what you need to call her going forward. I need you to be vigilant about respecting that request and calling her Parvati from now on.”

If you get any of this crap about “not unless she tells me herself that she only wants to be called by her real name,” stamp that out immediately. Say this: “No. I’m telling you clearly right now that she has asked to be called Parvati, and that I expect you to do that — and I expect you to do that without giving her any trouble about it. Can you agree to do that?”

You’re asking that last part — “can you agree to do that?” — because you want the person to commit to it here and now … and if they’re still reluctant, you want to find that out before you end the conversation.

But you absolutely, 100% need to do this. Your employee has told you very clearly that she prefers her given name, and you cannot allow her colleagues to decide to westernize her name for their own comfort. Get it stopped today. Seriously, this is horrible.

happy hours and religious restrictions, our graphic designer is color blind, and more

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

1. Happy hours and religious restrictions

I have a question regarding religious dietary restrictions, and this is something our team at work has been “debating” back and forth for a while. If someone can’t drink for religious reasons (not that it matters, but we have a devout Mormon coworker) and doesn’t want to participate in happy hour after work, is it that person’s responsibility to suggest another place to go/another group activity to do, or is the responsibility of the person organizing the happy hour? Our VP is the sole organizer of these group events, and she pretty much always does happy hour at a nearby bar.

I can see both sides of the issue. On the one hand, if the religious person is unhappy about something, they should make the effort to change it. You shouldn’t really complain about something without at least proposing a solution. But on the other hand, the religious person might feel awkward about having to go against the team and suggest something the team might not enjoy (or show up to) as much as happy hour, or they might feel that it’s the VP’s responsibility to wield her power to include them.

What do you think? And does this fall under (for lack of a better word) the “discrimination” umbrella — i.e. is it discriminatory for our VP to not make accommodations and expect the religious person to do so, or just insensitive, or none of the above? Is this even in accommodation territory, since happy hour is a voluntary event anyway?

It depends on whether it’s an informal happy hour with some coworkers casually getting together or something more like a team event. If it’s the former and a manager isn’t regularly participating, it’s really up to those people to decide how they want to handle that, although certainly the collegial and thoughtful thing would be to suggest more inclusive activities on occasion. But if it’s more like a work event or if a manager is regularly involved, then yeah, the manager has a responsibility to ensure that people aren’t being left out, whether because of religious or dietary reasons, or even just personal preference (like hating bars). That’s because if it’s a work event or a manager is regularly present, there’s a higher obligation to think about the morale and inclusion of the entire group.

Ideally it would be great for the person with the restriction to speak up and make a different suggestion, but realistically many people in that position are hesitant to do so because they feel awkward about it. And ideally everyone else would recognize that reality and speak up so that they don’t have to.

As for discrimination, it could be an issue if it’s a work event, or if it’s giving the religious person less access to work opportunities.

2. Our graphic designer confided in me that he’s color blind

I have recently become the marketing project manager at a medium sized nonprofit. Over the past few weeks, I have had to work closely with our graphic designer, and I noticed that he was getting his greens, oranges, and yellows mixed up. When I asked him about it, he admitted that he was color blind, and asked me to not tell our manager. Looking back over the last several months, I have realized this is a lot of the reasons we have to keep going over a lot of projects and tweaking the colors. It’s challenging as he is our only graphic designer, and obviously it’s necessary for him to get the right colors in the right places.

We are going through a rebrand and our new logo has three different shades of orange in it, and the color palette is a lot of oranges and yellows. I really like the guy, but I’m concerned that this is going to affect his quality of work, resulting in time wasted in a situation where we are already struggling to find enough time to get things done. It feels dishonest to not tell our manager, but I don’t want to get him in any sort of trouble. We are a small enough team that I couldn’t say it anonymously, and I don’t entirely trust our HR team to handle it with tact. What should I do? This “secret” is causing a lot of stress.

Your coworker put you in a really crappy position by telling you about something that has a real impact on the work he does for you but asking you not to tell anyone. One option would be to talk to your manager about what you’ve observed without disclosing what he told you — for example, “I’m finding that Fergus can’t distinguish between certain shades of greens, oranges, and yellows, and it’s causing us to having to keep doing multiple rounds of revisions.” After all, you might have said that even if he’d never told you about the color blindness. But it feels a little icky to know the cause and not bring it into the conversation — which goes back to him putting you in a crappy position.

Your other option is to go back to Fergus and say, “I’m sympathetic, but this is causing issues with the projects we’re working on together, and it’s something I feel like I need to loop Jane in on so we can figure out the best way to handle it.”

3. My new hire is getting stuck with a bad work space

I am a manager of a team within an organization that is growing so much that we are running out of office space. Our senior management team is working on securing additional space, but in the interim we are left in a less than optimal situation. I have two new staff members starting in the next few weeks, both at the same level (let’s say “junior teapot makers”). All of the other junior teapot makers at my organization share an office with one other person (and on rare occasion two, if it’s a bigger office), but have their own desks and have windows in their offices. One of my new hires will be getting the last slot in these offices. The other hire has been assigned a space inside an interior “open” office with a shared table with one other new junior teapot maker who is coming in on a different team. There are no other options for space at this point, although these hires will come in and see some open window offices, but those have been earmarked for senior teapot managers who will be starting in the next few weeks as well.

I am nervous about the optics of all this and how to frame this to my hires. The two in the open office are going to see that every other junior teapot maker has a better office situation than they do, and at this point I can give them no timeline other than “senior staff are working to move you out, but in the meantime you’re stuck.” This is especially sticky given that my two staff members are starting relatively close to one another and one has a much better situation than the other.

Is there anything I can do to make this situation better? Am I overthinking this? I just know that I would feel really upset if I were in their shoes and especially at the junior level would not feel empowered enough to say something. I don’t want to end up losing these staff over this issue, but my hands really are tied.

This isn’t the worst thing in the world — they’re junior, and they’re probably not going to think it’s outrageous that they’re not getting their own offices. Just explain the situation — “I’m so sorry about this, but we’re running out of space, and this is the situation for now. We’re working to get different space for you, but I’m not sure how quickly that will be able to happen.”

This happens — it’s not a slight, just the reality of the space that’s available. Most people, especially junior hires, will be fine with it. Disappointed maybe, but not leaving a job over it. (That said, do what you can to make the situation more comfortable for her — make sure she knows she can wear headphones, that she should talk to you if she finds she can’t focus, etc.)

4. My manager won’t let contractors participate in company events or meetings

I am managing a temporary contractor at a large company, and my boss is set on not letting the contractor participate in any normal employee things: team lunches/outings, she can’t bring her laptop home, she can’t go to any meetings, she can’t participate in company events like volunteering. I have been a contractor myself at other large companies and I felt like I was treated the same as any other employee, even being invited to company-sponsored parties. I also know contractors at the company I currently work for, and they are allowed to take their computers home and one even came to a team laser tag event after hours. I asked my boss if the contractor could go to volunteer day event since she expressed interest in it and she responded, “No, that is not legal. She’s not an employee. You can get sued for treating contractors like employees. I don’t know why X contractor was allowed to go to the laser tag event.”

Is this right? I have never heard of that before, and I don’t like how I can’t treat my new contractor like a real employee. I get that they can’t get benefits or vacation time, etc., but to not be able to go on a team lunch or outing or bring their computer home seems odd.

Many, many companies have similar sets of restrictions on contractors. It’s not that there’s a clear law prohibiting it, but rather that these can be factors that the government looks at in determining whether someone is really a contractor or an employee — because it’s true that if you treat them like employees, the law may decide that they are in fact employees and then the company will owe significant penalties and back taxes. Many companies choose to play it safe and ban the sorts of things you described so that there’s a clear delineation between contractors and employees.

What’s odd here is that your company is doing it one way and your manager is doing it another. Your manager’s way isn’t wrong, per se, but it sounds like your company as a whole takes a less strict approach. You could check with HR to find out what their general guidelines are for this, and then talk to your manager again if it turns out that HR is okay with some of this stuff.

5. After I couldn’t interview on short notice, employer picked a different candidate

An employer found me on LinkedIn and asked me to interview for a position at a small nonprofit foundation that really suited my skills and career aspirations. I completed a phone interview and an in-person interview, and everything seemed to be going well.

The employer contacted me a few weeks later for an interview with her and a board member. However, the only interview time she gave me was less than 24 hours away, would have required me to miss nearly four hours of work (with drive time included) because it was in the middle of the workday, and conflicted with unmissable meetings at my current job (we had a big event in three days, which I had discussed in a previous interview). I politely responded, letting her know that I had limited availability until after the event and that I was still very excited to speak with her and the board member, and I gave her times that I was available. I also informed her that times at the beginning or end of the day worked best for my schedule, but that I was happy to make any time of day work.

I followed up twice over the next two and a half weeks with no response. The next email I received was, “We have chosen another candidate.” Did I commit a major faux pas? Or should I take it as a sign that this wasn’t somewhere I would have wanted to work?

Nope, you didn’t do anything wrong. That was a perfectly reasonable email. I wouldn’t say that it’s a sign you wouldn’t have wanted to work there, though — it’s possible that they just got caught up with other candidates and would have gotten back to reschedule with you except that they found someone they knew was stronger. They shouldn’t have left you hanging for two and a half weeks, but while I’d like to condemn them for that, the reality is that that’s really common in hiring. I’d just write this one off to not being meant to be.

weekend free-for-all – August 20-21, 2016

3 catsThis comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand. (This one is truly no work and no school. If you have a work question, you can email it to me or post it in the work-related open thread on Fridays.)

Book recommendation of the week: I’m currently reading Amy Schumer’s new book, but really I’m still thinking about the book I recommended last week by her show’s head writer, You’ll Grow Out of It.

roasting departing colleagues, manager won’t return my emails about references, and more

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

1. Doing a roast of departing colleagues

An acquaintance recently told me that he had a great tradition at work, which was to include a roast in every colleague’s farewell party. After confirming that he wasn’t talking about food, I was unable to convince him that such an event really doesn’t belong in the workplace for what I thought were obvious reasons. Apparently his workplace had organized several such events before and he “never saw any tears” so it was all in good fun. I was too mortified to form an articulate reply after hearing that.

While I’m sure that some people enjoy being roasted by their friends, I can’t help but think that it’s just wildly inappropriate for a work function. I thought the entire point of a roast was to poke fun at people’s flaws or simply to (sarcastically) insult them and that just seems counter to the whole concept of being professional and collegial. Am I off-base here? If not, what convincing arguments could I have used to argue against this kind of event?

Ooooh, yeah, you’re not off-base. Of course, maybe what they do is more lighthearted and good-natured than what “roast” typically means, who knows — although I’d imagine that even then, there are remarks that sting or people who don’t navigate the line correctly.

If you wanted to argue it with him, you could point out that while there are certainly people who enjoy the experience and see it as being in good fun, it’s far from universally appreciated so it’s problematic to do it for every single resigning employee … that most offices have people with a bunch of different sense of humor and that what’s funny to one person can be offensive or upsetting to another … that “never seeing any tears” isn’t a reliable barometer of whether people are bothered, and that there’s probably pressure to appear to be okay with it even if they’re not … that when you’re not dealing with an office of professional comedians, there’s certain to be people who cross lines or just end up sounding mean (actually, that’s true with professional comics too) … that because this is work, there are lots of priorities that trump “some people will find this fun,”  like thinking about the morale and comfort of the entire group … and that there are lots of ways to send people off in warm, affectionate ways that don’t carry these risks.

2. My title makes me sound like I have management experience but I don’t

My current job title can be a little misleading to employers. I am an analytics manager, but I “manage” the analytics, not any people. Whenever I get approached on LinkedIn about possible opportunities elsewhere, they are almost always with the assumption that I have people management experience, when in fact I am in a department of one! I definitely work with a lot of different teams and people, but on equal footing, and often in support of their projects — they don’t hold much authority over me and I hold none over them. Most of my work is super independent, though, which is one of the reasons I’m looking at other companies.

My issue is that when I am responding to these managerial positions, I am not sure how or when to bring up my lack of experience. A lot of the postings mention that such experience is essential or required. Do I bring this up immediately in my replies to the recruiters? Or can I wait until I’m already on the phone with someone? I don’t want to waste anyone’s time if it really is absolutely required, but I know from the places I’ve worked at that companies are willing to hire on potential if the candidate is right, and I don’t want to disqualify myself from what seems like a promising job. Also, how do I bring it up? I am thinking of saying something along the lines of “management is absolutely a direction I want to take my career, and I feel like I have really pushed myself to learn and hone the skills needed for that responsibility, but I don’t have any direct workplace experience managing a team.”

I’d say it up-front before you schedule a phone interview, because if they’re saying explicitly that management experience is required, it’s probably required. It’s true that employers are often willing to be flexible on some requirements if you’re otherwise great, but management experience is less often one they want to compromise on. If it’s something where they have some wiggle room, the recruiter will know that and can assess your candidacy accordingly — but since you know your job title is probably misleading them, you should speak up from the start so as not to waste your or their time.

I’d just say, “I’m really interested in the role, but I want to be up-front that I don’t manage people currently, despite my title. I’m interested in moving into management, which is one thing that’s appealing about this job, but I want to make sure that’s not a deal-breaker before we move forward.”

(Relatedly, it is weird and amazing to me how many candidates try to bluff their way through questions about management experience, even when I try to pin them down directly. The ones who are open and direct about lack of experience in that area come across so much better.)

3. Former manager won’t return my emails about references

I am a recent grad and I just finished a temporary job where I worked under two supervisors. Both of them praised my job performance and said I did a wonderful job while working with them. I want to list both of them as references for my current job applications, but one of them blatantly ignores my email requests for references. I also once emailed him inquiring into an opening for a permanent position, and he completely ignored that, too. The thing is, he still replies to other non-job-related emails (such as any email about the work I was already doing for them.)

I find this behavior very odd, and was wondering if you had any insight regarding this issue. He said she liked my job performance, so why would he ignore my reference requests?

I’m not sure! He could be a disorganized mess, or he could be rudely signaling that he doesn’t really want to give you a reference after all (if so, this is not the right way for him to convey that). At this point, I’d give up on using him as a reference regardless of what happens, since you don’t want to list him and then have him not return employers’ calls. And if you’ve got another manager from that job who’s more responsive, you should be covered.

4. Employer wants to change me from contractor to employee and lower my pay

I’ve been working as a contractor for a company for three years.I am paid at the rate of about $50/hour. The owner of the company wants to make me an employee to keep his head above water with IRS (the agency is auditing his company, which has four other contractors like me).

He also wants to reduce my hourly rate because he says he can’t afford to pay his share of my Social Security and unemployment taxes. He will pay his share of the taxes but cover it by reducing my hourly rate. Is this fair and/or legal?

It’s definitely legal. It’s hard to say whether or not it’s fair without knowing more (like how much he’s reducing your hourly rate by), but it’s pretty common for contractors to get paid more than employees, since contractors are responsible for their own payroll taxes and don’t receive benefits.

I’d do the math to figure out the amount this will reduce your tax burden by, so that you know if you’ll be coming out head, behind, or relatively even. If it looks like you’ll come out behind, you should point that out and try to negotiate the rate. Also, find out if you’ll be receiving benefits; if you are, you’ll want to factor in the money you’ll (hopefully) save on health insurance, paid vacation, etc.

5. Contacting a hiring manager on LinkedIn who went to my same college

I just stumbled across a position at a research/think-tank organization that I think would be a fantastic fit for. I did an alumni search on LinkedIn for my college and found that (gasp!) the person I think I would be directly reporting to actually attended my small, midwestern liberal arts college!

Would it be inappropriate to ask to connect with this person via LinkedIn? And….is it inappropriate to mention my intention to apply for the position?

It’s fine to do that as long as you don’t imply that you expect special treatment from it. Send a short message saying that you’re applying for the position and noticed that you both attended College X and you’d love to talk with her if she feels like it might be the right match. (And apply before sending this, so that if she goes to look up your application, it’s there.)

I’m normally not a big fan of doing this rather than just applying and seeing what happens, but when there’s an alumni connection (especially from a small school) you have more grounds to do it, as long as you keep it low-key like the language above.