It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…
1. My office smells like a corpse
My office is an older building and half of it is up on a small crawl space. Every winter around this time (late February to early March) is what we call the dead animal season. Something (rat, feral cat, mouse) ends up finding its way into the crawl space and perishing – for whatever reason. And then the smell begins to permeate the office. There are always one or two locations where the smell is worse – different every year – but the smell comes right up through the floor and is rank enough that people are nauseated and have a difficult time working. The smell will last for 2-3 weeks.
And nothing is done about this. The manager doesn’t usually notice unless it’s brought to his attention – he works in the part of the building that has a basement below it so he doesn’t often experience this. This has been going on for the eight years I’ve been working here, and the response every year is that we have no way to prevent animals getting under there and no way of getting them out. When we bring in air deodorizers or air purifiers (electric or natural) we are told that those emit a scent he can’t stand and we need to get rid of them – and we make a point to get ones that are fragrance free.
What are our options? And we can’t always take vacation then!
What?! Every year for two to three weeks, the smell of a decomposing corpse fills your office and makes people nauseated, and your manager doesn’t care and won’t even let you bring in an air purifier?
Something here stinks worse than the dead animal, and that something is your boss.
I doubt this violates an OSHA rule (although I’d welcome someone finding out differently), which means that your best bet is to demand as a group that this be solved, including going over your boss’s head (again, as a group) if he won’t budge. You have the legal right to organize with your coworkers about your working conditions; use that right to make it more of a pain for your company to ignore you than to keep letting this happen. (Note that the law protects you when you push back as a group, but not if you do it on your own. So speaking as a group matters here, if you care about the legal protection. But it’s also just probably going to get you better results in this case.)
2. I’m worried my fired coworker blames it on me
A coworker I was previously on good terms with was fired recently. She worked in my department, and I had to take a step back from our personal friendship due to her negativity and an array of other reasons. Nevertheless, I remained professional at work and didn’t broadcast our falling out.
She recently made some huge mistakes, and our boss more or less hinted to me she would be let go about a week before it happened, and then confirmed it with me and another person in my department the day before – and the day of – her firing. The issues of my boss letting us know early aside, the things I said in my conversations with my boss about my coworker’s performance didn’t exactly do her any favors, and in hindsight I should’ve kept my mouth shut. But it was clear the higher-ups had already made up their mind.
When she was fired, she made a point of not saying goodbye to me, and I was deleted and blocked from social media hours later. I’m wondering if it’s wise to send her a text after she’s cooled off to let her know I had nothing to do with it and apologize for not communicating our personal issues earlier? Knowing her fragile ego, how she operates, and how much it felt like she resented me toward the end, I’m pretty sure she’s using me as a scapegoat so she doesn’t have to acknowledge her own mistakes. I’m uncomfortable with someone out there thinking I played a role in their firing or thinking I stabbed them in the back, but I also don’t know if it would just make things worse if I reached out to her.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reaching out to her if you’d genuinely like to wish her well. I’d keep the messaging on “I’m sorry to hear what happened, and I wish you the best in whatever you do next” rather than “I didn’t have anything to do with this.” The latter sounds oddly defensive (since it would be a weird thing for to assume, at least without more details that aren’t included here), and it potentially could be twisted as “I disagree with the company’s decision,” which isn’t useful for you to have out there, especially in writing and especially if that’s not true.
3. How should a male manager handle inappropriate behavior from a female employee?
This sounds cliche, but I really am asking advice for a friend. I’m not a man, nor do I manage anyone, so this is beyond me. There are a lot of forums and regulations on how to treat your women counterparts in the office in order to not harass them, but it’s often dismissed or laughed at when it is the other way around. In this situation, it’s not sexual harassment at all, but it’s inappropriate.
Situation: New woman employee likes male manager, although he tells her he is not single and happily tells her about how wonderful his girlfriend is. She gets him gifts for his home and otherwise, writes notes, and prints out pictures from work and work outings and writes adoring notes on them. She does not do this for any of her coworkers or any other manager, and he isn’t the the senior officer. Of course there are loose non-fraternization policies within the company. How does he get her to stop without being “the problem”? Is there an an issue when saying “I’m not romantically interested in you,” that it could possibly bring the harassment accusation onto him? It stopped for a while because he managed a separate office, but now she’s been promoted/transferred to his office and it has started again. Bringing in the girlfriend would be unprofessional, but letting it continue will create a personal and professional issue for him.
The answer here is no different than it would be if the genders were reversed: He should tell her clearly that the behavior is unwelcome and to stop. For example: “Jane, please do not give me gifts, notes, or photos. I’d like to stay focused on work topics.” If she keeps it up after that, then he’d escalate to, “Jane, I asked you to stop doing this, but it’s continued. What’s going on?” He can also enlist HR if he needs to, but since he’s her manager, he has really clear standing to address this, to tell her it’s not acceptable, and to ensure that it stops. Unlike many victims of harassment, he’s got real power in this situation, and he should use it.
He also should stop discussing his personal life with her … and bringing in the girlfriend is so very much not the way to handle this! The message shouldn’t be “The fact that I’m not single is why I’m not interested,” but rather “I’m not interested and this behavior is unwelcome, period.” (Especially since he’s her manager, holy cheese balls!)
If he’s concerned that she could somehow turn it around and accuse him of harassment, he should talk with HR before he talks with her, to explain what’s going on and how he plans to handle it (and that’s probably a good idea for him to do anyway, because they should be in the loop on anything harassment-related). But beyond that, he should handle it in the same way a female manager would handle it coming from a male employee.
4. Are one-page resumes the new trend?
We were discussing resumes today during a meeting, and someone mentioned that the current trend is now a one-page resume. I am having a hard time fathoming such a thing – it was hard enough to bring my four pages to two for a staffing agency. A one-page would make it difficult to put anything more than my address, phone number, work history and competencies. Is this trend for real?
Nope. You will also hear people tell you that the new trend is video resumes, or graphic resumes, or five-page resumes. None of these are true. They are the brainchildren of people who need to fill article space and thus make up new trends, based on a small handful of people doing it (and you can find a small handful of people doing anything — that doesn’t correlate with effectiveness).
The rule continues to be one page if you’re recently out of school, and up to two pages if you’re more experienced. (Some industries, such as tech and academia, allow for more pages. Most do not, at least not if you want to come across as a strong candidate.)
5. Questions from coworkers after returning from short-term disability leave
I am meeting with a couple of different doctors and will probably end up taking short-term disability for a few weeks. I’ve been having a very tough time with depression, and the idea is to take some time off to try and get better. I’m also afraid that my irritability at work is increasing and my ability to focus is very poor, so I think it’s the right move. My current boss is aware of what’s going on and is very supportive, thankfully.
How do I handle questions when I return to work? I will not have any obvious physical issues, and I think a lot of people will ask how I am, what happened, etc. out of genuine concern. How do I answer in a way that’s polite without giving information about why I was gone? I don’t want to discuss my mental health issues with my coworkers. (Also, if you could toss this out to your readers, I would be grateful for any coping strategies for work in the meantime.)
Be vague: “I’m doing okay now, thanks.” “Just some medical stuff I had to deal with, but I’m doing okay.” “Thanks for asking! I’m feeling better.” If someone doesn’t get the hint and asks directly what was wrong: “Just some medical stuff I don’t want to get into.” That’s really okay, and it’s the sort of answer that you can use for a whole range of medical issues so it doesn’t give anything away.
Also, this Captain Awkward post has great advice on the broader question about coping strategies at work while you’re going through this. Good luck!