It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…
1. How do I give a reference for my awful boss?
I just found out that my boss is a final-round candidate for a position elsewhere. As a result, it’s likely that people from that department will come to our department to see him in action / ask us what he’s like to work with. (I work in education, so this isn’t as weird as it might be other industries.)
Thing is, Boss is a very nice person, but a terrible manager. He’s made a number of policy choices that I really disagree with, but he’s also just a mess: not on top of things that are supposed to be his job, he can’t run a meeting to save his soul, he takes critiques ultra-personally, he plays favorites with staff…everything you want a manger NOT to do. If I’m feeling charitable, I can see where the new job might be a better fit for Boss – it seems to involve less direct management of people, for one – but the fact remains that working with him has become increasingly nightmarish over the past several years.
My colleagues are pretty much prepared to lie through their teeth to get this guy out of here. I can see where they’re coming from, but it makes me feel gross – plus, there’s no guarantee that whoever replaced Boss would be any better on a policy level. (And if I tell the truth, and my comments keep Boss from getting New Job, and he finds that out? I believe the technical term is yikes.)
So. Do I have a good way out of this – ideally one where I get rid of Boss without having to feel like I’m selling snake oil? Or should I just arrange to be “out sick” when the interviewers come around?
Ugh. It’s really your call, but I’m going to argue that the ethical thing to do here is to answer the reference-checker’s questions honestly and straightforwardly. Yes, it means that you may be stuck with your terrible boss much longer. But it means that you won’t be responsible for foisting a terrible manager on to an unsuspecting team that tried to do some due diligence about him and then got intentionally misled.
Of course, you could also argue that the reference-checkers should know that they can’t rely on your boss’s current employees to speak the truth because of the power dynamics in play, and that they should also be vetting him with lots of other sources (including even former employees who he no longer manages and who might feel more comfortable being candid).
If nothing else, though, you should at least ask the reference-checkers what systems are in place to ensure that your feedback doesn’t get back to your boss. (And frankly, even asking that will signal something, and you could possibly stop there and say that you’re just not comfortable commenting since you currently work for him. That will send a pretty strong message to anyone who knows how to pay attention.)
2. Employer announced it will fire anyone who interviews for another job
I work in a not-for-profit, private college with multiple sites. Recently, the campus presidents at these sites have told employees that if they find out that a person is interviewed for another job, the person will be automatically terminated from employment. In some cases, emails have been sent to program chairs/deans requesting that they report employees that they know who are interviewing and move to terminate them. This has never been the policy or attitude of this organization. Now employees are threatening to leave, and given time, many will leave.
Is this appropriate? Although I am not planning to leave, I get inquiries from recruiters all the time and have conversations with them. Because I interview, that does not mean that I am resigning.
Nope, it’s ridiculous, out of touch, and fairly horrid. The college expects employees to … stay there forever? No one should ever leave? They’re absolutely going to drive away good people and will have trouble attracting new good people if word gets out.
It’s gross. I urge you to push back loudly and encourage others to do the same.
3. My organization is supporting a controversial charity — should I speak up?
I work in the communications department of a quasi-governmental organization. The head of our philanthropy committee recently put forward several candidates for a benefit walk in which our organization’s employees can choose to participate later this year (entirely on a voluntary basis).
One of the organizations put forward is Autism Speaks, an organization that I consider legitimately harmful for reasons that can be found through a Google search. But more to the point, it’s controversial enough that I think it would be ill-advised for our org to be out there supporting it.
I feel like I should bring this up. The thing is, I’m not on the philanthropy committee, and presumably someone (or multiple someones) who are on it suggested Autism Speaks because they do support it. I don’t want to make anyone feel attacked by bringing this up. Is this even a legitimate point for me to bring up? If I were to mention the controversy surrounding Autism Speaks to my coworker, what would be a good way to bring it up?
Absolutely you can bring it up — anyone could, but you especially have standing since you’re in communications. I’m sure that they think it’s an uncontroversial health charity and don’t realize how very controversial it actually is (I didn’t realize it myself, until people discussed it here recently, and I think that’s pretty common for people outside of the autism community).
I’d say this: “I’m not sure if you realize this, but Autism Speaks is actually extremely controversial and considered harmful by many in the autism community. Here are a couple of links to articles that explain the concerns. I think it could be problematic for us to publicly support it, given the controversy around it, or at least that we shouldn’t be doing that without more internal discussion.”
To be clear, this isn’t about adjudicating the controversy in any way; it’s about recognizing that there is a controversy, and that sponsoring the organization is taking a stand on one side of it. That shouldn’t happen unless your leadership makes a deliberate decision to do that, with a full understanding that that’s what they’d be doing.
4. Do I have to give back my computer when I leave my job?
I worked at a place for five years. Four years ago, my computer failed and my boss bought me one that he wanted me to have because he wanted certain specs.
I became unhappy over a giant pay cut and was in talks with a headhunter for a new position. They wanted me bring coworkers with me. I talked to one about the opportunity. She told my boss, who fired me.
He said he wanted the computer back, but I have been using it as my personal computer also and he knew that all along. It was not just a work computer; it replaced my personal computer and he knew it all along. Now he says I have to take all my stuff off of it and give it back. There was nothing in writing that said I had to give it back if I left. He also told me that I could not talk to anyone still working there. Can this be legal?
Yes. If your company bought you a computer for work, it’s their property unless you had a specific agreement that you would own it, even though you were also using it for personal things. And while your former boss can’t control who you talk to now that you no longer work there (you can talk to whoever you want), he can certainly tell his current employees not to speak with you.
5. Should my resume include volunteer work with an informal organization?
I was let go from my job a couple months ago, and in addition to looking for a new position and doing some volunteer work with an established nonprofit organization, I’ve been spending a good deal of time doing some less formal volunteering activities. In particular, I’ve been working with a group of people to help create a new advocacy group surrounding a local issue. As part of this, I’ve developed a website, facilitated strategic planning meetings, ensured regular social media postings, coordinated activities, and become the “expert” in the group on the issues we are working on. Our group was even invited to represent our constituency in a city-initiated discussion process.
However, given that this is not an official nonprofit and has only been existence for a few months, is it appropriate to put on my resume? On the one hand, it demonstrates that I’m using my job skills even while I’m not working; on the other, it could be seen as more of a “hobby” type activity, since it isn’t really connected with an established organization. Also, I’m assuming that if I do put it on my resume it should go at the bottom with volunteer work, even though it is my most recent experience?
Yes, absolutely that’s appropriate to put on your resume! I’d put it in a Volunteer or Community Involvement section, rather than Work Experience, unless (a) you’re spending really significant amounts of time on it and/or (b) the work directly relates to the jobs you’re applying for. If either (a) or (b) is true, I think it’s fine to include it with the rest of your work experience.
It doesn’t really matter that it’s not a formally registered nonprofit; it’s real, it exists, and you can prove the work you’ve been doing.