can I promote my jewelry at work, my boss is bad at email, and more

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

1. Can I promote my jewelry at work?

I am the executive assistant for four executives at a private company. I also just became a part-time rep for a direct sales business selling beautiful, reasonably priced, stylish jewelry.

From time to time, my bosses (all men) have asked for my suggestion for gifts for their wives and daughters, as I believe they trust my taste. Is it out of line to suggest they purchase my jewelry and send them links to my direct sales website? They will be able to see my name up on top and know that I am pushing my own jewelry on them, so I think I could just say it up front “I actually became a sales rep for X recently, I bet your wife/daughter/mother may like something in there, check it out, here’s the link… or let me know if you want me to suggest something!” Is that completely out of line?

Also, what is the etiquette to selling to my coworkers? I work with a lot of women – there are at least five other admins and many other ladies at all levels within the organization who could possibly appreciate what I’m selling. We work in a kind of informal environment and I sit in a spot where people often stop to chat about the most various non-work related things. Is it wrong to tell them about it and send them links to my website?

I wouldn’t.

With your bosses, it’s possible that they’d be grateful — but it’s also possible that they’d feel awkward about telling you they don’t like the pieces or otherwise feel uncomfortable about you pushing stuff on them that will lead to a profit for you. The most I think you could do would be to suggest something that isn’t one of the pieces you rep and then add as an aside, “Alternately, I’m also now a jewelry sales rep for X — if you’re interested, you can see those pieces at this link.” In other words, make it really, really easy for them to opt out or even ignore it altogether, and don’t make it the only option you’re offering to them.

With coworkers, I’d leave it out of the office altogether. There’s too much potential for people to feel annoyed or pressured or just awkward about having to fend off a sales pitch, and you want to be known as “Jane who does great work,” not “Jane who asked me to buy things from her.”

2. My boss is bad at email

My boss is pretty bad at time management when it comes to email, and will sometimes take one to two weeks to respond to client questions. The area we work in is known for achingly slow response times, and often our clients are as swamped as us, so he gets away with it.

Something I’ve noticed that sets my teeth on edge: When my boss gets around to answering long overdue emails, he typically starts off with a chirpy little “sorry about the delay, things have been really busy around here!” followed by a link to the calendar of events page on our website. This strikes me as a really flippant way to address our paying clients, who absolutely do not give a hoot about the events we are hosting and attending. These are paying clients who just want their questions answered in a timely fashion! It also feels very “look, I have evidence, I’m not lying!”, which just seems kinda skeezy.

There are some other issues with the way he comes off in email that I’ve tried to (very gently) bring to his attention. He’s a bit older, and does some odd things (using “text speak” inappropriately in professional emails, sending novella length emails to simple questions) that I think are a result of him not really understanding how to communicate with technology. I’m really anxious about appearing to criticize him, but I think it’s important that I bring up this problem of linking to our calendar of events page in emails where it just does not make sense. Am I correct in seeing this as something that should stop, or am I overreacting?

I’d let it go.

Your clients are probably interpreting the link to your events calendar as mild self-promotion (“here’s what we’ve got going on if you’re interested”) rather than an attempt to prove that your boss isn’t lying. It’s actually not terribly unusual for people to do that kind of thing to spread the word about their events. And while it’s not necessarily useful or interesting information to the recipient, it’s unlikely to cause offense.

About his use of email more broadly: Is he getting good results in his work? Are people reading and responding to his emails? If so, I wouldn’t worry too much about his email style. Some people use text speak in emails or write ridiculously lengthy messages and are still respected and effective in their fields. On the other hand, if the answers to those questions are no, you could possibly bring it up if you’re able to tie it directly to those things, but otherwise, I’d let that stuff go too.

3. Should I let my team know that I’ll be out for breast reduction surgery?

I am an executive over a team of about 30. I am an overly well-endowed woman, which causes neck/back problems I’ve reached my limit in dealing with, along with a variety of other problems. I am now awaiting insurance approval for breast reduction surgery. If I have the procedure, I will be on medical leave for two weeks and will need to limit my activity for several more weeks, although as I have a desk job this shouldn’t be an issue at work.

I am puzzling over how to handle this with my team. As someone who hasn’t even taken a sick day in two years, if I suddenly go out on medical leave without some explanation they would likely be very worried, and of course people’s imaginations will fill in any communication gaps with something worse than reality. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable making announcements about my boobs. The other major factor is the result of the surgery will be obvious when I come back, so everyone will know in the end anyway.

To me, this is a medical issue I am choosing to deal with through surgery, and I am not at all uncomfortable talking about it; I just don’t want to weird anyone out. For context, company culture is very supportive of work/life balance, I have worked hard to establish a positive and supportive team culture, and I have good relationships with my team members. So what do you think — is it TMI to explain the reason for the medical leave, or will not explaining generate more drama?

Yep, it’s TMI. Just say something like, “I’ll be out for a minor surgical procedure; it’s nothing to worry about.” As long as you include that last part, people aren’t likely to do much worrying, since there are lots of minor surgical procedures that aren’t signs of anything terrible.

People may or may not figure it out when you return, but there’s no reason to get into boob talk with people. (And who knows, you might be surprised — I’ve heard a bunch of people say that after breast reduction people just thought they’d lost weight or couldn’t quite figure out what was different.)

For what it’s worth, it’s not a bad idea for your team to occasionally see you take some sick leave anyway. You want them to use theirs when they need to, and it’s good to model behavior that shows that it’s no big deal.

4. Skipping an evening social event in a new job

I’m a single mom in a pretty new job. I really like it here and want to make a good impression, but I’m very stressed about an upcoming social event where we are meant to go snowshoeing at night.

I’ve never hired a babysitter before and I hate the idea of being up on a mountain where I possibly couldn’t be reached and definitely couldn’t get home quickly if something happened. Should I talk to my manager about it? I don’t want to seem like a complainer.

It’s perfectly reasonable to say to your boss, “I’m a single parent and can’t be in a situation that evening where I might not be able to be reached or get home quickly if there’s an emergency. Okay if I sit this one out?”

Your boss should be okay with this, as snowshoeing is not typically a critical event for people to be at. That said, some bosses are unreasonable about this kind of thing, so it’s possible that you’ll get the sense that he frowns on you not being able to make it. If you get that sense, at that point you’d need to decide if you’re willing to compromise on this to appease an unreasonable boss … but know that asking to skip it is not complainy of you.

5. Handling a very long layoff notice period

My company has decided to close several offices during 2017, and mine is one of them. I’m an IT manager, and half of my team is at the home office, and half is here in the closing office. My job will be eliminated when the office closes later this year, and so will my team members’ jobs. (Some will move to the home office location, but not all of us.)

We’ve been offered severance, and some folks have been offered retention bonuses to stay until the bitter end… but it’s hard to get my head around this. On one hand, I want to stick around and help my team deal with this change and transition their projects smoothly to the home office folks; on the other hand, why stick around in a company where I have no future after this fall?

The last time I was laid off, we were walked out the door after meeting with HR, so I’m having a tough time reconciling the conflicting messages of “we really want you to stay!” vs. “but only until the office closes down.” How on earth do I motivate my staff (and myself) to keep doing a good job if I stay? I’m not terribly concerned about my ability to find a new job, either now or at the end of the year, and financially we’d be OK if I’m out of work for a while. I’m just not sure if I’m thinking clearly enough to make the right call – any recommendations on what to do?

The layoff isn’t about you or your performance; it’s about a business decision to close your location. So the way you reconcile “stay and help us” with “but only until the office closes” is by being really clear-eyed about that.

Think of this the way you’d think of any short-term contract job: They need your services for a particular period of time but not indefinitely. That’s not personal, not any more than it’s personal to, say, not need to hire day care for your kids forever. Some business arrangements have a natural end.

And the way you motivate yourself to keep doing a good job is by remembering that your professional reputation is a hugely valuable asset, and that letting your performance slip will hurt you, not your employer. You do good work because you want to be known as someone who does good work, even if you’re no longer particularly invested in this job (and tell your staff the same thing). If you find yourself at a point where you can’t do that, though, then you’re better off finding another job and leaving sooner rather than sticking it out until the end.

should I leave my good job for a better one?

A reader writes:

I took a job at a company a little over a year ago after being unemployed following being a part of a large lay-off. I was so grateful for the job and ended up really loving the company and its culture. After the trauma of the lay-off, I passionately told them that I wanted this role to be my career and I would stay for at least 3 years, which is what they expressly wanted and I wanted at the time too.

Fast forward to today – a company found me on LinkedIn and, after a series of very positive conversations, offered me a very unique upward-moving role that is focused on the areas of my work that I enjoy most. They also offered me a 30% pay increase with 15% annual bonus – I believe they wanted to make me an offer I couldn’t refuse! They really like me and I really like them and it would be a huge move for my career… BUT I also love my current company and enjoy my current role! I also feel so guilty for leaving this role so soon… and they just gave me a 8% raise because they say they value me and would never want me to leave!

Am I making the right choice by leaving? The known vs. the unknown is terrifying, but the money and more strategic focus of this new role is great. It’s also a jump in title (which I know I would get eventually at my current company but would take another 1 – 2 years)… but are these ultimately the right reasons to leave?

Well, first, let’s talk about that promise to your current company that you would stay for three years. Unless they gave you a contract where that’s in writing, it’s not entirely right for them to hold you to that, at least not to the point that it would seem like a betrayal if you leave now. If they really wanted to lock you in, a contract was the way to do it … but U.S. companies tend not to do that kind of contract, because they want to preserve flexibility on their own end. (In blunt terms, they want you to commit to them without giving you a binding commitment in return. Your employers sound like lovely people, but this is just a normal part of how this tends to play out, even among lovely people.)

To be clear, informal agreements to stay for at least a few years should be taken seriously — you shouldn’t make that agreement in bad faith (like if you knew when you were saying it that you had no intention of honoring it). But things change. Goals change, life circumstances change, and sometimes impossible-to-pass up offers fall in your lap. You can’t be expected to act against your own interests when your employer wasn’t willing to make a binding commitment back to you.

That said, will they be upset? Possibly. But if you explain that you weren’t job searching and this company approached you rather than the other way around, and the offer is too good to pass up, despite how much you’ve loved working for them … well, they may still be a bit upset, but they should also understand your decision.

However! This doesn’t mean that you should actually take the other offer. On its face, the money and job itself sound hard to pass up. But jobs that sound fantastic at the start don’t always turn out that way. So because you’ll be leaving a job that you really like, you want to really, really do due diligence here. Make sure that you’ve truly dug into the new company — that they’re stable, that the job isn’t likely to disappear in a year, that the department it’s in isn’t likely to be slashed, that the manager is respected and considered a good person to work for, that the culture is one you’ll thrive in, and so forth. Make sure you’ve talked with other employees there, not just the manager, and done a lot of research and searched your network for anyone who can give you the inside scoop. The goal is to make sure that you won’t be kicking yourself in six months because you left a job you liked for a situation that isn’t as good or that’s outright bad.

But if you do all that, and do it thoroughly, and you’re still convinced that this will be a better situation for you than your current one … well, I think that’s your answer. Just be careful that you’re looking at it through clear eyes, and don’t let excitement about the job or the money prevent you from doing that digging.

what do I owe my long-time employer when I quit?

A reader writes:

I have been working for the same small law firm for almost 10 years. It once consisted of me, a billing assistant, a paralegal, a receptionist, and the attorney. Over the last three years, all of the other employees have quit and my boss has failed to replace them. He did attempt to replace our accounting and billing person – first with his wife, then with his former babysitter, then a friend, all of whom had zero experience and worked just long enough to screw up our records and quit. This took place over the course of about a year and half, during which time none of them ever truly took on all of the work that they should have and I was expected to train and assist each new hire, while also making sure what they never got to was completed. When they failed, he allowed me to hire an administrative assistant who was an unmitigated disaster. She lied on her application and in her interview and refused to accept that she made mistakes or correct them. It’s been been seven months since we fired her, and he has only attempted once to hire someone to replace this person – another friend with zero experience!

Part of the reason that I’ve tolerated this is because we’ve been together for so many years. I know his family, have seen his kids grow, was there when his father passed away, etc. On his side, he was there when I was diagnosed with cervical cancer, when my fiance was hurt and out of work and I had to leave work early to take him to four doctors a week and when I got the call that my grandmother had passed and was so upset I couldn’t drive – again, the list goes on.

The other reason that I haven’t left, despite my ever increasing unhappiness, is that I am getting married in two weeks and will be taking half of the month off for my wedding and honeymoon. I took a lot of personal time this year, knowing that no new company would have allowed this, and basically sucked it up so that I could have everything I wanted for my wedding and keep a stable job.

When I come back I know what I will face: he’s already decided against temp help so mail will be unopened, checks written without using the system, deadlines missed, and emails unanswered. I gave him a list of things that need to be done while I’m gone and asked him if he wanted to go over what we need to get done before I leave – he said no. He has all but said he’s going to try to wait it out and do nothing until I get back. I am simply trying not to think too much about it so I don’t stress out during my whole trip.

I know him well enough to know what will happen when I get back and when he waves his arm at the disaster that he’s left me and laughs, there is nothing that can stop me from quitting.

So my question is twofold: 1. As an employee of 10 years, what do I owe my employer as far as notice? I do literally everything in the office and I don’t think he could learn what I do in two weeks and there is definitely no way that he could hire someone within that time frame and train them to do everything that I do. At the same time, I feel like if I give him too much notice he will assume that he can just put it off and I won’t leave. 2. Should I tell him all of the reasons why I am leaving, or just leave it with a general “I don’t believe there is any further opportunity for me with the firm and it’s time for me to leave”? If I listed all of the reasons that I feel I am being taken advantage of it would be just as long as this letter is now, if not longer, but I don’t want to sound like a psycho either. Help!

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

my coworker blocks colleagues’ messages when they ask for help and is a jerk … and our manager won’t act

A reader writes:

We are a small HR department of about 10, in a corporate office of about 100 employees. We have one employee (who is, like me, a manager) who is often not in the office, or on instant messenger. Sometimes he is on travel, but more often than not he is either “working from home” or otherwise on some form of PTO. Often times people come around looking for him, and since he isn’t transparent with the team about where he is, the rest of the team is relegated to answer “I don’t know.” We will tell them to try calling him on his cell (which he rarely answers), but quite frankly this makes us look (as a department) like we are not cohesive or organized. What’s even worse are the times where he will schedule a brown bag lunch or (better yet) our flu shot clinic, then not even bother to show up to run the meeting. Without knowing where he is, one of the other nine of us are stuck picking up the slack.

So the other manager (there are three of us, who all report to a “VP”) decided to implement a department-wide calendar, simply by syncing our Outlook calendars to a team calendar. We thought this was a good way to keep everyone updated on where we were, if we were on PTO, teleworking, or in a meeting. So we implement it, and guess what? Everyone uses it except one person. Yep…you guessed right. Both I and the other manager addressed our concern with our VP, and she never responded. Or just says “well, that’s just Fergus.” So clearly she doesn’t see the issue. But it gets better.

She (or someone else) must have said something to him about his lack of use of the department calendar because he is now using it (five months later). Well….kind of. He puts entries into his calendar – but the entries are often times in another language (usually Arabic). He is a native English speaker, he isn’t of Middle Eastern descent, and we speak English in our office. My theory is he is putting his entries in Google Translate, then putting the verbiage it spits out onto his calendar. I myself checked out the verbiage in his calendar (using Google Translate), and they are, in fact, work entries (they are usually notifications that one of his internal clients will be in the office that day, or he is on PTO, teleworking, etc.).

To me, this is incredibly passive aggressive and unprofessional, and shows an utter disregard for working as a team. Frankly, if he worked for me, he would have one chance to correct it. My coworker and I discussed how to handle it, but both agreed that our manager will most likely do nothing about it, since she doesn’t seem to be that interested in managing him in general. She is okay with him coming in late, leaving early, “working” from home, etc. because she knows at the end of the day what work he doesn’t get done will simply be passed off to someone else. So we have decided, for the time being, to just ignore it and not pander to his immature and unprofessional behavior.

For what it is worth, he has blocked other coworkers on instant messenger after they ask him work-related questions. We have a company-wide requirement to be available by IM (as we support people who are remote), so my guess is that when these people “bother” him (by asking him legitimate work related questions, such as why they haven’t received an offer letter for their new hire, for example), he responds by blocking them on IM. I know this because then those people come to me asking me if he is here, can they get the info they are looking for, etc. And I end up helping those people since Fergus has made himself “unavailable” to the people he is tasked to support.

In the past, myself and the other manager have aired our concerns with our VP, but she has been less than willing to address it with him. Again, I have gotten the whole “That’s just Fergus” or “I’ll talk to him,” then she doesn’t. I know she doesn’t because I will air the same concern again and she will say “Oh yeah – I forgot.” So I have decided that this isn’t the kind of manager I want to work for, and I have been job-hunting for the better part of the last year.

I did read your article about what to do with a coworker who doesn’t pull their own weight, and while it helped, this situation is not something that is going to work for me long-term. So I just need some advice navigating this until such time as I get another job and can get the hell out.

And PS – I wont be offended if you tell me I am being petty about this. I hate that this is bothering me as much as it is.

What?! No, you are not being petty.

Your coworker blocks people who IM him to ask work questions and puts work-related information in another language so that people can’t read it, and your manager refuses to address it.

It’s hard to decide who’s the bigger problem here, your coworker or your manager, because they’re both shirking their duties in egregious and obnoxious ways. Fergus is being more openly obnoxious, but your manager is being incredibly negligent in knowing that it’s happening and not bothering to intervene.

Have either you or the other manager who’s peers with you and Fergus tried talking to Fergus directly? As in, “Fergus, why are your calendar entries in Arabic, which we can’t read? We need you to change them to English by the end of this week so that the shared calendar serves the purpose it was intended for.” And as in, “Fergus, Jane just told me that you blocked her on IM when she asked where the offer letter for her new hire is. It needs to be dealt with today, so please contact her about it.” And as in, “Why on earth are you blocking coworkers on IM when they ask your normal work questions?”

You also should push the problem back on to Fergus’s manager whenever this stuff happens. So when someone tells you that Fergus blocked her on IM, email Fergus about it and cc his manager. When Fergus schedules an event and then isn’t there to staff it, rather than just covering for him, you alert his manager — “Fergus scheduled a flu shot clinic today and hasn’t shown up. I’ve got commitments I can’t break, so I can’t cover for him.”

And do that every time. Right now, it’s apparently easier for your VP to ignore the problems than it is to deal with them, so try making that a lot more uncomfortable for her.

Right now, you’re covering for Fergus because you’re conscientious and want to ensure that work gets done and you’re concerned about how your department will look to other people. But by doing that, you’re inadvertently enabling the behavior. Effectively immediately, stop stepping in to mitigate the impact of Fergus’s behavior, so that your VP is forced to see and (hopefully) deal with how bad the problem really is.

how to put together an affordable professional wardrobe

And now a break to talk about a sponsor…

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Disclosure: This post is sponsored by thredUP. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

hiring someone for a job that might change soon, recommending a former coworker who left on bad terms, and more

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

1. Hiring someone when I know the job might change significantly soon

I work for a slightly dysfunctional company (around 150 employees) in a place where it can be hard to find work for highly skilled people with a certain speciality.

We’re looking to add a new person to my team, and found a person who would fit the job really well. Now, normally I would just hire him as fast as possible. But I am likely changing jobs soon. My department is really taking off, but that is largely because I have a certain skill set — a mix of a lot of experience in the company, being highly skilled in our speciality, and being an entrepreneur. If I go, this department and the job will very likely go in another direction, because short-term demands for our specialty will overtake long-term planning.

This person has another offer from another company. It’s not quite as exciting, with a longer commute. We’re within biking-distance and the other job would require him to buy a car, but it’s certainly a good job. I would rate our offer as a 9/10 and the other job as a 7/10 career-wise. Once I am gone, working in the department is likely going to change quite a lot, and move this job to a 6/10 or even lower.

Should I offer a person a job, knowing I am a large part of what makes this job work and that I might very likely (>80%) be gone in a matter of months?

Ethically, I don’t think you can offer him the job without disclosing what you’ve said here. Ideally, you’d explain all this to the candidate and then let him make his own decision. Otherwise it’s too much like offering someone a job without mentioning that there’s an 80% chance the job will be moving to another state in a few months, or that the role will change from X to Y.

I realize this might not be a simple thing to do since you probably don’t want others in your company to know this is a likelihood yet, and I’m sure you don’t want to freak out your current staff by having them hear that their jobs are likely to change dramatically. But I’d have real qualms about offering the job to someone who’d be turning down a decent offer to take it if you don’t disclose the likelihood of significant, near-term changes.

2. Recommending a former coworker who left on bad terms

I have a question about recommending friends/former colleagues to my current company. Dory and I used to work together in a government job and became pretty close friends. Although we were peers, I looked up to her in many ways because she was a little bit older and, frankly, better at that job than me (this isn’t to say I was bad at it, but Dory was fantastic, at least in my opinion.) Her only major shortcoming was that she always sounded a bit angry and had a major case of RBF (for lack of a better term.) She was also extremely direct, something that I appreciated. Some people didn’t like her for it, but almost everyone who go to know her realized that she was actually a really easy person to work with. I do think her gender had something to do with why she rubbed some people the wrong way.

I made a career change and went into the private sector several years ago, which has worked out well for me. I love my job and the company I work for. Dory stayed, but she recently left our old job on pretty bad terms. She was accused of being a toxic leader and disrespectful towards her superiors. My opinion of the situation is pretty one-sided (being that I’m Dory’s friend and no longer work there) but I do know some of the people who were involved, and from my perspective it’s a case of several coworkers ganging up to get rid of a person they didn’t like.

My company is hiring and I think Dory would be a great fit for a particular role. I really want to recommend her, but I’m not sure what to do about the situation with our previous employer. My gut feeling is to recommend her based entirely on the work we did together: I only know about what happened afterward because we’re still good friends. However, I’m also worried about backlash if I recommend her and then they hear all of these awful things from our previous employer. The head of the program that’s hiring has specifically mentioned that some of the recommendations he’s received have been less-than-stellar and he wants employees to really think about who would be a good fit, not just who their friends are. Yes, I do want to help my friend, but I really do think she would do great here.

To clarify, Dory briefly asked me about my company a while back before the situation blew up at her work, but she has not yet asked me to recommend her. Am I right to be concerned?

I think you have to disclose a bit more of the context if you recommend her because you don’t really know enough about the issues to be sure that your interpretation is the correct one. Also, if Dory rubs this many people the wrong way, it’s better for her to end up in a place that’s okay with her directness and demeanor, and being up-front about this stuff will increase the chances of that stuff. So I’d give your recommendation and add something like, “I do want to note that she’s very direct, which not everyone loves. I thought she was really easy to work with and I appreciated her directness and thought it got us better outcomes, but I want to be transparent with you that she rubbed some people the wrong way and that’s part of the reason she left Teapots Inc.”

That’ll increase your credibility (because you’re acknowledging the issue), give you some cover if things end up not going well, and give some context for things that might come up in reference checks. Ideally, it will also help your employer screen Dory out if she’s mismatched with what they need, which is a better outcome for everyone than hiring her into a job where she won’t thrive.

3. My coworkers are always late and it’s impacting me

I work in an office with six other full-time employees. One other person and I have worked in the office for several years, and the others all started a little over a year ago.

For security reasons, two people must be present to unlock and enter the building. We use the phone system to punch in and out. Time is rounded up or down. Example: 9:07 a.m. to 1:23 p.m. would count as 4.5 hours, where as 9:08 a.m. to 1:22 p.m. would count as 4 hours.

I have always been on time. And the last manager would put people on PIPs for too many late occasions (four times in a rolling six-month period, according to company guidelines). But with this new manager, it seems scheduled times are suggestions. Everyone seems to aim for the seven-minute leeway (and many times miss it), leaving me sitting out in the parking lot. Now, if I will truly lose time (like having to punch in at 9:08 a.m. or later when I was there before my scheduled 9 a.m.,) I can override the system. But it annoys me to punch in “late” when I wasn’t and sets the rest of the day to be more stressed as not everything gets done before we open. I have sat in the parking lot for 15 minutes or more past my scheduled start time on many occasions due to people “running late.”

Am I wrong to feel annoyed? Should I just aim for being late too? I really feel like the odd man out. One young employee (first real job out of college) actually said she would quit if they enforced actually expecting people to be there by the time they are scheduled.

No, you’re not wrong to feel annoyed. It’s annoying.

Talk to your manager and say this: “Over the past few months, I’ve found myself stuck in the parking lot waiting for a second person to arrive, because I’m on time and they’re late. This leaves me standing around waiting, it means that I look like I’m punching in late even though I was on time, and it means that we don’t have everything done before we open. Traditionally people have been expected to be on time in order to avoid these issues. Is it possible to go back to requiring that?”

4. Turning down an internal job offer

I have an interview scheduled as an internal candidate for a position in my organization’s satellite location. (I’m not actively job-seeking, but this position seemed like a good lateral move to build experience.) However, over the years in my current position I’ve heard lots of negative talk about the erratic management style and difficult workplace culture in this very small office, which has since been re-confirmed since I accepted the interview. My plan is to take the interview and ask a lot of questions about the position, and not accept if it doesn’t feel right. What I’m not sure about is whether it looks better to the hiring committee (which includes other senior managers I report to) to withdraw my name from consideration shortly after the interview, if I decide to do so, or to wait for an offer. I think I am a strong candidate, and don’t want to waste anyone’s time if I don’t want the position. I somehow feel it would raise more questions, though, if I were to withdraw right after the interview.

We’re not a large organization, so I want to make sure I don’t do anything to harm my reputation internally and keep a good rapport with this other manager and the hiring committee. Any advice?

If you decide you definitely don’t want the position, withdraw at that point rather than waiting for an offer, so that they’re not moving forward with wrong assumptions (cutting other candidates loose, etc.). That’s always the case but especially so with internal positions, where the relationships matter even more.

Also, there are some offices where turning down an internal offer once things get past to interview stage is a big deal — where it’s assumed that if you’re interviewing, you know enough about the company and the role that you’ll take it if you can come to terms on salary, etc. In those offices, turning down an offer can make it harder to get considered for promotions in the future because there’s a sense of “well, she turned us down last time so let’s not invest a bunch of time in this conversation again.” That’s not fair or reasonable, but it’s the way some offices work, so make sure you have a sense of that too before you let things go any farther. (If you trust your boss’s judgment or have an internal mentor, those are good people to talk to about that.)

5. What’s going on with my promised new office?

I work in an office job at a medium-sized company. When I first started in this position, there wasn’t much office space available so I was forced to work in a small corner of someone else’s desk for about eight months. As I moved up in my position, I got my own desk but it’s still very small and uncomfortable and in the corner of someone else’s office.

The president of my company said they would be building new office space for me by Christmas, but this was about four months ago and they still have not started construction. When new desk space opened up, a newer hire got it over me as the president said I would be getting my own office soon. My question is, is there any way for me to politely push for progress on the office situation? I am not comfortable in my current situation and I feel as though it’s a bit humiliating for a grown woman to be working in this tiny chair and desk. I think a comfortable working environment is necessary for me to maximize my productivity.

Yes, ask! First say this: “I know the plan was to build new office space for me by Christmas. Is there an updated timeline?” Depending on the answer, you could then say, “I know there are limited options, but given that I’m in such a tiny space with no room to spread out and that it’s been X months now and sounds like it’ll be at least a few more, could we explore alternatives for the interim?”

our company is making us do unreasonable things to accommodate a coworker’s mental health

A reader writes:

My coworker, “Casey,” has worked at the same company as me for just over two years. Casey has mental health issues with obsessive-compulsive disorder (self-acknowledged and openly talked about) that have gotten progressively worse as time goes on. Casey is on medication and currently in therapy, but it isn’t enough any more. It has gotten to the point where it’s out of control and affecting the lives of others.

Some examples: Casey likes everything to be the same, and so to accommodate this management has amended the dress code to say that if clothes have patterns they must be uniform and even that if anyone wears a ring, watch, or bracelet on one hand they must wear one on the other so it’s the same. Another example is that some people who work here take public transit and there is a bus stop outside of our office. To accommodate Casey we were directed by management to line up for the bus as male/female/male/female, etc.. so the line is orderly.

These are just a couple of examples, but I could go on all day. I don’t want to come across as a horrible person but I am getting fed up with having to change every little thing because of Casey’s accommodations. Casey is a nice enough person and I know it’s a mental illness, but at the same time I don’t see why everyone else has to suffer all the time. I would never purposely do anything to make Casey uncomfortable and neither would my coworkers, but we feel like this has gone too far. People have quit or transferred to other locations to get away from this. Someone was given a written warning for only wearing a ring on one hand and was asked to remove their wedding ring because they didn’t have a second ring, and we were told we will be written up if we don’t comply.

When we bring our concerns to management or HR they just tell us about the ADA and being tolerant. Short of finding a new job, can you recommend any other ways to get management to see why this is a problem?

Whoa. This is not the way to accommodate someone with a mental health issue; you don’t shift the entire burden to other people to manage.

Your company has handled this so badly (lining people up by gender?! telling someone to remove their wedding ring?!) that I don’t have a lot of hope that you’ll be able to get them to see reason. Acting reasonably doesn’t seem to be their strong suit.

But whenever anything ridiculous is happening that you want to push back against, harnessing the power of a group is often a lot more effective than just one person speaking up. So you could give that a shot: have a group of people talk to someone with authority and say that you’re sympathetic to Casey’s illness but are being asked to shoulder an unreasonable burden to accommodate it, and ask that the company consult with a lawyer and/or disability expert on ways to meet their obligations to Casey without making unreasonable demands of other employees.

You could also show them resources like this, which explains that typical accommodations for obsessive-compulsive disorder are things like giving the person control over her own workspace (not other people’s) or allowing the person to use noise-canceling headphones. It’s not typical to give the person control over what other people wear or who they stand next to at a bus stop (which shouldn’t be under an employer’s control at all).

Will it work? Maybe, maybe not. Sometimes companies do unreasonable things because no one has bothered to push back against it in an organized way, and sometimes just a little bit of group pressure can jog them into realizing, “Oh, people have a problem with this and we need to find another solution.” Other times they don’t budge, no matter how compelling the argument you lay out. I can’t predict what will happen here, but it’s absolutely reasonable to make the attempt.

coworkers ask me too many questions, loud groups at company retreats, and more

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

1. My coworkers lean on me for too much help with their own work

I’ve been reading your blog for a few months and one of the main themes I’ve picked up on is being direct with people, which I’ve been working on. One thing I still struggle with is answering questions repeatedly from coworkers in situations where they aren’t willing (or able?) to try to find the answer on their own. For instance, we have a report that we’re sharing with customers. I’ve gone out of my way to learn the ins and outs of this report and meet with the subject matter expert to ensure I understand everything correctly. I have two colleagues at the same level as me who repeatedly ask me questions about either this report or other (really basic) things they should know. They also complain they haven’t had training on these things, so I’ve asked them to tell our boss directly that they want more training or say something like “Oh, the answer is in X document” or “Rusty is the best resource.” I’ve sat down with them both and given them the answers. In meetings, my boss will ask us what they need, and they say they’re fine.

Is there a point where I could tell my boss that they don’t know these things, and I’m constantly being asked for the answer? I don’t want to seem too harsh or betray their trust, but sometimes I’m seriously shocked or annoyed that they still don’t seem to know what’s going on. (I’m not sure if it makes a difference, but I also feel weird that they could both be my mom…and I’m 31.)

Yes, you can definitely say something to your boss. But before you do, I’d be more direct with your coworkers. The next few times you get these requests, say something like:
* “You’ve asked me a bunch of times about this report, so let me tell you what I did to build up my knowledge about it so that you can do the same thing. I read it cover to cover and took notes on things I was unsure about, and then I met with Jane to ask for more information about those things. I think it would make sense for you to do that too, so that you’re not leaning on me to answer so many questions.”
* “I can answer the occasional question when it’s urgent, but doing it as a regular thing really breaks my focus. It sounds like you need to ask Jane for more training on this.”
* And then if it still happens”: “Have you talked to Jane about getting more training on this?” … “I’d appreciate it if you would, because otherwise I’m ending up as the de facto trainer, which I don’t really have time to be.”

If that doesn’t take care of it, then yes, talk to your boss. You can frame it this way: “I wanted to mention to you that I think Fergus and Imogen need more training on X and Y. I’ve been spending a lot of time answering their questions, and I’ve asked them to talk to you about additional training since it’s taking up so much of my time, but I get the sense that they haven’t done that yet.”

2. When do you tell your coworkers that you’re quitting?

I just gave my two weeks notice to my boss this past Thursday from my first job after college. It went very well and he was very nice about it. He asked if I could send a formal email he could send to the other managers and the head of our department, so I sent him my resignation letter. He told me he would send them this letter sometime that day to let them know I’m leaving.

I planned to tell all my other coworkers the next day since the head of our department was working from home and I wasn’t sure if my boss had already notified him. About an hour after giving notice, two of my coworkers came by my desk and said they had already heard I was leaving. They told me my boss had told all the other managers, one manager told an employee who works remotely, and this employee told someone else in my department (I’ll call her Lucy), who then informed these two coworkers.

I was planning to talk to Lucy in person Friday since she is the person who will take on my job duties until they hire a replacement, and therefore will be the most impacted. The other two coworkers have been good friends at work. I feel bad that all of them found out this way instead of from me directly. Was I wrong to wait until I was sure all the bosses knew I’m leaving? Should I have told my coworkers right away?

The only real etiquette here is to tell your boss first, which you did. From there, because you didn’t arrange for any particular roll-out of the news, he didn’t do anything wrong by telling others (and often a manager will need to tell others fairly quickly because it may impact people’s work in ways they need to know about sooner rather than later). And you didn’t do anything particularly wrong by not telling your coworkers right away. No one here really did anything wrong, since no one explicitly told anyone not to share the news.

In the future, though, you can certainly say, “I’d like to tell Lucy myself before we share the news more broadly” (but then you should do that right away, not wait … since waiting can limit your manager on things she needs to do to start working on the transition).

3. Loud groups at company retreats

My husband and I are currently on vacation in Mexico (a hardship, I know) and yesterday a very large, loud group checked into our resort. The majority seem to be in their mid-late 20s and 30s, with a handful that may be with them who are older.

In general we’ve been able to steer clear, but they’re all over so I’ve been able to suss out that they’re all employees on a company-sponsored trip (whereas I thought it may be a fraternity reunion). My question is really just what is your opinion of trips like this and how people should behave on them? This particular group has been drinking heavily, yelling a lot, and some of them have been pretty obnoxiously hitting on women. All behaviors that I can’t imagine reasonable people doing around coworkers or managers! I work in nonprofits, so these kinds of company trips will never be in my future, but is this common/acceptable in the corporate world? Or are they just given a “pass” while they’re on the trip?

I think there’s a really wide range of what’s considered acceptable on company-sponsored trips like these, depending on company culture, but in general, it’s — well, I don’t want to say common, but it’s not uncommon for people to bring a “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” mentality to work trips. That’s especially true with groups that are largely in their 20s and, to a lesser extent, 30s. I suspect it’s also more likely to happen with groups that don’t normally travel a ton (so the novelty hasn’t worn off), although I have zero evidence to base that theory on.

But yes, it’s obnoxious, and they risk losing serious respect from any coworkers there who aren’t amused by the behavior (as well as, clearly, being rude to innocent bystanders staying in the same place). And the heavy drinking and the hitting on people are both playing with fire because harassment laws don’t get suspended when you’re traveling; if they make unwelcome advances on a coworker, it’s as much of a problem at a resort as it is at the office.

Cedar Rapids is an excellent movie on this topic.

4. My pregnant coworker is throwing up at her desk every day

I have severe emetophobia. That means I am terrified of vomiting, being around other people who are vomiting, and even being around people who say they are feeling sick.

I work in a large, open plan office. A woman on the team next to mine is pregnant. I’m sure you can see where this is going. She vomits, loudly, several times a day, either in the restroom or into a garbage can at her desk. On the one hand, I feel horrible for her. I know she can’t help it, and must be miserable. On the other hand, my anxiety levels are through the roof. It’s really affecting my ability to work.

We are both able to work from home, but our company culture frowns on that. Is there anything I can do? Is it ok for someone who is vomiting that much to be at work, even if they aren’t “sick”? I’m sure that even people who don’t have my particular problem are finding it unpleasant as well.

Well, it wouldn’t be good to tell women in the early months of pregnancy that they shouldn’t come to work, so yeah, in this kind of context, it’s not unreasonable for her to be at work. But it’s also not unreasonable to expect her to at least attempt to use the bathroom when she needs to throw up rather than the trash can at her desk.

As for what you can do, assuming that headphones don’t solve the issue, I’d tell your manager that you have a strong reaction to other people vomiting and that hearing it so regularly is keeping you in a constant state of queasiness, and ask if for the next month or two you can either work from an office out of hearing distance of your coworker or from home (or a combination of the two).

5. Does my job not plan to keep me past probation?

I recently got hired at a private scientific research company, and this is my first “in my field” job out of university. Although the job seems to be going generally well, I’m afraid that they won’t keep me past the probationary period for the following reason: they haven’t bothered training me in the position they hired me for.

I got hired three months ago (probation is six months), and instead of training me for the job I was hired for, they’ve been using me as a pair of extra hands to throw into random tasks where I’m needed. I should mention that I was hired at the peak of the busy season, and I was the last of four technical employees who got hired in two months (one started the week before me).

I realize part of the lack of training is a lack of time, but all the new employees have received at least some degree of training in their positions, except me. Am I overreacting or do I have a reason to worry? Also would talking about it to my direct supervisor make it worse?

It’s possible that you have reason to worry, but it’s not at all unlikely that this is just about the fact that it’s their busy season and that you’ll be trained once things calm down. But you should absolutely talk to your manager about it, because she may not realize that you’re concerned by it (and may not even have fully processed that you really haven’t gotten any training at all, especially with three other new employees to juggle).

Say this: “I know that it’s a busy time right now, and I’m happy to help out where I’m needed, but I’m also eager to start getting trained in my regular responsibilities. Do you have a sense of when I can expect to shift more in that direction?”

weekend free-for-all – January 14-15, 2017

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

Recommendation of the week –  Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders, by Joshua Foer. This is a super cool guide to strange and surprising places around the world.

updates: I’m a heroin addict and need time off to get clean, and more

Here are are five more updates from people who had their letters answered here last year.

1. I’m a heroin addict and need time off to get clean

I’ve been clean for two months. That’s all there is to say and I am so happy!!!

2. My boss and her daughter want to move in with me

On the advice of yourself and the wonderful AAM commenters, I decided to just live with the less-than-ideal roommate situation. Unfortunately, soon after I wrote you, my boss’s daughter had an episode – her illness causes periodical behavioural problems, namely aggressiveness and suicidal ideation – and as a result I had to put my foot down and insist that either they move or I be allowed to do so. I know none of it was intentional or their fault, but I couldn’t spend the remainder of my contract afraid to go home.

My manager completely understood and responded very promptly to my request. I stayed with a colleague in different housing for a weekend and both she and her daughter had moved out by the time I returned on the Monday, and I spent the remainder of my contract by myself in my original house. By this point the board of the arts organization we worked for had caught wind of the situation, however, and I understand that this incident was the last straw among a bundle of other workplace issues stemming from this illness for them. My manager’s contract was not renewed this year. So I’m sad to report that the whole thing had a rather bleak ending.

Thank you so much to all the wonderful people who chatted with me in the comments! It really helps to have someone else back you up on your situation, even if just to say that you’re right to have a qualm about the issue and offer some tips on how to approach situations like these. Especially working in not-for-profit arts (where there’s a strong culture of “just-make-it-work” and occasionally a real skewed view of what is acceptable), it’s so valuable to be able to reach out to people in other fields and get a sense for what is reasonable and what is not.

And don’t worry – I already have a couple other real braintwisters that I’m sending your way in the new year. Arts work is always riddled with workplace potholes and landmines.

Thanks again, and happy managing!

3. My former boss wants me to tell a reference that I was HIS manager

My former boss has a similar name to a good friend of mine, and a couple of days ago I saw a text that for some reason I thought was from my friend, about job hunting, so I responded immediately and in a way that is definitely more how you’d respond to a friend than a former boss. Nothing bad, just casual. When I saw the response I realized who it was from. I hadn’t actually responded to the previous text because I hadn’t known what to say.

Anyway, this time he followed that by telling me that if they called they’d ask the dates he worked there, his salary, his reason for leaving, and if he was rehirable. I wrote back letting him know that while I was again happy to be a reference, I do not know what his salary was, that I while I personally would say he was rehirable, I didn’t know why they would ask me that being that I was a receptionist. And he said he listed me as a “peer/colleague,” which…fine.

I just think this is weird since I don’t actually know three out of four of those things! I wasn’t there when he left so I don’t know how he would even want me to answer the last question.

I have never had a former boss/manager use me as a reference before, so I don’t know if that’s normal or just my experience.

4. Managing a struggling new manager (#4 at the link)

Many thanks to you and the commentators for your advice, which definitely changed the way I was handling the situation. I got more involved, which I hope was helpful in guiding Topaz and I’m sure at least made her feel more supported and confident. And I’ve learnt a few things from the whole process which may help on future, hopefully less dramatic, occasions.

Rose and Cassandra’s issues are being addressed — no magic wand, but nor are they being allowed to continue with no consequences.

5. Can I compare attending college to working a full-time job in my cover letter?

After reading my letter again, all I can say is “Ugh what was I thinking!?” Even re-reading it and knowing that I was the one who wrote, all I could do was cringe. Since writing the letter, I began to read more of Alison’s posts on how to write a decent cover letter. After some rough starts to it, I was finally able to come up with a cover letter that I felt really spoke to my abilities and experiences.

It took me a couple of months after that to find a job, due to moving to another state. I have been at my new job a couple of months now and I absolutely love it! The position is an entry-level one in my field and I am learning so much. I truly know now that work and school are two completely different experiences. Thank you everyone for your comments! And thank you so much Alison for choosing my letter! I believe your advice truly saved me from writing an embarrassing cover letter.