my boss seems irritated when I ask questions, new job wants me to travel for a month at a time, and more

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

1. My new job wants me to travel for a month at a time

One month ago, I was hired by an organization that covers several states to work in a particular city. It is my first job out of grad school. My job description says my job would include some travel in the areas surrounding my city. I was also told I may have to travel to events in my state. Now my boss is asking me to travel to another state for four weeks to work on a project. I was not told when I took the job that I would be expected to travel that long and that far away. I don’t have kids, but I have pets and a partner that I don’t want to leave for that amount of time.

I like my new job and I don’t want to quit, but I really feel like this was an expectation that should have been made clear before I took the job. I would not have accepted knowing I would be expected to travel for so long. Any advice? (And because of the nature of the work, I would need to go to the other location to do the work their asking. I can’t be a part of that project from my location.)

Figure out if it’s a deal-breaker for you and what might make it acceptable to you. (For instance, would you being willing to do it if it you knew it was the only time you’d need to? Would you leave the job before agreeing to do it?)

Then talk to your boss. Say something like this, “Because of family commitments here, it would be difficult for me to be away for a whole four weeks. I was prepared for travel, but hadn’t realized I’d need to do trips this long. Is there any flexibility on the amount of time I’d be away? And is this something I should expect might come up again going forward?”

2. My colleague’s religion requires him to wash his feet in our bathroom sink

I work at the corporate headquarters of a large multinational company. The other day, I saw a colleague standing washing his foot in the common men’s room sink. To me, this is unsanitary. I asked if he thought this was appropriate. I acknowledge the poor word choice. He responded yes, because washing his feet is required before prayer. To my colleague, this is a religious necessity. What is the best solution that respects his religious needs and my hygienic ones? Other large multinationals must have encountered this situation and found a mutually respectful balance.

Perhaps I’m a particularly unhygienic person, but I don’t think that washing his feet in the bathroom sink is a major hygiene offense. I mean, unless he’s rubbing his feet against the faucet, is it really that different from people fresh out of a bathroom stall washing their hands in that same sink? And then throw in the fact that his religion requires him to wash at that moment and he presumably doesn’t have another place he can do that, and I’d say it’s not something to make a fuss over.

3. HR won’t let us hold people accountable for performance

I just read your column about accountability and got aggravated because one of my long-standing frustrations as a manager at the large, government affiliated nonprofit where I work has been a lack of commitment to accountability. In my department, I try and, I think, mostly succeed at following your advice about talking explicitly about expectations, giving feedback, etc. – but then I come up against a lack of ability to ensure that actions have consequences – good or bad – at the institutional level.

For example, every employee is evaluated using the same performance appraisal template, which asks questions like whether the person is “courteous,” then spits out a score. If you have a score of at least 60 out of 100, you keep truckin’ along. The problem is that everyone on my staff is responsible for making 25 teapots a year. If someone shows up sober most of the time and doesn’t swear at anyone, but they only make 21 teapots, my hands are tied. On the other end of the spectrum, everyone gets the same salary increase, so those people making 42 teapots don’t see any tangible reward for going above and beyond.

So I was excited when we got new leadership this year that requested a plan for providing rewards and consequences for meeting or failing to meet the 25 teapot goal. I’m happy with the plan I developed and it was endorsed by our leadership. Then it went to HR and fell into a black hole. For months, I have been following up and told they were reviewing the plan and would get back to me. Finally, I ambushed the person I’ve been trying to talk to and she told me that the problem they’re hung up on is the consequences for failing to reach goals. Essentially, if someone fails to meet the 25 teapot goal (and this is after I have met with everyone regularly throughout the year about their progress and provided them with as much guidance and support as I’m able), I want to give them six months to improve their performance or be let go. HR asserts that the proposal “changes the terms of employment.” I don’ t understand this because the job is “teapot maker” and the job description explicitly states they’re responsible for making 25 teapots a year.

Instead of just tearing my hair out, though, I want to try to move this thing forward. I see a glimmer of opportunity because the HR director hasn’t outright told me it’s impossible. I’d rather the next step not be whining to the boss – in part because HR doesn’t seem very impressed that our top leadership wants this to happen. How do I proceed?

Your HR department sucks, and your organization’s management sucks for allowing HR to suck (although it sounds like that might be changing with your new leadership). And really — “changes the terms of employment”? Have these HR people ever held a job outside this organization and seen that, in fact, you can indeed hold people to performance standards?

I’d talk to your new leadership directly if you can — the ones who want this to change. Tell them you’re having trouble getting HR to move forward with it, say you feel hamstrung in taking action on low performers, and ask for advice in getting HR to move on it.

4. My manager seems irritated when I ask him questions

I started a new position a couple of months ago. My new company is very large (with several offices throughout the U.S.) and in a complicated, highly regulatory industry. The corporate structure is also complicated and fluid, with people frequently changing job roles and responsibilities. I often need to interact with others in the company to get my job done, but it is often unclear who I should be contacting. My manager has stated repeatedly that I should ask him whenever I have questions. Due to travel schedules, most of our interactions are through emails or phone calls. I do not have a problem with asking questions, but try to do so only when needed. Being new to the company and the industry, I have had to ask my manager several questions over the past couple of months.

However, I get the sense (based on curtness, tone of voice, and at times pretty clear exasperation) that my manager gets frustrated and irritated when I ask questions. He is very busy, with a lot on his plate, but I need answers to my questions to be able to get my job done. Also, when I receive assignments from him, he phrases the request in a cryptic manner with very little details. So, then I need to ask follow up with questions about the details about the project. For example, who should I engage to help me with x, what do you mean by y (when there are no details or explanation given), etc. I appreciate any advice about how to deal with this situation as I am afraid that my supervisor’s irritation is becoming a problem.

Ask him about it. For instance: “Is there a different way you’d like me to handle it when I have this sort of question? Is it easier for you if I save questions up and ask them all at one time, or is there someone else you’d like me to check with on some of this?” And if you’re comfortable, you might even say, “I’m getting the sense that I might be asking more questions that you have time to field. Is there a different approach you’d like me to be taking?”

5. Should I add a P.S. to the end of my cover letter?

I have been seeing all this stuff on adding a P.S. to the end of a cover letter. Would you recommend doing it?

Nope. It’s gimmicky. P.S.’s make sense when you’re writing by hand and realize you have something more to say. When you’re writing a business letter, they make no sense — they come across as salesy and gimmicky. If you’re relying on gimmicks, it means the content of your letter isn’t strong enough to stand on its own. Focus on the letter itself.

{ 249 comments… read them below }

  1. KarenT

    #5
    This is the first I’ve heard of PS as a tactic in a cover letter. I wonder what the thinking behind it is?

    1. Mike B.

      Alison said it: “salesy.” It’s a formalized way of grabbing reader attention, which makes it an attractive marketing tactic to some writers, but they don’t realize it stands out like a sore thumb in the days of word processing.

      1. Kimberlee, Esq.

        On the one hand, I completely agree with Alison. I hate PS’s and I’ve been complaining about them for years. However, I think this idea that it stands out like a sore thumb, or even that it’s universally viewed as gimmicky, is flawed. It’s a tested copywriting technique, and you can see the evidence in the end-of-year fundraising appeals we’re all about to be bombarded with… I don’t know that I get letters from any non-profits that DON’T use them.

        I still agree that nobody should use them, but more out of the principle of the thing, rather than any note of their efficacy. I’d bet there are tons of employers who respond positively.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Ah, but that’s a sales letter; you know when you receive it that the purpose is to ask you to give money. It’s a very different context than a cover letter for a job, where most hiring managers don’t want to feel that you’re giving them an aggressive sales job.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

            Right. But what I’m saying is that several of the comments here seem to imply that it’s lazy/indicative of poor writing/out of date. It’s just not. Don’t use them in cover letters, but don’t dismiss them (incorrectly).

            1. Worker B

              Except it is indicative of poor writing in the high-tech age, because P.S. is literally a postscript. And depending on the communications field — someone hiring an editor, for example, as opposed to someone hiring in marketing or P.R. — might immediately disqualify that person, and probably should.

              1. Koko

                As Victoria and Kimberlee note, though, it has another purpose now even if the original purpose no longer makes sense in a high-tech age. A PS used to mean “here’s something I forgot to write before I signed off.” Now it means, “Here’s a one-sentence summary of the most important single piece of information contained in this letter in case you’re too lazy/busy/whatever to have read it thoroughly.” *Especially* in the high-tech age, nobody really reads anymore unless it’s something very important. They skim, and I don’t think it’s at all indicative of poor writing to demonstrate that you can write something that skimmers can comprehend. Of course there are places it’s appropriate and places it isn’t, but a PS is no longer literally a postscript nor an indication of bad writing.

                1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

                  Right. Although I’d describe its current use as “Here’s a one-sentence summary of the most important information in this letter, because I know that your eye will naturally be drawn to this little bit of text that stands our from the paragraphs above it.” :)

      1. Taz

        Yeah, if anything it’s a flashing neon signal that the person has no modern communications skills.

  2. Charlie

    RE #2: I don’t see the difference between washing feet in the sink and washing hands after using the toilet. Surely they are both equally ‘dirty’. I don’t think OP has any cause to be upset, especially as the person in question is doing so out of religious necessity.

    1. The Maple Teacup

      I’ve got a gut reaction that feels feet are more dirty than hands. Even in this situation. (Maybe it’s because of a personal taboo against exposing bare feet outside the home?) Can this employee use a wet facecloth to wash their feet?

      1. ella

        Depending on the religion (and I think there’s a few possibilities), there are strictures both on the type of water that’s allowable and a strict definition of what constitutes “washing.” So, there’s a very good chance that wiping off with a towel isn’t sufficient.

      2. Your gut

        My religion does NOT have a tradition of feet washing. That said, I wear socks and shoes. If I took them off, washed my feet, prayed, washed my feet, and then put my shoes and/or socks back on, then how are my feet any *more* dirtier than hands, esp. in a bathroom? Please.

        1. Zillah

          Yeah, I agree. If anything, my feet are cleaner – I shower in the morning and then immediately get dressed, including clean socks – when did my feet have the chance to get dirty?? I imagine that’s true for most people. Hands, though – you’re touching a lot to go through your daily routine unless you’re Rogue from X-Men. I can’t imagine they’re very clean!

        2. C3PO

          My guess is that people associate feet with dirtiness despite regular showers and clean socks because few people seem to wash their shoes anymore — you’re lucky if folks use cedar shoe trees. Combine that with the trend for moving from leather to odor-trapping synthetics for shoe liners, and you end up with a bunch of people with very strong memories of rotten-smelling shoes, transformed into memories of rotten-smelling feet since they only ever stank once the shoes were off. :-)

          1. AB

            Not washing shoes is a big eww. How do people not do that esp when you have ballet flats and heels that you don’t wear socks with? I keep a thing of antibacterial wipes (and a can of lysol for my running shoes) in my closet. One quick wipe or spray after you take your shoes off and you never have gross, stinky shoes.

            1. Squirrel!

              That’s what those adorable little flat socks are for. They only cover the bottoms and the minimum amount of the side of your feet to stay on, but they don’t peek out any further. That’s how I keep my flats and other same-style shoes clean. Just wash them often and you’re good. If they start to get funky, I stick half of a dryer sheet in each one for about a week. Works like a charm!

          2. Ife

            I had no idea washing your shoes was a thing people did! I guess I’ve never noticed a substantial amount odor coming from my or anyone else’s shoes to consider it. Even with stinky feet, the odor seems to dissipate from the shoe pretty quickly. How do you even wash shoes without ruining them?

            1. Mister Pickle

              Back in my ‘motorcycle phase’, StinkyBoot was a very real issue sometimes. Solution: toss them in the freezer for a week.

            2. fposte

              Yeah, I’ve never heard of this before. You wash canvas shoes in the washer sometimes, sure. But this notion of washing leather shoes is a new thing. I’d be in favor of it except for the antibacterial thing–I really don’t like using those for non-medical reasons given the resistance issues.

            3. Kelly L.

              I throw my sneakers in the actual washing machine sometimes, like if they get muddy. But I don’t do much with my dressy shoes, mostly for fear of damaging them. What I do do is not wear the same pair two days in a row if I’m going without socks, as I’ve heard that the “day off” allows the bacteria to die out so you don’t get stink.

            4. C3PO

              It is tricky with synthetics… not sure if I’ve come up with a good answer there just yet, so I try to avoid those.

              With leather-lined shoes, I usually just use saddle soap on the interior when I polish the exterior. Stuff newspaper in them to absorb any moisture, allow them to air dry, then insert cedar shoe trees to absorb any remaining moisture and help them keep their shape.

              1. Editor

                Don’t wash shoes in the washer — even canvas shoes — unless the shoes were specifically designed to walk along the beach in the water or something.. Washing and drying can destroy the glues used to put the shoes together. Do spot clean or damp clean athletic shoes as needed and wipe dry.

                You can alternate between two pairs so the shoes dry out completely between wearings, whether the shoes are canvas, leather, or something else. I have a couple of pairs of flats and a couple of pairs of low heels I wear for work, and mostly I don’t wear the same pair two days in a row (plus there’s one pair of older shoes that I wear on really rainy days). I wear hose or sock liners or socks — I don’t like being barefoot in shoes.

                The shoes seem to hold up longer because they’re rotated, and I don’t notice odors. If I spill something on them, I clean up as needed.

            5. Melissa

              Me either. I wash my canvas shoes and sometimes my sneakers but it never occurred to me to wash my flats and dress shoes and leather shoes. I also don’t have foot odor problems in my shoes and if I did I would use a little powder in my shoes to cut down on the odor.

      3. INTP

        I understand that as a gut reaction, because we are socialized to see feet as gross. However, rationally, it doesn’t hold up. Your hands are one of the germiest parts of your body, touching your own mucous membranes, your food, bathroom surfaces, etc all day. Your feet are fairly well protected. They can spread foot fungi and viruses to other feet, but that’s not something you need to worry about unless you’re wiping your hands or feet around on the surface of the sink quickly after this person has just finished washing his feet for some reason. I don’t think that the religious employee should be held to everyone’s gut feelings when they aren’t backed by logic.

        It would, however, probably make things more comfortable for both sides if the religious employee were provided some other means of washing their feet. I doubt they enjoy having to get up onto the bathroom counter or contort themselves to get their feet into the sink.

      4. Melissa

        I understand the gut reaction, but given that most people’s feet go from shower to shoes and are in shoes all day long whereas you spend all day touching all kinds of things – noses, butts, money, toilet handles and bathroom door knobs – I’m willing to bet that your hands actually are dirtier than your feet.

    2. ella

      Hands are generally dirtier than feet, anyway, because they touch so much disgusting stuff. (I know feet tend to be smellier, but hands tend to be filthier.) As long as he isn’t leaving a mess for the custodial staff I don’t see the issue. It’s a sink, it’s meant to wash things.

      1. Fish Microwaver

        Yeah, but people (hygienic ones anyway) tend to wash their hands more often than their feet. And feet sweat a lot.

        1. Taz

          We have a lot of questions dealing with what is an isn’t acceptable to wash in the sink, from breast pumps etc., and it seems weird to start making distinctions (especially if you like to microwave fish! ha) about what’s disgusting personally and what’s not, especially when there are all sorts of extenuating circumstances for why people are doing these things (the workplace is accommodating the religion, the breast feeding, etc)

          1. fposte

            Oh, the breast-pump thing is a good callback–I’d forgotten that. And I think it too brings up the fact that “clean” in most of our speech isn’t about the science of hygiene, it’s about adherence to cultural norms and taboos about bodies.

          2. Tomato Frog

            This reminded me of the breast pump issue, too, in that my first reaction was to wonder why people would want to single out and inconvenience a coworker already coping with a less-than-ideal situation just because they’re doing something that mildly squicks you out in a space where plenty of mildly squicky things happen.

        2. Sharon

          Except that people who are in a religion that requires foot-washing for prayers, wash their feet several times a day. Perhaps you and I only wash our feet in the shower once a day, but others wash more often.

    3. AnonyMouse

      Yeah, if you’re wearing shoes and socks all day, it’s not like your feet are coming into contact with much unhygenic stuff. Hands are likely to be much dirtier, really – feet may be smellier, but they shouldn’t be otherwise gross. If the OP’s coworker was washing his feet as his desk or in the communal kitchen, I could see politely asking him to move it to the bathroom, but since he’s already in the bathroom I think he’s within his rights.

      1. AnonyMouse

        Oh, and I get that some people are weirded out by feet, but in that case I think the solution might just be not to watch him! I have encountered one person with a severe foot phobia, so that might be a little different. I’m not Muslim (and I’m assuming this coworker is) but my understanding was that there are specific times for prayer each day – so if the OP is truly afraid of or sickened by feet, maybe he could find out when his coworker will be doing his foot washing and avoid the bathroom during those times? And if it’s an issue of not wanting to use a sink that’s been used to wash feet, maybe the OP and his colleague could agree on one sink that will be off-limits for feet, and the OP could try to use that one.

        1. Formica Dinette

          I’m kinda weirded out by feet, but I guess I’m not as weirded out as I thought because I would have no problem with a co-worker washing their feet in the sink. Plus, as others have said, if the guy is washing his feet before prayers each day, his feet are probably cleaner than many other people’s.

          I’m a little stuck on OP’s use of the word “unsanitary.” I don’t understand how feet are less sanitary than hands.

    4. UKAnon

      I’m still trying to work out how he managed to wash his feet in the sink. All the sinks I know are waist height or higher, so unless he’s incredibly flexible, I don’t know quite how he’d be managing…

      Maybe that’s where the problem originates?

      (From someone with a really bad reaction to bare feet who is internally shrivelling up at the thought)

      1. The IT Manager

        This reminds of a anecdote I heard. Bathroom sinks in Afghanistan (IIRC) joint military base were being damaged/destroyed. US military eventually figured out the problem was Muslims washing their feet in the sinks for prayers (contortions and body weight on sinks not designed for that). Solution: include a floor level sink.

        However this is emblematic about the American/western problem in the middle east. Good intentions, but we failed understand the people/culture/religion enough to even understand that something like this is a necessity in their life.

        Think about the poor co-worker who probably would much prefer not to be washing his feet in a sink at waist level because the building has no accomidations for his religious practices.

        1. Kimberlee, Esq.

          There was a big hullabaloo at a university in Michigan a couple years back because they were installing floor-level sinks for this very purpose (the university, like the state, has a significant Muslim population), and it made national news (of the “OMG MUSLIMS ARE TAKING OVER” fearmongering variety). It’s absurd.

            1. Victoria, Please

              LOL!

              I’m kind of surprised we don’t have this at our university since we make a huge deal and effort for diversity. Our students are quite passive, though, so maybe that’s why. Perhaps if I get bored I will start to agitate for floor level sinks… does anyone know if this is just for men, or do women also need to wash 5x per day for prayer? /ignorance is embarrassing

              1. Nervous Accountant

                The requirements are the same for women, to wash 5x a day if they decide to pray. One can get away with not having to repeat the wash several tiems a day as long as it doesn’t become invalidated (by going to the bathroom or passing gas lol)

          1. Artemesia

            Yeah this is part of the great ‘creeping Shariah law’ conspiracy that Fox is always on about. Respecting other religions is apparently deeply unAmerican to the whackaloons.

            1. C Average

              I’ve never seen the word “whackaloons” before, but it’s awesome and I plan to use it as soon as the opportunity arises. Also, what you said! My parents, who are college-educated and should know better, live in a rural red state (Idaho) and have become Fox devotees. They’re convinced the Muslims are taking over ‘Murrica one halal meat shop at a time. Gahhh.

              1. Sigrid

                “Because ‘Murrica!” is my husband’s go-to response every time I ask why the whackaloons are being whacky.

              2. Gene

                We had one of those in the surgery waiting room on Wednesday; wouldn’t allow anyone to change the one TV away from Fox “News”. Being who I am, I changed to CNN and you’d think I hit him with a stick. He leapt up and changed it back while shooting me daggers, then stood in front of the TV so no one else could change it.

                1. Formica Dinette

                  That guy–wow! It isn’t like CNN is a bastion of liberality, though I suppose relative to Fox…

                  Anyway, thanks for the hilarious story! :D

          2. ella

            First it was the people in their wheelchairs with their ramps! Now it’s sinks! WHEN WILL THE OPPRESSION END?!

            /sarcasm.

        2. yasmara

          My Very Large IT Company has a large population of Muslim workers at one of our US manufacturing sites. Because of similar complaints (water on the floor, etc.), the facilities management team did a remodel of the manufacturing area bathrooms to include floor sinks expressly for washing feet.

      2. The IT Manager

        Well you’re in the UK. If you have a bad reaction to feet, I recommend you stay away from the American south especially Florida where flip flips have become ubiquitous nearly year round. You’d see a lot of feet here. Actually those feet would be dirtier (mostly dusty though) than a person’s feet who have been in shoes and socks all day.

    5. Señor Empanadador

      Anyone who washes their feet five times a day is likely to have clean feet, assuming they don’t walk around barefoot inbetween. I know people who don’t wash their hands five times a day.

      1. Leah

        Yes. This person is washing his feet five times a day and I’m going to assume he wears socks and shoes the rest of the time. I can guarantee that at least half the hands that are washed in those sinks (after touching taps!) are dirtier than my own feet, which do not get washed 5 times per day.

    6. Rebecca

      I agree. Even if this man was walking around barefoot in manure, how could that be any worse than someone’s hands after they used the toilet? Feces and urine are feces and urine, regardless of the source. If he is using soap and water, what’s the big deal? If the OP is nervous about this, he could use a sanitizing wipe to wipe off the faucet handles before he touches them.

    7. fluffy

      We periodically have something like this going on, but once the feet are washed, there’s usually water splashed all over and then paper towels are scattered around, so the next person to use our single-person bathrooms is faced with a carpet of wet towels. We do have showers in the building. We’re trying to find a sensitive way to suggest the showers, and, by the way, adults pick up after themselves.

      1. Jessa

        I can’t see why being direct but polite would be an issue – “After you return from the staff bathroom, there is a lot of water and paper towels around, please make sure you clean up in the future. Thank you.” No need to even bring up what they’re doing. Doesn’t matter why there’s a mess.

        I think there’s a maybe a worry here that if you ask a religious person or question them about the way they went about something religious, there’s a potential discrimination issue. And in this case you’re not saying don’t wash, and you’re not saying anything you would not say to anyone who made a mess. Ignore the religious issue and just focus on the “you left a mess, people who make messes clean them up, that’s just politeness.”

  3. Dan

    #2

    I do a lot of travel, and there really are some cultures that consider the feet to be really dirty. In other cultures, you don’t eat with your left hand, because they find it dirty for reasons Allison alludes to. (Those cultures don’t use toilet paper.)

    But american culture is that the minute someone says “religion”, that’s a trump card that lets people get away with stuff that may otherwise be considered objectionable.

    In most countries, religion and culture are tightly wound, and blatantly so. That’s just an observation, nothing more.

    But in the US, we in theory don’t have as tight of a relationship. While we can debate the federal government’s observance of certain Christian holidays, it’s fair to say a large number of people don’t attach much religious meaning to them. IOW, religion is absent from a lot of people’s lives.

    Also, the mainstream American religions don’t have too many rituals that are required to be practiced outside of the home or church.

    We are germophobes too, probably too an extreme.

    Take all of that together and it’s a bit odd for us to see someone wash their feet in a public sink.

    1. ella

      I’m not disagreeing, but I don’t think ‘religion’ is a trump card simply because it’s some kind of magic button or because we’re afraid to offend people. I think that (as a sociable species that has to live in close quarters with each other), when someone is doing something that we either don’t understand/don’t do ourselves/is annoying in some way, it’s helpful (and more easy to tolerate) if we at least know that there’s a reason behind the action in question. If someone says something is part of their religion, it’s generally shorthand for “I have a good reason for doing this, and it’s really important to me, or I wouldn’t be acting so far outside the behavioral norms of the office.” It’s easier to respect someone’s actions if you at least know they’re coming from a sincere and committed place.

    2. EngineerGirl

      The person could buy a small basin, fill it up from the sink, and then wash their feet. Less contortions that way. Then they could dump the water down the sink or toilet.

      1. Your gut

        If they don’t mind contorting, who cares? Let them contort at the bathroom sink if they want to. I really don’t think you’re thinking of their comfort by offering this way – this is something that likely their family and friends and culture have been doing for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, in America and wherever else. Someone has thought of that way, and this person is choosing to do it this way. It is not an issue.

        1. EngineerGirl

          In a public place we both make modifications so everyone feels comfortable. A basin allows the person to keep to their faith while appealing to the phobic.

          1. rando

            Should we modify behavior to appeal to the phobic? Hands are dirty and bathrooms exist because we have bodily functions that are not germ free.

            Washing feet at a sink is unusual, (for majority culture in the US), not unhygienic.

            1. misspiggy

              Quite. Using one designated basin might be an answer from the LW’s point of view, but from the perspective of ‘the greatest good’, the LW getting over an entirely psychological issue would be better. Assuming they’re not so horrified they’re unable to work :-)

              1. The Maple Teacup

                I like the basin idea. I think it’s been mentioned elsewhere that workplaces have installed lower basins with running water. It’s not just catering to the feet-phobics. Isn’t it kinder to the foot washing employees not to require them to perform Whooping-Crane like contortions?

                1. Natalie

                  Eh, foot washing stations aren’t free, and not every bathroom has space to accommodate one and stay within code. If the employer is small and/or rents their space, I think it’s fine for the dude to continue to use the sink.

                2. Mister Pickle

                  Installing a foot-wash basin would be an ‘ideal’ solution, although a) it’s probably going to cost some serious $$$, and b) as I’ve stated elsewhere, I personally prefer to keep business and religion separate.

                  Having said that, I want to distance myself from those people who disapprove of foot-washing because they disapprove of Islam. And after doing a quick Google, I think that’s what a lot of the foofaraw about this is based in.

                  The only real issue I can see about foot-washing in a sink is safety: I’ve never seen anyone wash their feet in a public restroom before, but I picture someone balancing on one foot – probably on a wet tile floor – while they wash the other foot. Seems like there’s a potential for a slip-and-fall.

                  There seem to be a number of portable foot-wash basins of various types for sale in the marketplace. Perhaps a chair with a small basin pushed under it could serve as a “foot-wash station” in a company restroom?

      2. Decimus

        If this IS Islam we are discussing, then a basin won’t be sufficient. My understanding is that the water needs to be flowing for it to be properly clean. It’s the same reason cleaning with a cloth won’t work. A sink can be turned on and the water flows. A basin does not have flowing water.

        1. Kristy

          In my experience, supplementing the basin with a pitcher for water has been sufficient, as they can pour the water over their feet. This may be different depending on the individual’s beliefs, but as plumbing is still a relatively “new” invention in human history, I imagine there is a way to do this.

      1. fposte

        To the OP? No, I don’t think so–this isn’t worth arguing about or going to managers on to me. If Clean Feet Guy himself wrote in, though? I think I’d suggest that he look into ways to make his hobby less intrusive to others, like one of those BYO footspas that Mister Pickle mentions.

        1. fposte

          Now that I think about it, this is probably my overall default–try not to be bothered by other people, and try to avoid bothering other people.

      2. Rose

        I was just thinking about that. For me… Yes! It’s weird and inappropriate.

        But if it’s for religious reasons, it’s totally ok. Doesn’t bother me.

  4. EngineerGirl

    #3 – This is my pet peeve with HR persons that I see all the time. I don’t get why this exists. Hey HR, SAME is not the same as EQUAL, OK? We treat people equally, but we do not treat them the same because people are different. In fact, treating people the same is actually treating them unequally. But it does require justification for treating people differently. I think that might be the sticking point. You actually have to own your treatment of others and be (gasp) accountable by justifying why you treat them differently based on performance.
    Treating people the same is a cop-out of the unthinking.

    1. HR Manager

      I’m in total agreement, though I admit to this case sounding unusual – maybe because it’s a government office? In companies I’ve worked for, the tone around performance and accountability is set at the top. HR certainly has influence over tools and messaging, and for keeping people honest about this, but it can’t over-ride what senior management does or doesn’t believe in. I’ve enjoyed some organizations where HR plays an active role in defining this philosophy, along with management. In a not ideal scenario, management doesn’t engage HR on this at all, and it’s HR fighting to move the lever one way or the either (more reasonable — more accountability).

      I don’t doubt there are some HR folks who don’t push for accountability, but to have HR override what a leader wants to do when it’s not blatantly illegal or risky is strange to me. I find myself more often than not pushing managers to hold people accountable than the other way around.

  5. Nervous Accountant

    #2, he could also wet his hands and wipe his feet but that would drip a bit on the floor. Those who are not as flexible and cant get their feet up to a sink level are allowed to wash their feet that way. ….but I don’t think that matters as much.

    I get that to some people who’ve never known a Muslim person in their life, this looks weird but in any case……he’s not harming anyone or behaving in such an antisocial manner that it should be so controversial. We always hear about people doing far far worse things (ex/the booger blog post from a few days back comes to mind, the new boss who peed all over the bathroom stall on purpose, etc) so I’m not sure why someone washing a non-genital body part is so gross. Weird? yes, gross and offensive, absolutely not.

  6. Robyn

    AOM I don’t know if you’ll see this, but the formatting on my Netvibes blog reader has gone nuts with your site!

    All paragraph breaks are gone. Not sure if it’s your site or Netvibes, though!

    1. Jen RO

      The post was broken this morning, and then Alison fixed it. (At an ungodly hour, if you ask me! That’s dedication.) My guess is that Netvibes is showing you a cached version.

  7. Perpetua

    #3, we have basically the opposite problem. I’m HR for my company and I have the support of CEOs, but the law (non-US) makes it very difficult to fire someone for performance-related issues. You can fire them for inappropriate conduct (e.g. coming to work drunk or being late repeatedly), but unsatisfying performance is officially not good enough of a reason for dismissal. It’s not impossible, but definitely extremely difficult. It’s one of the reasons why we mosrl give out 1-year contracts and usually the “solution” is to wait it out and not renew it. :sigh:

    1. QC

      It is a pain in the butt to fire low performers but I have found that going through all the steps (in my company it is about 5-8 months of write ups and counseling to fire someone for not performing their jobs up to the standard after they pass their 90 day review) and make it 200% clear that if they don’t shape up they will be shipped out, low performers tend to leave on their own accord.

      1. Jen RO

        It’s the same in my company, and it has worked to push people out. Last time it happened, the person got the message and found a new job… about a month before her PIP was scheduled to start.

  8. AnonyMouse

    #1: If you really have to be there for four weeks at a time, would your organisation be willing to let you come home on the weekends? I almost took a job that involved travel around half the time once, and they told me I’d be able to come home every Thursday night and head back Monday morning. That’s a lot more flying/driving/train riding/whatever you’re doing than some people would want, and your org may not go for it because it would certainly be more expensive, but I know it’s not an uncommon approach. But that doesn’t necessarily solve the long-term problem that the travel for this job might be more intense than you thought, so you should probably ask your boss to clarify the travel expectations.

    #3: Yup, this is really annoying. In addition to the problems with not being able to hold poor performers accountable, as you said, not being able to reward good performance could make your best employees resentful. If they see people who are barely (or not even) meeting their goals getting the same treatment they do, they probably won’t be happy with it for very long. In addition to working on the consequences for poor performance, I’d make sure you’re making your top people feel valued. If you can’t offer them anything formal or tangible, at least try to give them lots of positive feedback so they know they have a manager who thinks highly of them, and could push for promotions etc if any do come up.

    #4: I tend to ask a lot of questions so I feel your frustration on this, but is it at all possible that your manager thinks you should be able to figure these things out on your own? Rightly or wrongly, some managers do have a pretty hands-off style when it comes to employee training and prefer for people to learn by doing, and would like to see a really solid effort to figure things out independently before coming to them. If your manager gets the sense that you’re coming to him as a first step and he wants you to view it more as an option if all else fails, that could be the source of some of his frustration.

    1. misspiggy

      Yes. My partner has just taken up a new job as a newbie to the world of large companies. He was very stressed initially at not knowing how to do tasks assigned to him, not knowing who to contact, and so on. But he focused on finding that information out as much as possible through colleagues at the same level, and only going to his managers when those avenues failed. Even where instructions were unclear, asking a colleague, ‘what do you think this might mean?’,

      If the OP doesn’t have the kind of relationships with colleagues where they can ask, ‘hey, do you know who’s the best person to contact for spout-related issues?’, they might want to focus on building up those relationships. The more people you have to ask questions of, the less likely it is that any one person is going to get frustrated with you. And you repay them by sharing knowledge as you build it up. Even if the OP doesn’t have much in-person contact, relationship building by phone and email is the way forward. My partner has done a huge amount of this type of relationship building, and after two years is one of those ‘go-to’ people that everybody knows.

      1. Mister Pickle

        Re #4: I like AAM’s advice about basically facing the issue head-on with the boss, BUT – I think first off, the LW needs to put some thinking into some of the things mentioned by misspiggy above. Namely: have you really tried to hard to answer the question on your own?

        If you will pardon me using myself as an example: I work in the tech industry, and there’s a lot to keep up with, and over the years I’ve developed a simple process for this:

        1. Search information resources (web, email, etc).
        2. Ask colleagues.
        2a. (optional) Cast the I Ching or do a Tarot card reading.
        3. If all else fails, ask the boss for clarification.

        If you get to step 3 after making a good-faith effort at 1 and 2, and your boss is grumpy about you asking – at the very least you know that the problem truly lies with the boss (or perhaps with how you are interacting with the boss). In which case it’s probably time to go with AAM’s advice and have a serious sitdown with your boss and try to work out how best to work together on this kind of thing.

        1. AnonyMouse

          Yep, I’m not in tech but this is usually my procedure for answering work questions too. Mostly just because I learn best by figuring things out for myself, but also because I have a lot of questions and don’t want to annoy people! The OP’s questions are probably perfectly reasonable, but it’s always good to just make sure you’re doing everything you can to help yourself learn.

      2. Another HR Pro

        Re #4: I am guessing your manager may believe you should have developed a network by now that would enable you to figure out some of these questions out without going to him. If you are not using the company provided resources yet, absolutely do, but you should also be looking to create relationships with others. Good luck and start networking ASAP!!!

    2. NotSoRamblingMan

      Hi, LW #1 here. I did ask that, and did ask if there was something we could work out where I would be there a shorter amount of time (a week on, a week off, or going for two weeks, etc.). If I could come home that frequently I would be much more amenable to the travel, but unfortunately I was told I would need to be gone for the whole time. Thanks for the suggestion!

      1. books

        What? How far away is the place you’re traveling to that you have to stay there for the weekend (like, Hawaii?Guam?)? That just seems absurd that you can’t to Mon-Thurs or even Mon-Fri…. It sounds like your job picked up a new project in between interviewing you and bringing you on and maybe they’re not used to having staff travel? Can you cost out flight/train home for the weekend against 2 nights hotel & per diem as part of a request?

      2. Judy

        It’s hard to say how far away the travel actually is. I live in a location where I can be in another state in less that 30 minutes, or I can stay in my state and drive 6 hours, and I’m not in a large state.

        Are they expecting you to stay in the other location over the weekend? I’ve not done within-the-US travel that spanned weeks that didn’t involve returning home over the weekend. Only international travel has required not travelling home over the weekend. Of course, the locations I go to are 6-8 hour drives.

        For me now with kids, I’m much less willing to travel, but even then, last year I was gone for 3 weeks in a row. I did drive home every weekend, though, and it was very extraordinary circumstances. I could have stayed, and it was very taxing for me to leave on Fridays at 2pm and drive 6 hours. If we didn’t have kids I might have hung out there, maybe had my husband come to visit at least one of the weekends.

        1. NotSoRamblingMan

          This is in reply to both Judy and books – I’ll be several hundred miles away, so looking at driving for long hours to get there and back. I would be willing to do it to come home–on my own dime, even. But the job itself has irregular hours, too, and is often event oriented, so some weekend and evening work will be required, making it hard to schedule when I could go home. Things in the other state are currently just busier, so they are in need of more help there. I don’t disagree that they need help, just… it’s not what I thought I signed up for.

          1. books

            Ahhh you know, that was going to be another question – if you are doing events as it would make sense why you couldn’t come home. My guess is that you knew you’d be working on events (and thus anticipated weekend/evening hours) when you took the job? So your employer may not be seeing it as that far removed from your duties, even though it seems rough. I’d say give it a go and see how the rest of the job turns out. You might end up enjoying what you’re doing and finding ways to build flexibility into it in the future.

            1. NotSoRamblingMan

              Yeah, the weekend/evening work was something I knew about before taking the job (I typically put in a few hours every other weekend and have ~1 late night a week). The longer hours are ok with me when I get the benefit of getting to go home to my partner in the evening–it’s something I’m ok with and don’t mind. But with the distance I won’t be getting that rest time at home at all, and it’s really important to me, so I don’t know if this will work out long term.

          2. AnonyMouse

            Ah, I see what you mean. That’s rough, especially with pets. I understand traveling a lot is part of some jobs, but it would have been good if they could have given you a more realistic picture of what it would be like…but I guess sometimes things do just come up. Either way, I’m sorry! Hopefully you can get a sense of whether this is likely to be the situation from here on out.

    3. OP, #3

      RE: making good workers feel valued. The other part of this equation that I didn’t get into is that I assumed the reason HR was taking so long to get back to me was the flip side of the consequences for poor-performing employees, which is that I proposed offering high-performing employees additional days off for meeting goals and modest cash bonuses for doing a great job on particular projects. Turns out HR has no problem with this – so that’s the good news!

      1. AnonyMouse

        I’m glad they’re receptive at least to rewarding people for good performance…now just to work on the consequences for bad performance. Good luck!

  9. PJP

    2. It’s interesting this should come up because just last week I did some ‘inclusive workplace’ training and this very scenario came up as an example of inclusivity of faith in the work place. In my country (UK), to stop someone doing this, or even making them feel bad, excluded etc. because of it, could be breaking the law (Equality Act 2010). I don’t know if there is similar legislation in the USA, but whether there is a law or not, I think we have to think of good practice and making everyone feel included, especially when based on membership of a group that is widely maligned and discriminated against in society. There is also the business case that when people feel included and happy they will be better employees. Faith may even be something that really motivates someone to be an all-round productive person. Yes it is different, but someone who washes their feet several times a day probably has very clean feet, so it is not really different from hand washing, teeth brushing etc.

  10. Just Visiting

    #1: Not to kick you while you’re down, but why didn’t you ask for clarification on what kind of travel the job called for? I hate traveling, and for me ANY business travel would be too much without a seriously hefty paycheck behind it, but if people there are used to it maybe they don’t think it’s excessive, so wouldn’t mention it in the interview.

    #2: I don’t see how feet are any more dirty than a hand that’s recently been adjacent to fecal matter. I think you should let it go. (I would think the same thing if it was not a religious requirement but just a quirk.)

    1. ClaireS

      Eh. I can see why she didn’t ask for clarification. They told her travel “in the areas surrounding [her] city.” That’s pretty specific. I wouldn’t have asked for anything beyond that.

      4 weeks is widely different.

      1. Diet Coke Addict

        Agreed. Travel to the areas surrounding the city is one thing–someone might reasonably expect overnights, 3-day to week-long trips nearby, occasionally a longer stint–but an entire month away from home (without the ability to even come back for the weekends?) is sufficiently unusual that the onus is on the employer to bring that up.

    2. Marcy

      For #1: Employers are not always forthcoming about travel requirements even when you ask. I applied to a job that listed 0% travel on the application. Travel was mentioned during the interview so I stressed that I was not looking for a job with travel and that although I could do an overnight trip here and there during the year, I was not up for more than that. I was assured that any travel beyond an overnight would be done by the boss herself. I took the job and guess what, within two months of starting the job I had to take a two-week trip. The boss couldn’t (wouldn’t) do it because she had vacation plans then. I balked but was threatened with losing my job so I did the travel that time and then left the job as soon as I found something else.

      1. Not So NewReader

        This. I was looking at a job with “some” travel. Okay how much? Oh just a couple times a year. Well, fortunately, the conversation did not move along quickly. Later, I asked how much travel “0h 6-8 times per year”. More time went by and I asked how much travel and got the answer every few weeks.
        I withdrew my application. At some point it stopped being a travel issue and started being an issue of no one knew what the job actually entailed and no one knew if they wanted to hire someone for it. The travel question was a symptom of a bigger problem.

    3. NotSoRamblingMan

      Hi, this is LW 1. This is my first full time job out of school, so I certainly could have asked some of the wrong questions or not been as thorough due to lack of experience. I was really thorough to ask what exactly the job duties were, what the day to day of the job was, etc., but the only travel what was mentioned was short distance and/or short term. Because it was discussed, I figured that was it. Now that I’ve been through this experience, I will make sure to ask for more clarification in the future, but 4 weeks is a lot of travel all at once from my perspective and I feel like that’s more than most people would expect when hired to work in a local area.

      1. Colette

        Yeah, I agree – I’ve had discussions about travel in general, but traveling for 4 weeks at a time is far enough outside the norm that I’ve never specifically asked about it.

      2. Cautionary tail

        The question I don’t see answered is if this is a one-off four-week trip or a regular requirement. I had a seven-week long business trip with no coming home, but that was one time in 20+ years with the same company. Other than that one trip there have been one or two overnights a year, but nothing to fuss over.

        So have you been able to clarify if this is a one-off or a regular requirement?

        1. NotSoRamblingMan

          It’s irregular and as needed, but is expected at least once a year and could potentially happen more than that if the organization thinks it is necessary.

          1. Zillah

            Oof. Yeah, that definitely should have been made clear before you started, bc spending at least a month away from home every year is a deal breaker for a lot of people. And if it might happen more than once a year?? For me, that would probably be a deal breaker, unless the job was awesome in every other way… And it would definitely figure into my negotiations if I decided it might be worth it.

          2. neverjaunty

            Wow. Travel time aside, I would be very wary of remaining at a company that did this. Either they’re so disorganized they really didn’t think to mention this level of travel (which is not possible for many people) or deliberately misled you.

          3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

            There’s something wrong here.

            Your new employer is either duplicitous, disorganized or stupid. You don’t hire somebody for extended travel without making sure they are okay with it unless you want to be hiring for that position all over again, the first chance the new employee has to get another job.

            The only possible explanation I can come up with this that Leon thought Marge discussed this with you and Marge though Leon had gone over it thoroughly.

          4. Cucumber

            I agree with the others… Most jobs with this much travel note it in the initial career listing, and then you’re asked about it again when you’re interviewed. It’s supposed to be a mutual fit situation. With management consulting, for instance, it often comes with the territory, but it’s also understood that most people don’t want to be travelling like this throughout their careers.

            I’m leaning towards you being misled, or their having a sudden need and figuring it’ll be no big deal to deploy the “new guy” – eg “disorganized”, as neverjaunty said. Either way, I’d find a new employer.

    4. LizB

      My boyfriend interviewed for a job and specifically asked about travel, because the description mentioned it. He was told that he would be expected to travel for no more than two weeks at a time. A month into the job, they gave him a week’s notice that he was going to be working halfway across the country for the next 3-6 months, or longer if the project took longer. They were willing to fly him home on the weekends, but his manager kept trying to talk him into renting an apartment in the city he was traveling to and living there full-time for the duration of the project. When he brought up that this wasn’t the arrangement he had been expecting, they responded with “You knew there was a travel requirement when you took the job, this is just the way it is.” Even when you ask for clarification, you don’t always get a straightforward answer, or an answer that will be true for the duration of the job.

    5. neverjaunty

      If people there are “used to it” then they are also aware of how difficult it can be for most people to travel that much, and would plan to inform job candidates accordingly, either in the job description or in interviews. I work in a field where that much travel is not uncommon and nobody would tell a new hire “Oh sorry, we just assumed you knew you’d be gone from home for weeks at a time.” It’s always made clear up front precisely because a lot of people simply can’t drop their lives for a month at a time.

      Given what OP added about having specifically inquired and been told, I am less inclined to chalk this up to a massive failure of communications than to deliberate behavior by the employer. Seriously, nobody “forgets” to mention certain job requirements unless they realize those job requirements are a common dealbreaker.

  11. Sandy

    Oh, number two. There’s an easy way to deal with this, and very few companies with whose office is in the US is likely to do it. I live and work in the Middle East. This is a universal requirement for religious Muslims. Companies here, including multinationals, will install a shallow basin in the bathroom. The basin is usually tile, has running water directly into it, and a built-in drain.

    Employee gets a dedicated basin in which to wash and some privacy with which to do it, and for the company, it is both easier to clean and shows that they genuinely keep diversity in mind in the running of their business.

    Put yourself in this employee’s shoes for a second. You’re a religious Muslim in a North American workplace. You know you have to fulfill this religious requirement. You want to be an employee who gets along with your coworkers and doesn’t stick out at the office. How do you think it feels to be walked in on in the office bathroom while you’re contorting yourself to wash your feet in the waist-high sink?

    1. Jen RO

      That really put things in perspective…

      It would be odd here too (I’m not in the US, but not in the Middle East either)… and yet, they’re feet, they’re not that dirty (as pointed out above), and it only takes a few minutes. I think the coworkers can learn to live with it.

      1. Allison

        Not sure about other countries, but in the US we’re socialized from childhood to see feet as dirty, nasty, smelly body parts. Some Americans are so grossed out by feet they rant about how people who wear sandals or flip flops in public are gross, yucky, rude people ruining everyone’s day – “ugh, I do NOT want to see your TOES when I’m TRYING to buy FOOD! UGH!”

        I’m not saying it’s correct to view feet this way, but that’s how most Americans perceive feet. I’m not surprised some people view washing your feet in the sink as akin to, I dunno, scrubbing your armpits at the sink. So while tolerance for religious minorities is definitely important here, the root of this issue may just be America’s skewed perception of feet in general.

        1. Sutemi

          I was born and raised in the US and was not socialized to see feet as dirty, nasty, smelly body parts.

          1. Windchime

            Same here. People wear sandals all summer long in my part of the country (PNW), so bare feet are not considered gross or weird or smelly or anything else. I do know someone who has a thing about feet and doesn’t ever want to see them, but I consider that person an anomaly.

            1. fposte

              Some of it’s a bit generational as well, in that it’s more common for people to put their feet up at face level now than it used to be. But even in the PNW I suspect most places don’t want you in there barefoot and most movie theaters don’t want you putting your feet up on the seat in front of you, and that’s pretty much the cultural taboo right there.

              1. the gold digger

                Well, feet are pretty much taboo in the Middle East, too. Aren’t you not supposed to show the soles of your feet (with or without shoes) to another person? And when that guy threw a shoe at President Bush, wasn’t it about more than throwing an object? The guy was throwing an object and gravely insulting Bush because the object was a shoe.

                1. Natalie

                  I was curious about this since you generally take your shoes off at a mosque. From what I can tell, shoes are considered unclean, but not feet by themselves. The foot pointing thing seems to just be rude, but not taboo.

                  And there is a Wikipedia article called “List of shoe throwing incidents”.

          2. LCL

            I was born and raised in the US and WAS socialized to see feet as dirty, nasty, smelly, etc.
            There’s no point in fighting the people that have to wash their feet, because its a religious thing. I have always thought that religion should be don’t ask don’t tell, including don’t do it at work. But I know mine is a minority opinion, and I don’t and won’t make policy around this so save your hate emails.

        2. Judy

          I can’t say that I’m in the “I do not want to see your toes”, but I personally am in the “I do not want to see you playing with your toes while I’m eating”. It’s amazing during the summer when everyone is wearing flip flops how many people in restaurants seem to think that means they should take them off when they sit down, sit on one leg and massage their feet. I swear I’m not watching for it, either.

          1. the gold digger

            I have a friend who plays with his toenails and toes all the time. I cannot watch. He is not a good enough friend that I can tell him that he is grossing me out, so I just make sure I am sitting perpendicular from him.

            I had a roommate once who would pick her toes while she was eating. We did not eat many meals together.

        3. Sydney

          Most Americans do not feel this way about feet. The south has A LOT of flip flops and sandals, so you see feet and toes everywhere, even in the winter. And flip flops mean those feet are actually dirty from the dirt outside.

          1. the gold digger

            I have lived in a lot of places both within and outside of the US. I have never lived anywhere where it is socially acceptable to play with your bare feet while you are eating. There is a difference between being grossed out at the mere sight of feet (not something that happens often where I live because it’s too darn cold) and being grossed out by someone playing with exposed feet at the dinner table.

            1. Sydney

              I wouldn’t call it acceptable to play with your feet in a restaurant, but it happens a lot here (south Texas beach town). That’s not what I was talking about though. I was replying to “Not sure about other countries, but in the US we’re socialized from childhood to see feet as dirty, nasty, smelly body parts.” part.

        4. Alternative

          “but that’s how most Americans perceive feet.”

          Huh, I’m not sure if that’s true. That’s not at all how I perceive feet, nor was I socialized to see them as gross.

        5. Jen RO

          That’s interesting. I was socialized to see feet as somewhat disgusting, but only in terms of smells, to put it that way. Most people here don’t have a problem with seeing toes and such… maybe because it gets so hot in the summer!

        6. MaggietheCat

          This makes me wonder…are ‘they’ (LW’s coworker) washing their feet because their culture views feet as dirty too?

        7. AnonyMouse

          I’m not in the US but I do get this perspective…but I think it’s a little different here because he’s doing it in the bathroom, which is generally accepted as the place where you do possibly awkward things that require privacy. For instance, I remember a question posted here on AAM where someone needed to floss at work for medical reasons and was doing it in the bathroom but their boss really didn’t want them to – and I’m pretty sure Alison said they weren’t being rude by doing it in the bathroom, because that’s the place for that sort of thing. Your point about people’s discomfort with feet is a good one (and I’m not necessarily saying you agree with it), but I think it’s normally accepted that people may have to do things in the bathroom from time to time that wouldn’t be acceptable at their desks.

    2. Beancounter in Texas

      And given how often Muslims pray, his feet are probably cleaner than most people’s hands.

  12. Clover

    I’ve worked at one employer where there were enough practicing Muslims that the employer set up a prayer room that included a couple of faucets at the right height for foot washing, with a drain underneath. The prayer room itself was open to all denominations and used by quite a lot of employees.

    1. Sharon

      I love that idea! It would be more regularly used than the “mothering room” that my employers have been installing lately. Nothing against nursing mothers, and I agree they need a private room for pumping/nursing. But unless you are in a building with several thousand people, the odds of the room being used at any one time is probably low and there would be much time the room goes unused. Compared to a prayer room used by any religion…

      1. Judy

        When I was pumping, there were 2 other women in my 250 person location using the room also. The room was in use maybe 4 hours a day when there were 3 of us. We coordinated over IM when it was in use. When I started, there was just one other, then there were 3 of us for the middle 6 months of my year long pumping experience, and then only 2 of us for the last few months.

        Of course, having a room for mothers to use to pump breastmilk is required by law.

        I do think a prayer room would be useful, depending on the organization.

        1. Natalie

          Sort of – a private, not-bathroom has to be provided, but I don’t believe it has to be reserved as a lactation room 24/7. Presumably you could have a room that served multiple functions, provided it was available to pumping employees when needed and met the other requirements.

        2. Kyrielle

          Though they aren’t required to be uniquely dedicated, just to be appropriately private and available. I spent years (literally, given two kids) pumping in the telephone/server room because it had a locking door and no one needed to be in there most of the time. About 1/3 of that time there was another mother also using it – and we have only 25 employees or so at this location.

          (Actually, that was my suggestion and I quite liked it – it also was noisy enough that it had a heavy door and my pump didn’t stand out to people in the hallway, it happens to be adjacent to the break room for washing parts and storing milk, and – given some of the equipment – it had supplemental AC and was inevitably more comfortable than the rest of the office. Except the one time the supplemental AC broke, when I was able to alert the company well before they’d otherwise have known, and well before we experienced any equipment failures. Handy.)

      2. A Non

        They’re also useful for people who need more privacy than a bathroom stall can offer. They were a lifesaver for me when I was having “random” “anxiety attacks” at one job. (Quotes used because they ceased completely when I changed jobs and no longer had a boss who tormented me in ways I could never prove to anyone else. Funny, that.)

        1. Connie-Lynne

          There’s a cot in our nursing room, which was great when I had a medical condition that caused me to need naps to get through the day.

    2. Felicia

      They had something like that at my university, and at pretty much any other university in my very multi cultural area that i’ve seen. I think it’s awesome. All religions used the room, and the campus atheist club met there too:P . Though it was Muslim students that used that sinks afaik.

  13. James M

    #2: Rest assured, there is no such thing as muslim cooties.

    #3: Please send AAM a follow up if you should solve this in an epic or memorable manner.

    #4: Your manager sounds like the type who expects his minions to read his mind; my condolences to you.

    #5: If a thought is important enough to be in a cover letter, it is important enough to be articulated within the letter body itself.

  14. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

    #4

    FWIW, I had to train myself to not sound irritated when people ask me questions, I mean I had to work on it and come up with strategies and everything.

    I wasn’t irritated, it was more a combination of being in the middle of a bunch things + a verbal resting b face. It came about sort of this way.

    Identified problem: I’m not being looped into/questions asked about things I want to be asked about.
    Asked people informally, hey why didn’t you ask me about this, I could have helped. Received answers back that they didn’t want to bother me. Said to myself, hmmmm, okay, apparently I don’t seem welcoming to questions. This is not serving my purposes.

    After I looked at the problem that way for all of two minutes, the issue was clear. I could see/hear myself doing it. So I worked on relaxing my body language if it was a face to face, or including some friendly element in an email response if email. (Does not equal spending time socializing with every question, just a shade up from curt was pretty much all I needed + well sprinkled “Great question!” as appropriate.)

    So, maybe OP #4’s boss is in the same spot. Definitely ask.

    1. ClaireS

      Was going to say something similar. I had a boss that was very short and to the point. At first I was nervous asking her questions because it seemed like she was upset. But, it’s just her style to be slightly blunt and very matter of fact. Once I figured that out, I felt much better about the situation.

      This may not be the case but it’s something to keep in mind.

  15. Cm

    I’ve been caught in #2’s situation, and believe me there’s little more awkward than being caught with your foot in the sink at work. Still, most people are really understanding, and I’m happy to see that most people here are too.

    1. Nervous Accountant

      lol, I’ve seen/heard lots of jokes and videos about this… #justMuslimthings

      I echo your sentiment, I was scared of seeing more Islamophobic comments….glad to see that’s not the case here…

    2. Anon Accountant

      It’s completely understandable and definitely should be respected in the workplace. :)

      I’ll echo the other comments about being glad that other posters are being respectful of religious requirements.

  16. Brandy

    #4.- try bringing your manager things to react to vs questions. Instead f “who do I engage for X?” Ask, “I am thinking I need I engage Betty, Dave, and someone from accounting for X. Does that sound right? Who from accounting makes sense?”

    It’s a nuance, but phasing things this way comes off like you are moving things along on your own and just need his input. I don’t know your experience or level within the company but for certain employee, I, too, would be exasperated of they came back to me with questions on every task. For someone entry level? No, of course not.

    1. Puddin

      Hmmm, sort of…if I had that kind of thought and I didn’t just go to accounting to ask, I would feel like I was not being proactive in finding my own solutions. This way at least you spread your question asking around as you are learning: accounting gets one question, logistics get two, and the boss then is left with one (as an example).

  17. Henrietta Gondorf

    Regarding foot washing, I’d be more concerned that the sink is not set up for this and depending on how feet are washed can cause damage to the sink. (Usually from too much weight on the sink and it bring pulled out from the wall.)

    If there’s an option for installing a small foot washing space, it’s a straightforward way to accomodate religious practices, ensure the structural integrity of the sinks and alleviate all hygiene concerns.

    1. Aunt Vixen

      Or injury to the individual. If I’m the boss, I do not need a worker’s comp case when an employee observing a religious practice slips on wet tile and cracks his head on the counter.

      1. Anon Accountant

        Yeah this would be my #1 concern regarding the feet washing at the sink. I like the idea of a shorter sink level and a safe setup where the employee wouldn’t have to lift their leg onto the counter and lose their balance.

  18. Knitting Cat Lady

    Regarding feet washing:

    The filthiest part of the body are the hands. They beat your ass by miles. No one bats an eye at washing your hands at the sink.

    Even if you walk around bare foot, the hands will still by inhabited by more bacteria than your feet.

    Most common diseases are transmitted by the hand-mouth route.

    That is why I use hand sanitizer at work.

  19. jesicka309

    OP #2 – I’m with you. The bathroom sinks at work are for washing your hands after using the facilities. Not for having a shower after your morning commute to work. Not for washing your feet before praying. Not for washing your hair after gym. Hand basin at the office does not equal full service shower.

    I’m particularly skeeved out because presumably this person is standing on foot, washing and drying one foot, then washing and drying the next. Are they then wandering around the bathroom with bare feet? Or putting their shoes back on, thus negating the purpose of washing feet? Bleugh.
    Obviously there isn’t a lot that can be done, as OP’s coworker needs to wash their feet, but that surely can’t be the best solution for everyone. The coworker can’t be HAPPY washing their feet in the bathroom, right? Others have mentioned that there are options for taps at a more appropriate height/in private. I think OP would be best to talk to their coworker, buddy up and work with management as a united front, and perhaps find a way that their office can accommodate the coworker so he doesn’t have to stick his feet where people wash fecal matter off their hands. :(

    1. Colette

      I am of the opinion that bathroom sinks are for activities where you require some level of privacy (i.e. not in full view in the kitchen) and running water. This could be hand washing, or brushing your teeth, or washing after biking in, or washing your feet. It’s possible for large companies to have different options (i.e. bathroom sinks, foot-washing stations, showers), but not everywhere is able to do that. I don’t see any issue with the coworker using the sinks, since they have no other option available. I also don’t see any reason why the employer should have to build a separate foot-washing station to accommodate the OP’s phobia.

    2. Cat

      It’s a religious requirement and no hardship to the business. The only hardship is to an employee who feels “icky”. That does not trump.

          1. Elsajeni

            I think it’s entirely sane for “This is a requirement of my religion” to trump “I feel an irrational ‘ick’ reaction when you do that.”

            1. fposte

              Agreeing here. It’s not like the foot objection has logic and science on its side that’s somehow being defeated by religion. It’s just finding a way for cultures to interlock.

          2. Nervous Accountant

            how does ‘icky’ trump over someone’s right to practice their religion? Funny I thought that was still allowed in the US…..

    3. ella

      Erm. Unless you live somewhere where there’s no toilet paper, you really shouldn’t be regularly getting fecal matter on your hands.

      1. Natalie

        Visibly, no. But toilet paper isn’t a perfect barrier – most people have fecal coliform bacteria on their hands after using the bathroom, hence hand washing.

        1. ella

          …Which makes the fact that Jesicka is skeeved out by feet, but not hands, kind of irrational. Something like a third to a half of people either don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom, or don’t use soap. Which is why fecal matter is basically everywhere.

    4. Mike C.

      I think folks are really blowing this situation out of proportion. It’s really not a big deal.

    5. Natalie

      Unless LW is good friends with their co-worker, or the co-worker has complained about the bathroom set up in LW’s hearing, I can’t really envision a way to buddy up with the co-worker that isn’t going to come across as “it’s gross that you wash your feet in the sink and it should stop.”

    6. Kristy

      Personally, I’d much rather have a coworker who uses the bathroom sink to wash up (provided they stay clothed while not in a stall) than sit next to someone who didn’t have such a courtesy after biking in to the office that morning in 90 degree heat. Of course, I’m not grossed out by feet, either, and really wish that our culture (and climate I’m in) would allow for bare or sandaled feet all year long. Alas, I dread the day in fall when I realize that wearing my sandals with a sweater would look really dumb…

      1. jesicka309

        My issue is that it’s such a personal thing to be doing in a public toilet, and I know that I would react the same way as OP “is that really appropriate?” while thinking WTF why is he washing his body in a tiny sink meant for hands?? And what if we had clients in that day? Do I need to warn them to not mind Jim, he’s just washing his feet in the handbasin? Or do they walk away feeling like our office has some really wacko people without ever asking for explanation?
        I understand that he has a religious obligation to wash his feet, which makes it all the more important that they have some other facility where his religious needs can be accommodated. If the letter was from the coworker asking “I need to wash my feet for my religion, but my work said “oh just use the bathroom sinks” and now I feel like I’m perceived as the office weirdo.”

        Don’t many offices provide showers for commuters? Even a regular shower cubicle (where he can wash his feet in private) would be better.

        1. Shell

          I would say far more employers (not necessarily offices) don’t have showers provided for employee use. And frankly, I’m sure if there was a shower the OP’s coworker would’ve been using that already; it’d be less troublesome than contorting himself to use a waist-high sink!

          So short of the employer adding a shower, the office probably has to just suck it up.

        2. Natalie

          I’d agree with Shell that most offices don’t have showers.

          And while your concerns make sense, assuming they have outside clients, I still don’t see any way for a fellow employee to bring them up without it sounding like they are insulting this person. If the OP’s co-worker was writing in, that’d be a different kettle of fish entirely.

          1. Editor

            Also, in the U.S., a lot of bathroom spaces in offices have had to be retrofitted to provide handicapped-compliant stalls or individual bathrooms. So the floor space that could go to a shower has already been eaten up in older buildings.

            I’m in my 60s, and the only places I’ve ever worked with showers were the swimming pools where I was a lifeguard. Maybe hospitals also have staff showers, so perhaps if someone works in health care their workplace has a shower. A couple of places had locker rooms for people who wore uniforms or coveralls, but they were just that — locker rooms, maybe one or more toilets and a couple of sinks, but no showers. Installing a shower costs thousands of dollars, so employers may not have the money for it, and leasing agents don’t have to offer it because showers aren’t considered essential.

    7. Squirrel!

      Wait. So it’s ok to be grossed out by feet that are in shoes and [presumably] clean socks all day, but the guy shouldn’t be grossed out by another man washing his hands which have [again presumably] just been near their butthole or directly on their genitals?

  20. Mallory

    #4 Perhaps your boss is lazy or does not know the answer- I have found managers that resent questions from employees often do not know answer or are lazy. I had a boss that resented anyone taking notes because they’d be accountable.

    1. A Non

      Yep, this is my experience too. Note-taking was a great defense against a boss who bullied me. He’d start tearing into me for whatever offense I’d recently committed and I’d be listening carefully and writing down what he said, and asking questions about how he wanted me to handle said situations in the future. And then writing down his non-answers. It made him much more careful about how he spoke to me, but it also made him resent me more, so use this suggestion with care. He really hated people who didn’t give in to his bullying. I was already looking for a new job at that point, and had other references available, so I didn’t care.

    2. Not So NewReader

      ha! I had one boss that said “I do not have time to wait for you to write this down.”
      Not such a hot idea on his part, it was a 30 step process that I had never done before and had nothing to correlate to.
      Yeah. I had a couple problems doing the task.

  21. Livin' in a Box

    #2 This guy’s feet aren’t dirty; he washes them 5 times a day! Your “hygienic needs” are bogus. Leave the poor guy alone.

  22. Whippers

    re #4
    Alison’s response assumes that the manager will be open to this sort of direct tactic. However, from experience I have found that a manager who doesn’t want you asking questions in the first place will definitely not take well to this kind of direct, straightforward approach., and it will probably annoy them even more.
    I think sometimes Alison assumes that all managers are as reasonable as her, when this is definitely not the case! Sometimes you are just expected to read your manager’s mind and any other sort of approach is seen as insubordinate.

    1. Whippers

      This isn’t meant as a dig at Alison in anyway! I just mean that she is so rational in her response to issues that she doesn’t consider the irrational, illogical reactions that other people have.

    2. fposte

      Sure, but not all managers are as unreasonable as yours was, either; it’s not true that somebody who’s irritated at being asked questions will invariably be annoyed at somebody proactively seeking a way around the problem. I speak as somebody who can definitely get irritated at being asked a lot of questions myself.

      I agree that it’s fair to point out that it might not be received well, but I don’t think it’s a guarantee based just in the information we’ve got, and why not take the chance if it might improve things?

    3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

      That’s way leaping to the worst possible conclusion.

      The OP says she has the “sense” that he’s irritated, based on tone of voice. That leaves open a zillion possibilities, one of which is that they have different communication styles or even different native regionalities. We’ve had some long conversations on AAM about the difference between the way something is worded in New York vs North Carolina.

      You never do yourself a favor leaping to the worst conclusion first.

    4. Ask a Manager Post author

      I definitely know that not all managers are reasonable (writing this blog reinforces that, even if I were otherwise prone to forgetting it!). But even with unreasonable managers, starting off as if they’re reasonable people is still usually the way to go. You can adapt from there, depending on the response you get. But it’s still usually the right starting place.

      1. Whippers

        I suppose I’m just so used to working in an environment where asking questions, and assuming that everyone is a mature, rational adult who can handle a direct approach, is just not the done thing.
        However, I think that the OP should be aware that addressing this issue head-on could have the effect of getting her boss’s back up even more and she should think how she might mitigate that effect.

  23. Whippers

    PS. This isn’t meant as a dig at Alison in anyway! I just mean that she is so rational in her response to issues that she doesn’t consider the irrational, illogical reactions that other people have.

  24. NotSoRamblingMan

    Hi everyone, I am LW 1. Thanks Allison for answering my question. Your script for discussing this is really good!

    I tried to ask for some accommodation from my workplace to see if we could work something out but was refused, so I’m expected to go for the full time. I was also told this could happen more than once a year. I feel like this travel IS a deal breaker for me, and again, I wouldn’t have accepted the job and would have continued with my job search had I known. But I did accept, and now I feel like I’m put in a difficult position. If I start looking for other work, I feel like I will look flakey to other employers to be looking for a new job after only being here a short amount of time. I’m really frustrated by the position I’ve been put in by not having all the information. I don’t want to quit outright because it could take me awhile to find something new, so I think my best option is to go on the trip but start looking for new employment as well.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger

      Since you’ve only been there a month, I wouldn’t put your current job on your résumé. You haven’t been there long enough to have lots of significant accomplishments yet anyway. If it comes up in an interview that you’re working somewhere, explaining (non-accusatorially) that the job turned out to involve significantly more travel than they had described should seem reasonable to reasonable interviewers.

    2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

      The unexpected month long travel is something that most new prospective employers will understand.

      It’s also something you should expect a premium on salary for btw, and even if you had been okay with this surprise, that’s info you should have had in negotiations.

      Most people should get this.

    3. Mister Pickle

      I certainly understand your frustration. But given what you’ve told us about the situation, I think that your best course of action is to suck it up, do the travel once, and see how it goes. It may strengthen your resolve to find a new job. Or – ya never know, it might be not only tolerable, but enjoyable: you might really hit it off with the people, they might like you and tell your mgmt all about your great works, etc. You’re at a point in your life and your career where you can afford to try new things – why not give this a shot?

      Best of luck with this!

      1. Just Visiting

        She has a partner and pets. I don’t see how being separated from them for a month will in any way be enjoyable. Long-term work travel would have to be the worst thing ever because at that point your job really IS your life, which wouldn’t work for this “work to live” type. OP, I think you’re right to start looking for something else now. With the follow-up comments, it definitely seems like they pulled a bait-and-switch.

        1. Mister Pickle

          Yes, it may well be a huge FAIL.

          But business travel is ‘funny’. I have a friend who started out feeling quite ‘meh’ about it, and today he’s a serious “Road Warrior” – he just loves it. Knows the best steak restaurant in every city on the planet, stuff like that.

          Under the circumstances, it sounds like it would be overall less of a hassle for the OP to simultaneously go on the trip and begin a new job search, than to simply quit and look for a new job. And who knows? I know that there are numerous things I’ve dreaded that, once I did them, they weren’t so bad, and were maybe even fun.

          1. NotSoRamblingMan

            Yeah, I definitely appreciate te advice you’ve given about making sure the specifics of payment, etc., are covered before I leave, an I appreciate the encouragement on the matter, but I’m not optimistic. I actually love to travel, but this is too long for me. I didn’t mention it before because it didn’t seem super relevant, but I was actually dating my partner long distance for a year and a half during school. I moved to this city and job searched in this city specifically so we could finally be in the same place and have some stability, and now having to go back to long distance after only a few months is a serious frustration. And even when we were long distance, I had my dogs for company & comfort–but I’ll be totally alone on this trip. I appreciate the optimism, but this is definitely stressful enough for me that I’m going to start looking for something new.

          2. neverjaunty

            “And who knows?”

            Well, the OP, for starters, who was misled by the employer and accepted job with way more travel than the OP wanted.

            This is not a situation where the OP is hesitating to accept a job because they don’t know if they want to travel that much, where ‘maybe give it a whirl’ is good advice. Also, let’s not forget that OP’s employer is at best disorganized and (more likely) deceived OP. Why assume they can be relied on from here on out? As opposed to, say, deciding that 48 hours is plenty of notice for that “irregular” trip, or that maybe 3-4 times a year is just fine.

    4. Mister Pickle

      One more thing: notwithstanding all that rah-rah stuff about “give it a try!”, I’m also cynical enough to suspect that your new company was specifically looking for someone new and young who wouldn’t mind extensive travel and working long hours.

    5. Cucumber

      Absolutely, once you find a good petsitter, and figure out ways to keep connecting with your partner (video conferencing is a godsend when my husband travels to the other side of the world), you can go ahead to the other site, and spend your evenings applying for other jobs.

      Don’t worry about looking flaky. You sound quite the opposite. Many employers are interested in hiring people who are already working. If it comes up (and it might not) you just explain that you were hired to work in city A, and then after you started, you were asked to start working in city B for a considerable amount of time, counter to what you had been told about travel. And Elizabeth the Ginger is also right that you don’t need to put this on your resume, permanently.

      I also agree with Mister Pickle. If you finished graduate school recently, I’d peg you as likely being a 24-27 year old guy. (Which is not to say there aren’t 40 year old recent grads like myself!) There are lots of stereotypes about young people, and especially young men, at this age, being footloose, fancy free AND hungry for work and challenge. The fact that they didn’t tell you about the travel after your due diligence still smells fishy to me, but maybe it is a changed circumstance for them too – and they figure you’d have the least tenure in the area, and the least amount of connections, compared to the other workers. Thus, you get sent to Cincinnati when the workload increases there, and everyone else gets to stay in Atlanta. (or vice-versa.) This is similar to the kind of workplace where people decide, “Hey, Amy is single, and Brad doesn’t have any kids, so we’ll have them work the overtime on Christmas Eve!”

    6. RR

      I just hired someone a few months ago who left her previous employer after only a few months. She did have a strong technical background, and a fairly long tenure at the employer prior to that, so a little bit different than your background, but still, reasonable folks will understand. When we pressed her about why she was leaving, she mentioned frequent travel of 1 month+ that had not been mentioned when she took that job (and that she had specifically taken the job to have minimal travel). We all readily understood this and happily hired her.

  25. Jubilance

    It strikes me that many of the things that people feel weird/squicked out about when it comes to norms in the office, are solely because they aren’t used to it, and this story about washing feet in the men’s bathroom is a perfect example. I’m just guessing here, but it sounds like the man in question is Muslim, and is making wudu (practice of washing in a specific way before you pray). If that’s the case, then this man is washing his feet FIVE TIMES A DAY, at least. I bet his feet are cleaner than the hands of the people who bypass washing after they use the restroom, or just splash water on them & don’t ever use soap. But because it’s 1) different & 2) not mainstream, it’s an issue.

    And btw, in countries where more of the population is Muslim, they have little sinks designed specifically for washing feet.

    1. fposte

      I also think that America generally views feet as a culturally unclean and not public part of the body, so it is a bit of a disjunction to have them in a semi-public space like a work bathroom. While it’s not for the same reason, it’s kind of similar to the left-hand taboo in some cultures. (And I’m reminded again of Bonnie Consolo, the woman born armless who featured in a documentary and news coverage in the 1970s, and how people really were freaked out that she handled food with her feet. Not sure what else she was supposed to do.)

      1. fposte

        Forgot to note that while I understand the startlement, I also think it’s a thing for other bathroom users to adjust to.

    2. Vancouver Reader

      I agree, it’s a matter of people in North America getting used to the idea that Muslims do this as part of their religious practice. In a few years it’ll just be common practice in most workplaces and people won’t bat an eyelash anymore.

      Personally I’d rather see someone washing their feet in the bathroom than see someone spitting in the communal kitchen sink.

  26. Elysian

    #3 – Any chance your teapot makers have a union? “Changing the terms and conditions of employment” is union-speak for “you have to negotiate this with us.” Is it possible that your plan is stuck because HR doesn’t want to deal with negotiating it? (I say this even though I love unions, and think they’re awesome. But if relations are bad, that could be a hang-up for you.)

    1. Meg Murry

      Or is the issue with HR that even though you say you are couching throughout the year, the plan as you have outlined is basically only 1 “strike”? Do you need to instead break it up into “produce 12 teapots every 6 months” so that you can start the formal PIP paperwork after 6 months of slacking, give the second warning at 12 months and then terminate if they still are below expectations at 18 months for a 3rd strike? In writing that out, 18 months seems like a long time, but its the same timeframe as your original plan.

      For another suggestion – everywhere I’ve worked has had 2 different sections in the annual reviews – one for job duties, or “what” you got done – (produced 25 teapots with 0 recalls, etc) and another for “how” you are doing your job (communicated well, didn’t swear at your coworkers, showed up when expected) etc. A poor score in one of the subsections resulted in a PIP, a poor overall “what” OR “how” score was grounds for PIP or outright being let go. It sounds like your company’s format of averaging all results can really result in people with major problems not being addressed.

    2. OP, #3

      The teapot makers do not have a union. I think that because of our government affiliation, we have an organizational culture that values policy and procedure over common sense. Our new leadership came from the private sector, so they are a little perplexed about how things work here. Some other commenters have remarked on HR basically disregarding the preferences of leadership. My feeling is that for so long HR has been able to just say, “this is how it’s done” and they haven’t yet adjusted to the new leadership; and the new leadership team has so much to absorb about this very large, complex organization, that my problem is a low priority. AAM’s right that I need to talk to our new leadership team – or this could come back to bite me when they do get around to following up.

  27. Mimmy

    #1 – Something like this absolutely should’ve been mentioned up front. Four weeks at a time is a pretty big deal regardless of living situation.

    #2 – My husband sees this where he works (lots of people from India and similar nations), and it drives him nuts. Next time he brings it up, I’ll mention that this is a religious requirement.

    #4 – I have an awful habit of asking too many questions. I try to compile them and ask at once. I think this was a big part of my problem at a previous job from which I was eventually laid off.

    1. Artemesia

      Lots of bosses are really annoyed by employees that seem to lean on them for answers to questions that they think the employee should be able to figure out or get from a colleague. And they get really annoyed by being repeatedly interrupted so that if you can consolidate a punch list and ask them all at the same time it is helpful.

      Maybe the boss is being a jerk; maybe you over interpret their personal style as ‘annoyed’; maybe you are too dependent and not taking appropriate initiative. Work from the last assumption first.

  28. Jellybone

    I used a PS in a cover letter once! It was for a communications position, and they had spelled “communications” incorrectly in the job listing. I put it in the PS because I felt that the correction didn’t really fit into the rest of my cover letter. Obviously, there were other ways of bringing up the typo, but I wanted to end the letter on a friendly, newsletter-y tone, because the job was primarily writing newsletters and email campaigns. I did get the interview, and they thanked me for pointing out the error.

  29. RosebudJan

    #4 I have an employee who will ask me something like, “Who should I work with to get this project completed?” or “Who can show me how to work with basic technology X?”. My response is that the employee should figure out the project himself. (That is the job.) Of course I don’t mind people asking each other questions, but this guy wants someone to show him how to do everything, even the most basic things!

    1. LBK

      Serious question – where do you think people get basic knowledge from? I certainly wasn’t born knowing who handles reporting projects in my department or how to operate our client database. What’s the benefit of withholding this information from someone that’s new? If you’re talking about truly basic stuff like operating a computer, okay, maybe that’s a failure of hiring. But neither of the examples you’ve given sound egregious to me and you’ll be much better served in the long run by just helping out. If you do, you end up with a coworker that appreciates and respects you and knows how to do their job. If you don’t, you end up with a coworker that resent you for inexplicably refusing to help them and who has to blindly fumble around their role, which will probably impact your work, too.

      1. LBK

        Oh, and now that I reread, it sounds like you’re this person’s manager, not coworker. So wait, you’re basically refusing to train your employee!? That’s awful.

        1. Diet Coke Addict

          I’m also a little confused by not answering questions like “Who should I work with for X?” Well….if there’s no collaboration, that’s an easy one to answer. But how hard is it to say “With this project your contacts will be Wakeen in Spouts and Lucinda in Handle Technology.” You can’t Google things like “which of my coworkers can help me here.”

    2. Fabulously Anonymous

      I agree with the others. Your employee isn’t asking you how to do the job or to hold his hand through it. He’s asking for direction so he can do what you want him to do: figure it out on his own.

    3. Amtelope

      These seem like perfectly reasonable questions, though. They do need to know who they’re supposed to work with, or at least who they can ask to find out if that’s not you. And maybe they could Google “how to use basic technology X,” but it may be faster and more effective for someone to show them. If everyone’s crazy busy and no one has time, “I’d like you to search for an online resource and figure it out for yourself” may be the answer you have to give, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking for some basic training.

    4. Another HR Pro

      I find some employees lack confidence and want to “check with the boss” on everything. I’ve learned that instead of answering the question, to ask them what they think. So if they ask, “who should I work with to get the project completed?” I throw it right back at them, “well, who do you think you need?” If they are missing someone I will of course mention it. By doing this, I try to build their confidence and show them that they actually had the answer all along – they just needed to think about it.

  30. Mister Pickle

    #1: I don’t want to borrow trouble, but if you’ve decided to do the travel thing once, something to look at now is how your company is going to handle travel expenses for the month that you’ll be gone. Stuff like:

    – Are they giving you a credit card?
    – Are they paying you a (reasonable) per diem?
    – In general, what are their expense limits on things like food, cab rides, etc?
    – What kinds of receipts will you need to provide?
    – How is lodging going to be handled? Are you staying at a nice business hotel? Are you expected to share a room? (this would be a complete deal-killer for me)
    – If you’re driving your own car, are you getting adequate reimbursement on gasoline and vehicle wear and tear?
    – If you’re flying, how will you get about locally? Rental car? Taxis? Get the details.
    – I’m guessing that you’re exempt, but if not: what’s the situation on OT hours while you’re at the remote site?

    In My Not-So Humble Opinion, a company should provide you with a corporate credit card (so you are not fronting the travel costs) and, additionally, you should not lose money while traveling on company business.

    If they plan to supply you with a corporate credit card, get that moving as soon as possible.

    1. BRR

      This is a great list. I want to add if they aren’t providing a corporate card keep in mind that your credit card cycle might close and since you’re gone over a month, reimbursement might not happen in time to pay the bill. Also since this was such a surprise you might try asking for a$$i$tance for pet care.

    2. Mister Pickle

      [In a perfect world, I’d put all of this in one all-encompassing cohesive post. But – my world is not perfect][thanks BRR]

      Additionally:

      – Check on reimbursement for alcohol (many companies won’t reimburse for alcohol) and ‘entertainment’ expenses (ie, taking a customer out for dinner).
      – Possible tax consequences / tax assistance. If you’re working for a month (or more) in another state, there may be tax complications.
      – Health insurance. If you get sick or have to visit the ER and you’re hundreds of miles from home, are you covered?
      – Roadside assistance. If you’re using your car, and it breaks down, do you have AAA or some kind of roadside assistance to ease the pain?
      – Home maintenance expenses: pet sitting, lawn care, alarm service, insurance costs?

      And I guess there’s always the possibility that if you bring all of this stuff up, they may think again about sending you out to travel for a month :)

  31. Kristy

    #2: As others here have said, this is a legitimate need. My mom works in a relative small adult education center, and they have placed foot-washing stations in each bathroom’s handicap stall. Since they’re funded by the state and don’t have much budget for such things, they purchased small plastic basins and small benches, ensured each bathroom had a sink that provided the space to fill the basin, and stock the actual stalls with extra paper towels and a disinfectant spray to clean the basin with. It was a relatively low-cost way to ensure that anyone with this need could wash in privacy and everyone’s hygiene needs were met.

    Of course, if your company chooses to implement such a thing, it should be made clear that it is NOT because of opinions about washing feet in the sink but making them feel comfortable and supported. As many here have stated, feet are generally much cleaner than other body parts, especially hands. While you may have been caught off-guard by something you aren’t accustomed to seeing, but it certainly isn’t unhygienic.

  32. C Average

    I think I and many of my colleagues have a knee-jerk reaction to a lot of questions: “I had to figure that out for myself, and you should, too!” It’s frankly a little silly. If it’s not onerous, why not answer a new colleague’s questions? It’s kind, it’s helpful, it positions you as someone who’s open and generous and not so protective of your time and your turf that you can’t share some knowledge, and it’ll prove to be a good thing if the n00b you’re helping winds up being your manager someday. Seriously, don’t be a jerk about straightforward questions. It’s really not cool.

    As to the LW, here’s what I’d suggest. Say something to your manager like this (assuming your relationship is such that you can do so comfortably): “I can see that I’m bombarding you with questions, and that it’s making you a little crazy. I don’t want to be yanking you out of your workflow all the time with one-off questions, but while I’m relatively new and am still getting up to speed, I’m probably going to continue needing answers from you periodically. Can we set up a specific time once a week where we talk through the questions I have? In between, I’ll try to confine any questions I have to the truly urgent, and to do as much research as I can before coming to you.”

    A group of new colleagues I was helping to train set up such a meeting with me for the first three months they were on the job, and it was really helpful to all of us. They saved their questions for me all week and then we talked them through, giving everyone’s overburdened inbox a rest. They also all benefited from the information I was providing.

  33. HM in Atlanta

    RE – Underperformers. Make a business case about how much it will cost the company to have the underperformer employed there. You mentioned a non-profit, and I’ve never met a non-profit with money to waste.

    I hate to say this, but I had to do this myself (and I’m in HR). The executive wouldn’t take action even though the bad employee’s manager and I were screaming at him to approve a termination. He didn’t have any objection other than fear. I decided to take a different tactic, and put money to it. We don’t have to exit “Sam”. Here’s what will happen. We can hire an additional person X, who will be assigned all the same work as “Sam”, and we can continue to pay and bonus “Sam” for producing no work. OR, we can continue to assign “Sam” work and also assign the same work across a number of his peers. It will decrease the amount of time they have available to do their jobs, so production delivery will decline by 27 days, costing $. Or, we can simply assign “Sam” work, assume he will deliver, and when he fails to deliver, we fail the client and have to pay a missed SLA fine. The exec then determined that we would exit “Sam.”

    You can do the same thing, “With HR unwilling to move forward with performance management, and X as part of the department, we will only be able to produce Y# of teapots. Here are the business’s options (a) only make Y# of teapots, (b) hire additional person to raise Y# of teapots to the target # of teapots….etc.” With your new leaders, you might actually get action (at the very least, a new HR director)

  34. SallyForth

    #2 This is a common problem in diverse populations, especially where service workers need to quickly get ready for religious services. (usually on Fridays) There are several places in downtown Vancouver, for example, where workplaces pool to have space for services and provide a spot to wash feet. If your workplace has a shower room for cyclists, that often works. If not, I wonder if a plastic basin would fulfill the washing requirements and save the plumbing.
    I have also encountered, at several workplaces, people who flush the toilet with their feet. It costs a ton of money when the handles break .

  35. jwlynn

    I used to work in an office without other Muslims (there was only one other, and he was not observant) in a middle-American city with a fair sized Muslim population. I used to do the bathroom sink thing, but I was terribly self-conscious and got sick of having to explain myself to everyone (didn’t help that, as a clean-shaven white guy of Scandinavian ancestry, I look different from most Muslims). I switched to the washbasin, and it worked well for the remainder of my time there.

    Many Muslims won’t say this out loud, but observing our prayers in a standard American workplace (or really anywhere in public) is a pain in the ass. You try to be unobtrusive and just go about your business, but someone always has to make A Thing out of it, and it is usually about the washing. Please just be aware, folks: we are doing the best we can, and we aren’t doing anything we know to be unhygenic.

    1. SallyForth

      Hey, jwlynn, your washed 5 times a day feet are far more hygienic than most of what goes into the sink!

  36. INTP

    #1: Some people I know who have to do extended travel for their jobs are able to work 4 very long days and fly home for every weekend. This would be something to ask about. Most of them are more experienced specialists who are in a position to negotiate a lot of perks for themselves in general, but assuming you’re traveling in the same general region as you’re working and the airfare isn’t too pricey, it might be possible.

  37. Gene

    In regards to foot washing, most workplaces have a mop sink, usually in the janitors’ closet. Running water, curb around the drain, all it needs is a bench next to it. And it’s almost always in a secluded place.

    1. Amy

      Suggesting that a Muslim coworker use the janitor’s closet (!) to wash their feet is very unlikely to be seen as anything but insulting and degrading. That mop has been run all over bathroom floors, used to clean up dirt and mud, possible bodily fluids and who knows what else. But feet are icky so he should just shove himself in there with the Clorox and gloves and stinky mops and wash himself in the scum-encrusted floor sink because it might offend someone to see him rinsing at the bathroom sinks?

      1. Natalie

        And on a practical note, we wouldn’t let any of our tenants use the mop sink for any reason. It’s in a closet with a bunch of our supplies that they don’t need to have access to, we don’t want to have to manage the janitors’ schedule with the prayer schedule, and we don’t want someone else to decide to piggyback on their Muslim co-worker so they can dump something down the drain that they’re not supposed to. (Tile grout doesn’t go down the drain!)

  38. OP#2

    Good Evening.
    I am the OP for question #2.
    I apologize for being late to the thread. My workload did not allow me to comment in real time.
    Thank you to everyone who took their time to comment. I enjoyed reading your thoughts, insights, and suggestions. You have provided a lot to reflect on in a considerate manner.
    Management is not agreeable to solutions that cost money – dedicated (more accessible)sinks or basins are out.
    The status quo is the best solution for both of us.
    Thank you again for the comments!

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