I’m running my department but can’t get promoted into the director role

A reader writes:

I am at a crossroads right now. I joined a small nonprofit organization with about 25 employees in September 2015. When I accepted the job, I knew I was taking a step down from my position as a development director at another organization, and I ignored some red flags in my hiring manager because I was so excited about the mission. Six months later, my director resigned (in other words, got pushed out). But, rather than replace him immediately, my executive director tabled the position because she was considering reorganizing my department.

In the meantime, while we were absent a director, I took on many leadership responsibilities.

Finally, after five months with no director, my ED decided to repost the position, keeping the department as it was. She dropped several hints that I was a contender for the position, and even gave me paperwork to enroll in new supervisor training. I was one of the final candidates for the position, and I treated the interview with the same respect I would an outside company.

They wound up offering the position to an external candidate with more experience. Though I was heartbroken, I recognized the value she could bring and prepared to support her hire. However, she wound up turning down the position.

But to my dismay, the position was reopened and I wasn’t even considered for the next round of interviews. It has now been over nine months since my director left and I have been holding things together, with perfect qualifications for the job and proven success implementing elements of our strategic plan for other organizations.

I am a very self-reflective person, so I have asked for feedback on things I need to work on and legitimate reasons I have not been hired for the position, but the senior leadership team basically keeps telling me I need to keep doing what I’ve been doing. I feel like I’m being yanked around and taken advantage of and that they are capitalizing off an excellent employee stepping up and managing things during the leadership transition and hoping to “double down.” I think they know it would be harder to replace someone with my skills in my current position rather than find someone with my skills in a higher position, and that makes me very angry.

My question is, when do put your foot down and determine if you are being taken advantage of? Isn’t that crazy to go nine months without a director when there is a qualified person in a support role who has received exemplary reviews? I get doing what is best for the organization, but when is it a red flag you are dealing with poor leadership and a dead-end wall for growth opportunities?

It’s hard to say what’s going on without knowing more.

It’s possible that they have legitimate reasons for not wanting to promote you into the position. They might think you’re good at the development work, but not have confidence in your management skills or your ability to build relationships with other departments. Or they might think that you’re good at executing the basics (which is what you’ve probably been doing) but not as strong as they want on bigger-picture strategy. Or they might think you’re perfectly competent but that your vision for the department or the work just doesn’t line up with what they want. Or who knows — my point is that there are lots of reasons why they could legitimately conclude that you’re doing a good job of keeping the department running while it’s without a director, but still not think that you’re the right hire for the head position.

However, they absolutely should give you more feedback about their decision than what it sounds like they’ve given you. “Keep doing what you’ve been doing” is in no way an answer to “can you give me some insight into why I’m not the right candidate for the director role?”

That assumes, of course, that you asked the question that explicitly. If you haven’t, it’s worth doing that now.

You asked if this is a red flag that you’re dealing with poor leadership and a dead-end wall for growth opportunities. The lack of explanation and feedback to you is poor leadership; the decision not to promote you may or may not be, for the reasons above. But yeah, it does sound like you’re looking at a dead-end here as far as promotions, and I’d assume that you’ll need to look outside the organization when you want to move up. They’re indicating pretty loudly that they’re not going to move you into that director role anytime soon.

update: coworkers are ranking the attractiveness of women in the office

Remember the letter-writer a couple of weeks ago whose male coworkers were ranking the attractiveness of their female coworkers (#2 at the link)? Here’s the update.

Like you and many commenters, I was incredibly angered by and upset that this was happening in my workplace. When I brought this up to our defacto head and my boss (both women), they were both similarly unhappy about it, and encouraged me to bring it up with our HR liaison. I did so, and I was given compliments all around for doing the right thing and knowing what to do. (As many guessed at in comments, this is my first “grown up” job and unfortunately not the first time I’ve dealt with misogyny in the workplace, which is why I think I was the only junior willing and ready to make an official report.)

As for the two offenders, they are receiving counseling. They both have this written up in their files and are on warning. I have been told that they have both apologized and it seems like they finally understand how serious an offense this is. HR is keeping me anonymous as the person who stepped forward, which I prefer.

Thanks to everyone who commented and to you Alison for encouraging me to make an official complaint. This was really what convinced me to step forward; I wanted to do so immediately but the concern from other juniors was making me second guess myself. Thanks for giving me the courage to do what was right.

I’m sick — why are you calling me?

A reader writes:

I work directly under my boss, who is the director of my department, as the scheduler and office manager. I don’t manage anyone.

Every time I have ever had a day off, whether it is a scheduled vacation day or a day I’ve had to call out sick (while being actually sick and unable to work productively not just playing hooky), he calls and texts me with questions, many, many times throughout the day.

It wouldn’t be bothersome if his questions were ones that only I would know the answer to, but they are not. He will call and ask me about tasks completed where he could just look in the log we keep in the office and see for himself. Oftentimes, he will ask about something very minute (which he could still see for himself in this log) that I cannot even remember.

I’ve told him multiple times that I can’t remember these things off the top of my head and that since I’m not in the office to look myself, I don’t know and couldn’t tell him, and even where to look to find the info himself. All of this to no avail.

I’ve tried not answering is texts and calls, but he just gets angry and calls and texts more telling me it’s extremely urgent.

I don’t want to tell him flat out “please do not contact me when I am not in unless it is a serious emergency” because that feels out-of-line since he’s my boss, and he would probably become more angry with me. I’m at a loss here. Do I just sit and deal with the calls and texts even though I’m off? I work hourly, so should I start clocking these calls to add to my payroll even though I am already using my PTO?

He’s totally out of line here. And it’s actually perfectly reasonable for you to hold firm about this — not necessarily that he can’t contact you outside of work at all, but definitely that he can’t expect you to respond when you’re out sick or on vacation, unless that’s something that the two of you have negotiated ahead of time.

(Speaking of which, I should note that all of the advice that follows is based on the assumption that you’re not in a field where constant availability is part of the deal. There are fields like that, but typically you know if you’re in one of them.)

I’m going to recommend at least one thing, and possibly two things.

The thing that you should definitely do is this: Starting now, whenever you take time off, state explicitly beforehand that you will not be available. For example:

* “I wanted to remind you that I’ll be on vacation tomorrow and Friday. I will not be somewhere with reliable phone service, so I won’t be able to respond to calls or texts.”

* “I have the flu and will be out sick today. I’m hoping to sleep this off, so I won’t be answering calls or texts.”

Then if he tries to reach you anyway, you ignore those calls, as you told him that you would. If he gets upset that he can’t reach you, talk to him when you’re back at work and say something like this: “I reminded you before I left that I wasn’t going to be somewhere where I’d be reachable by phone or text. Is there something you’d like me to do differently when that’s the case?”

If he’s unreasonable enough to say “find a way to be reachable,” then you say, “That won’t always be possible with everywhere I might go when I’m on vacation and not working.”

But if the conversation does go in this direction, then you definitely need to do the second thing I’m about to suggest too — which is to have a big-picture conversation with him about his expectations for your role. That means sitting down with him and saying this: “You’ve seemed frustrated when you haven’t been able to reach me by phone or text when I’m out sick or on vacation. I understand that in rare cases an emergency might come up that means you have to contact me, but in general, I’d like to know that when I’m taking time off, I’m able to fully disconnect and that you’ll understand if I’m sick or busy and can’t respond.”

If he pushes back here (saying that everything he contacts you about is an emergency, or anything else ridiculous), then you say this: “I really need to be able to take leave and have it be real leave — days where I’m not expected to work. I know that you of course need to be able to keep your own work moving on those days, but my benefits package gives me X days off a year, and it’s important to me to be able to use them. When I’m back in the office, I’ll attend to anything that’s come up right away. Based on what I know about the types of things that come up when I’m away, I think that should keep us in good shape. But if you need someone available for this work every single day of the year with no exceptions, then we need to train someone as a back-up for me when I’m out. Should we figure out who would make sense for that, or would you rather try seeing how it goes with the understanding that I won’t always be available when I’m out?”

And as for logging any work that you do when he contacts you when you’re out, yes, you should definitely log it and ask how to handle that. This isn’t entirely straightforward because while they have to pay you for that time, that’s already happening since you’re on paid leave. Ideally they’d decrease the amount of PTO you used up on those days, but some places have rigid rules about doing that, or will only lower it in half-day increments or so forth. If your workplace doesn’t have clear rules on this, then ask, “How should I handle it when I’m out on leave but Boss contacts me to do work for an hour of it?”

anonymous complaint about politics, student workers keep interrupting my lunch, and more

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

1. I received an anonymous complaint about politics

I’m a relatively new manager at a nonprofit where the nature of the mission means that most people share liberal political views. The new administration has specifically stated that it intends to dramatically curtail our ability to do our work, so many people feel a professional stake in the politics. Many of the staff participate after hours in various political activities. To be clear, none of these are sanctioned formally or informally through the workplace.

I recently received an anonymous complaint that one staff member shares different political views and feels uncomfortable when other staff are talking about their after-hours plans. The same staffer member also feels uncomfortable that people are putting political gatherings on their work calendars.

I’m at a loss. In any normal workplace, people are bound to discuss what they’re doing after work. It’s also the norm here for people to put things on their work calendar such as dentist appointments, book clubs, or other personal items. At the same time, I want everyone here to feel comfortable doing their job and not like they’re under personal attack. What should I tell the staffer? (Because the complaint came via our union steward, I could relay a message to the staff member through the steward.) Is there anything I should tell the rest of the staff?

Yeah, on its face that’s not reasonable. It’s possible that there’s more to it than that, though, so when you respond, you should allow for that possibility.

Ask the steward to pass along to the person who made the complaint that people are allowed to discuss their after-work plans and use their calendars to record appointments outside of work, but that if there are workplace conversations happening that are hostile in nature or distracting the person from doing her job, you’d want the opportunity to address that, and that you encourage the person to come talk with you if so. You can also say that you’ll make a point of watching on your own for times when that may be happening, but that you’re more likely to be able to address it effectively if she’s willing to talk with you and share specifics.

And it does make sense to keep an ear out for a heightened level of political conversation in the office, and redirect people away from that if you judge that it’s become a distraction or that it might be wearying for people who have to listen to it (allowing, of course, for whatever might relevant to your work). But that’s a different thing than people putting their own plans on their own calendars.

2. Student workers keep interrupting my lunch

I work in university administration and I supervise two student employees. Our policy is to let the student take the lead in setting their work schedule, as long as it’s consistent, within normal working hours, and fits the required number of hours for the position. My problem is that my students always want to work over lunch, which makes it hard for me to peacefully eat lunch at a normal time.

Because classes are rarely scheduled from noon – 1pm, students like to use that time for on campus work. The type of work my students do doesn’t require my constant supervision, but I do have to check in / check out with them every day, and they do frequently have questions. When I eat lunch, I usually eat at my desk because our break room is incredibly depressing. I am hourly so I get one unpaid half hour lunch and my boss doesn’t care when I take it, but office culture strongly encourages taking lunch sometime between 11:30 and 1pm.

It really bugs me to be interrupted from eating my lunch with questions from my students, but I feel like I can’t ask them to wait until I’m done since that might hold up their progress on their work (often time-sensitive). They could ask my boss instead, but my boss often has lunch meetings and doesn’t always know the details of what our students are working on. Sometimes I make an effort to eat early or late to avoid the problem, but that doesn’t always fit in my work schedule given meetings, deadlines, etc. What do you suggest is the best way to guard my lunch time? Should I be more firm with my students about interruptions? Should I discourage students from working over the lunch hour? Schedule lunch for myself before/after students are in and don’t accept meetings or other responsibilities for that time? Something else entirely?

You should eat when you want to eat, and you should let your student workers know that when you’re having lunch, they need to hold their questions until you’re back to work. They can handle going half an hour without access to you. I mean, if you were in a half-hour meeting, they would find a way to make do, right? Half an hour is just not a long time to ask them to wait. (If I’m wrong about that and it truly is crucial that you be accessible to them at all times, then yeah, you need them to not work when you’ll be at lunch … or in meetings, etc. But I’m betting there’s flexibility there.)

Say it this way: “In order to get a real lunch break, I’m going to ask you to hold any questions for me until you see that I’m back to work.” (If you want to keep eating at your desk, come up with a way to signal them that you’re once again open for business, like a sign or another system.) And then if you get interruptions after that, say, “I’m taking my lunch right now, but come see me at 1:00 when I’ll be free.”

You should also think about what types of things they interrupt you for and figure out if there any themes that you could address with additional training or guidance, to cut down on how often they need immediate assistance from you.

3. Can I contact the person who got the job I was applying for?

I recently made it to the final stage of a competitive search for a small nonprofit that included multiple stages of interviews and a flight. I did not get the job and I have no current relationship to the board or the winning candidate or the region.

A part of me wants to reach out to the person who did get the job and say something along the lines of: “Dear Fergus, Congrats on your new role. I also was competing for this position and I am genuinely looking forward to your success in the community. I have been in a similar role and would be happy to provide any support or perspective as you move forward. My main interest is in x and y across the board. Let me know if you ever want to chat or if you find need of an expert in x and y.”

I am genuinely happy for the person who got the job and I am confident in my own placement potential. But while visiting this community, I did feel like I could add to the narrative and my personal goals align with the nonprofit whether they are paying me or not. I also wonder if there could be a role for me there if they are successful and have new leadership tiers.

On the other hand, I feel like not being offered the job might condemn me to a world of silence in this regard. I don’t want to appear unprofessional by sticking around past the point of invitation or by being the one that won’t go away.

I did have very complimentary discussions after the search with the board. I want to keep doors open with them and the winning candidate. The last thing I want to do is come off as weird, threatening, or emotional.

Yeah, don’t do that; framing it as “I was competing for this position too” is too likely to come across as strange.

However, you could reach out to your main interview contact and say that you’d be thrilled to work with them in a volunteer capacity if that’s ever something that would be helpful to them. Then leave it in their court to follow up with you about or not. (And if they don’t follow up, take that as a “no thank you” and let it go.)

4. How do I ask my boss to let me manage our new hires?

I am currently the sole member of my team, but we’ve recently been given permission to hire two new staff people who will do the same editing work that I do. I have almost four years of experience doing this work (and 15 years in the workforce/as a writer), but have never managed anyone before. I honestly do think I’d do well at it, and it’s something I’d enjoy.

In my goal-setting discussion last year, I told my boss that I would be interested in supervising new staff who do my work, should we get permission to hire them (something my boss has been pushing for). She seemed to think that would be a possibility and said as much. Now, however, the go-ahead to hire has been given and she will handling the hiring process and phone screens before bringing me in for feedback on the short list. Nothing more has been said about the supervising part. My boss sits in an office three hours from me, so I will be sort of the default team lead since the new staff will sit in my location, but I’d like to make it more formal than that if possible.

So now I guess I have to use my words. Do I send an email so it’s in writing saying “I am interested in supervising the team and I think I would be good at it”? Do I do it over the phone? Do I wait until she is here at my location doing the in-person interviews to ask? I’d be happy to take it on on a trial basis just to prove that I would not be a disaster (as the previous supervisor was) … should I say that, too? How the heck do I become a manager?

You work in separate locations, but do you have regular meetings by phone? If so, you should bring it up at the next one (if it’s in the next week or two). You can say it this way: “We’d talked last year about my interest in taking on some management responsibilities. Now that we’re hiring new staff, would you be open to talking about me managing them?”

If you don’t have regular meetings, email her and say this: “We’d talked last year about my interest in taking on some management responsibilities. I’m hoping to set up some time to talk with you about whether that might be possible with the new hires we’re bringing on.”

I don’t think you need to offer to do it on a trial basis (that isn’t necessarily great for the people you’d be managing), but if she seems hesitant, you could ask if she’d be open to putting you in a sort of deputy role, where you’d have formal authority to delegate work and give feedback, while she remained their official manager. That can be a good way to start getting management experience, which can then make it easier to move into a more formal management role in the future (and it can also help you learn how to manage in a lower-stakes context, which can be a good thing).

5. Indicating citizenship on a resume

I’m a U.S.-Canada dual citizen, living in Canada. But my partner just relocated to the U.S., and I’m hoping to join him once my contract here in Canada ends. I’ve been living in Canada for a long time, so all of my education and work experience is from here. I’m worried that U.S.-based employers will toss out my resume if they think they’ll need to sponsor me (I’m a recent grad, not high enough in the ranks to warrant a sponsorship yet). How can I signal to them that I’m legally eligible to work in the U.S.? Is it tacky or inappropriate to include a line on my resume or in my cover letter stating that I’m a citizen?

Nope, it’s super normal to do that when your work history or current location might raise the question. Typically people in your situation will put a line at the top or the bottom of their resume that just says “work authorization: United States citizen.”

my aunt and uncle are extreme helicopter parents — and I work with their son

A reader writes:

I graduated from college in 2015 and am currently working at my first post-graduation job in the area I went to school for. I have been working here for 18 months. My cousin is a year younger than me and he graduated from college last summer. He has been working here for six months. The company we work for is large and well-known (many of your American readers would recognize the name). We work in different divisions, on different floors, and below the executive level our work doesn’t cross into each other’s division. We don’t see each other at work except for the rare occasion.

I do have a concern: my aunt and uncle are helicopter parents. They are involved in every aspect of my cousin’s life. They do his laundry, cook his food, pay his bills, and take him shopping for clothes, shoes, and toiletries. He has never spent the night away from both his parents at once. When he was in college, they drove him every day because the bus was “too scary” and he “wasn’t ready.” They helped him with his homework and would call professors and show up at the school if they felt his grades were too low or he was being treated unfairly.

This pattern has continued into his working life. They drove him to interviews and insisted on sitting in the lobby while he was interviewing. He didn’t get offers because of this (plus the fact that, besides this current one, he has never had a job, internship, or any other kind of work). On the day he interviewed for the job here, my aunt was still looking for parking when he was called in, so no one realized that the woman who came to to the lobby later was his mother.

I know that my aunt and uncle have called his boss as well as upper management when they feel he is being “unfairly treated.” My aunt once came in and demanded to speak to the executive management about my cousin being denied vacation time before he had accrued any. I’m concerned because my cousin and I have the same rare Welsh surname, the same Welsh accent and look somewhat alike (both have red hair and freckles). I’m afraid people will associate me with him and my aunt and uncle.

The last time my uncle called here, I heard people talking about it in the elevator. No one has said anything to me, but our respective managers both go to the same meetings. People in his division are friends with people in other divisions, including mine. And our work crosses at the executive level so they might have seen my name and associated it with his.

My cousin is not developmentally delayed or on the spectrum so there is no reason for him to need assistance in his every day life. I have worked other jobs and have always worked hard and my reviews here have noted my competence, work ethic and professionalism. I don’t want my family to affect my reputation or standing. Since no one has said anything to me, should I just leave things alone? Or is this worth addressing with my boss and my peers?

I don’t know why this kind of child-rearing isn’t considered as abusive and negligent as not potty-training your kid or never sending them to school.

These parents have failed at their fundamental job of raising a self-sufficient adult and instead are actively thwarting his ability to thrive in the world.

But you know that, so I’ll leave that rant there and answer your actual question.

I think there’s a 99% chance that you’ll be fine just leaving this alone and that you don’t need to say anything about it. First, in a big company, the fact that you have the same last name and coloring as another employee isn’t likely to feel especially conclusive to anyone. But more importantly, your aunt and uncle haven’t called your employer about you, and you’ve established a track record of being professional and of not having relatives intervene in your work. You can trust that colleagues will see that you and your cousin are different people, and that the strangeness surrounding him hasn’t rubbed off on you.

That said, I’d make a point of not doing anything that could inadvertently lump the two of you together — like if you’re horribly ill, make a point of calling in yourself, rather than having someone else do it for you. That’s a good practice anyway, but it probably matters more in your situation. And I’m sorry to say it, but you probably shouldn’t do a lot of hanging out with your cousin at work events. You want a clear separation.

However, if you’d get some peace of mind by mentioning the situation to your boss, you could say something like, “I don’t know if you know that Fergus Burtlebott is my cousin. I’ve heard some of the stories of how his parents have been trying to intervene with his job, and I’m horrified. I’ve been a little worried that that craziness will reflect on me, and so I wanted to let you know that I think it’s as bizarre as I’m sure everyone else finds it, and we do not have a family resemblance in this regard.”

But that would be for your own peace of mind more than anything else. People will judge you by your own actions (and the lack of actions from your parents, in your case), and they’ll draw the right conclusions.

Meanwhile, though, would it make sense for you to try to help your cousin to see how inappropriate his parents are being and how it’s harming him at work? I don’t know how close you are or what the family dynamics are and you may not want to get involved to that extent, but if you think you have any chance of influencing his thinking, it would be a kindness.

my coworker keeps coming to my office and interrupting my work

A reader writes:

My coworker works in a building across the street from my building, but has frequent interactions with employees in my building. The structure of her position is such that she needs to get information or make requests of people in my department and other nearby offices on a daily basis. Her preferred method to do this is not just to email or pick up the phone, but to walk across the street and speak in person. This typically happens 5-10 times per week, sometimes multiple times per day.

I wouldn’t think much of this (I might even applaud it) except that the underlying tone of her visits suggests that she thinks she will get faster results by coming by in person. I get the impression that she likes to put people on the spot, doesn’t trust others to do their jobs, and wants to come over to make sure that the things she needs are happening immediately. She has interrupted discussions with coworkers and my boss, and has complained when coworkers are out of the office or not available. Her position and mine are at similar levels.

Building relationships through personal interactions is undeniably a good thing. However, the frequency of her visits is forcing me and my coworkers to drop everything to attend to her requests and making it impossible to focus. Any advice?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

is it okay to hang target practice sheets up at work?

A reader writes:

I work for a large multinational company, and recently an executive made a visit to the office I work in. She held an informal Q&A which everybody in the office attended, and which took place in a section of the office I very rarely visit since the department that works there does not do any work with my department.

During the meeting I couldn’t help but notice that at the desk closest to the door, there were two target practice sheets from a gun range hanging at somebody’s desk. One was a bull’s-eye, and the other was the silhouette of a human head. Both had a number of bullet holes, including ones right in the center of each target. I found this extremely unsettling and my first instinct was “Who would think it’s okay to hang this up at their desk???”

But I have very strong feelings on guns, so I can’t tell if I’m just having a personal reaction to it or if it is as hugely inappropriate as I think it is. The message it sends to me is “Hey coworkers, just want you all to know that I can make a headshot from 80 yards. Also I love guns, which means I might carry one with me in the office!” Both of those things make me very uncomfortable. (Note: I do not want this question to re-open the debate about guns in offices, as it’s not really the point.)

I have been trying to think of it more as somebody expressing pride at a sports accomplishment, but I would honestly think it was very weird if somebody kept a karate trophy in their cubicle (and unless they’re REALLY advanced, I don’t think their hobby is likely to kill anybody).

Do you think this is something appropriate to display in an office setting? Would it matter if it were in a private office vs. a cubicle (this was in a half-wall cubicle and therefore visible to anybody walking in the door)? I unfortunately do not know who sits at the desk in question as they were not present at the meeting, so if I ultimately wanted to report it to somebody it wouldn’t really be feasible at this point. But I would at least like to know whether I’m totally off-base here.

Some extra context, in case it’s relevant: our office is in a large city in which hunting isn’t a common hobby, and the atmosphere of the office is very corporate.

Nooooo, it’s inappropriate.

A silhouette of a human head with bullet holes in it is inappropriate for an office, full-stop. The bull’s-eye target is slightly less outrageous, but still inappropriate for work. Nothing even resembling violence belongs there, and that’s true whether it’s in a private office or out in the open.

And if some people think that’s an overreaction, they need to consider that there are loads of people who will feel as uncomfortable as you did, including clients and visitors. That trumps whatever argument someone could make for keeping it up.

And what would that argument be, anyway? That it’s the person’s hobby and they’re as entitled to express their interests as anyone else is? That doesn’t hold water, because workplaces necessarily have lots of priorities above “let people express their interests,” like ensuring that other employees and visitors aren’t made deeply uncomfortable and aren’t left feeling unsafe, particularly if there’s a really easy fix to that (like “don’t hang up your target practice sheets”).

For what it’s worth, though, I do think you’re off-base about a karate trophy being weird. That wouldn’t seem any different to me than a soccer trophy or a rice-sculpting trophy. Those things aren’t about weapons, whereas the target practice sheets are.

did I err by reprimanding my direct report’s employee, revolving door on another team is causing problems, and more

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

1. Did I make a mistake by reprimanding my direct report’s employee?

I’m in a senior management position at my workplace and I supervise a handful of managers. One of these managers (Sansa) is currently dealing with a challenging employee (Arya). Due to some recent changes, Arya has started having lengthy loud personal conversations in the open office area, which is a major problem. Sansa has addressed this with Arya several times. I have zero problems with how Sansa has been handling the situation, but at the same time, Arya doesn’t seem to be getting the message.

Arya’s desk is right outside my own office. Recently she had another inappropriately lengthy and loud personal call at her desk, while I was in my office with the door open. I was emailing back and forth with Sansa and basically said, “You should definitely say something to her, unless you want me to say something to her, just to see if that gets the message across a little more emphatically.” Sansa agreed that this might help, so a little while later I asked Arya if we could talk in my office and basically said, “This is still a problem, I know Sansa has talked to you about it, I wanted to say something today because I noticed it happening, and I want you to realize that Sansa isn’t the only person who’s aware of this and this is something you need to get serious about addressing.”

At the time, Arya seemed fine. Later, she complained to Sansa that she was very upset that I would talk to her about something like this, because I’m not Arya’s manager. Arya was apparently incredulous that Sansa didn’t immediately agree with her on this, and is still really frustrated that I would think it was appropriate to speak with her directly about this. Based on all the problems we’ve been having with Arya, her grasp of professional norms doesn’t seem to be the greatest, but now I’m second-guessing whether I committed a faux pas. To be completely honest, Arya one of those people who kind of just drives me nuts. In the past, I feel like I’ve always done a good job putting aside how much I may not love someone personally when I’m in a managerial role, but now I guess I’m a little worried that Arya has finally pushed me to my breaking point.

Arya is wrong. Arya is part of the overall team you’re responsible for, and of course you have standing to talk with her about this kind of thing.

Whether or not it was wise is a different issue, because stepping in like this can end up undermining the person’s manager. It’s true that it can make someone take a situation more seriously — but then you have an employee who doesn’t respect her boss enough to take things seriously unless she hears it from her boss’s boss, and that’s not good. In general, it’s better to coach the manager from behind the scenes to handle the situation herself. There are a few exceptions to this, like when the problem is very serious and the manager is a new/inexperienced one … but in general, your default should be to coach the manager to act on her own, rather than acting for her.

But that aside, you did have the standing to have the conversation you had with Arya. Arya also sounds like a pain in the ass, and I’d recommend coaching Sansa to resolve the situation one way or another in the near future.

2. Revolving door of employees on another team is causing problems

I’ve been working at a medium-sized company for about a year and a half. I like almost everything about my job—good team, good manager—but a revolving door of employees on another team is causing problems. When I was first hired, this position was filled by “Jane.” Jane had been with the company for about three years and had the skill set to fill this relatively technical role. We worked in the same department, but on different teams. Jane was the only direct report to her manager, “Alistair.” Our team routinely has projects that overlap with Alistair’s, and as the most junior employee, it’s often up to me to collaborate with the person in Jane’s role. While good at her job, Jane was not the easiest person to work with. She was often condescending and could get away with a lot of things because her manager was hands-off. She had also briefly left the company for another job before I began but returned a few weeks later while the position was still open.

Three months after I started, Jane amicably left the company to return to school full-time. A  new employee, “Robb,” was hired to replace her. Robb was a terrible employee. He was frequently late, unable to meet deadlines, and the quality of his work was far below acceptable. I believe the hiring process was too rushed because the position is not one that can go unfilled for anything more than a couple of weeks. Robb was fired after four months, and around the same time Jane decided that it wasn’t the right time to go back to school and was rehired.

Six months after being rehired, Jane and her husband decided to move away for his job. This time Jane was involved in the hiring process, and to avoid getting burned again the position was offered as a six-month trial, temp-to-perm position. The new employee, “Anna,” is a vast improvement over Robb. She has quickly learned the more technical aspects of the role and is very pleasant to work with. But now I’m hearing from coworkers and social media that the move is not working out for Jane and her husband and they are planning to move back.

I’m concerned that if/when they do move back, Anna will be let go and Jane rehired. I have actually heard Jane’s manager tell her that “she’ll always have a job here.” This is frustrating to me because Jane is good, but not great, at her job and I honestly feel that given more time Anna will surpass her (and is a lot easier to work with!). Also, while the new employees were trained on the technical side of the job it was left up to me to help them learn the other aspects of their role.

I feel like Jane is using this position as a rest stop while she figures out what she wants to do next and her manager is allowing this because he knows she can do the work and doesn’t want to be bothered with hiring and training. I have talked with my manager about this but as this is not her employee her hands are tied. Alistair is a superstar and as long as the work is getting done upper-management seems reluctant to interfere. Should I suck it up and continue to train new people each time she leaves, only to have her come back time and again? Each time there is turnover, I get left picking up the slack. I would really like to have one person in this position long-term as it makes collaboration much easier, but it’s not up to me at all.

Yeah, it sounds like it’s not up to you, so you may indeed have to continue training new people only to have Jane keep coming back. However, just because it’s not your decision doesn’t mean that you and your manager don’t have influence here. One thing you can do right now is to talk to Anna’s boss and let her know how great you think Anna is. You could explicitly say that you think that given some time she’s going to surpass Jane’s performance, and you can mention that Anna is also much easier to work with than Jane was.

Since Anna’s boss is so hands-off, he may not even know these things, and it’s helpful input to provide. It also makes it much less likely that he’ll consider getting rid of Anna if Jane wants to return. But if you start hearing rumblings that that could happen, it’s fair game for you and/or your boss to say to him, “Hey, as people who have to work closely with this role, we really like Anna in it and strongly urge you to not to replace her with Jane.” (And of course, he may not be considering that at all — hiring Jane back when there’s a vacancy is very different from firing someone good to make room for her.)

3. Can I recommend two people for the same job?

I have two former colleagues who are applying for the same job. Both of them are great people, excellent workers, and good friends of mine. They are applying for our former boss’s position. They have both asked me to write a recommendation for them. Can I recommend them both for the job? Would it be weird? I think that they would both be good for the position, although they have different skill sets.

Nope, you can definitely recommend both of them. A recommendation isn’t saying “this the absolute best person you could find for the job and there is no one better.” It just says “this person could be a strong hire and here’s why,” and then talks with some nuance about the person’s abilities. The idea is to share your impressions, and your impressions of each could be very positive, with the details being different. The hiring manager will then take that information and factor it into her thinking about each of them.

If you want to be totally transparent, you could tell each of the requesters something like, “In the interests of transparency, I want to tell you that you’re not the only person who’s asked me to recommend them for this job. That won’t stop me from giving you a strong recommendation, but I wanted to be up-front with you about that.”

4. Moving into a different area with the company I’m interning for

I have a question regarding how to approach a conversation with my boss. I’ve been an intern/student employee at the company for just over a year, and I will graduate this spring. At my last performance review, my manager told me how much she loved my work and said that there would be an opportunity for me to move into full-time employment at graduation. This was six months ago.

The team I currently work in is in a specific area (more sales/fundraising) while I am qualified in another (accounting/finance). Our organization hires a lot of people with my training because that is their main business. Would it be out of place for me to ask my manager if there was a possibility of me transitioning into a role that aligns with my line of study? If it is okay to do, how can I approach the conversation without sounding entitled or presumptuous?

You can do that, and it won’t sound entitled or presumptuous. Say it this way: “I’m graduating with my degree in finance in May, and I’d be really interested in staying on with the company, ideally moving into accounting or finance here. If that’s something you think might be a possibility, what would be the next right step for me to take to explore that?” (The answer will probably be to talk to the person in charge of hiring for that area, but it makes sense to talk to your boss first since she may be able to grease that path for you.)

5. My boss expects me to keep working for her after I’d planned to stop

I work for a small environmental testing lab. My boss is planning to retire in June. I knew about the plan for a year, and I was fine with leaving and looking for a new job.

Now she’s backtracking by wanting to be open by appointment only. She’s also talking about having me work remotely for her (typing/running the office from home). Between school and a new full-time job, I will not have time to work for her. How do I tell her no without losing her as a reference? I’ve been working for her almost four years.

You don’t typically lose someone as a reference just because you leave! I wouldn’t worry about that at all, as long as you give notice and handle the resignation professionally.

Does she already know you’ve been planning to move on in June? If so, say this: “Between school and other work, I won’t have time to continue doing this work as well, so I need to stick with moving on in June. But I’d be glad to help with the search for a new person if you’d like.”

If this is the first she’s hearing of it, say this instead: “I really appreciate the offer to stay on! When I thought you were retiring, I started looking for other work and I’ve found another position that I’ve decided to take. So I can’t stay on past June, but until then I’d be glad to help with whatever you need for the transition.”

my office wants us to bring single friends to a Valentine’s Day singles mixer

A reader writes:

I don’t really need advice, but I thought this level of WTF-ery might interest you.

My workplace just announced a Valentine’s Day Singles mixer. Maybe I’m just a prudish weirdo who likes to keep work and personal very separate, but it really strikes me as odd, and almost like they’re encouraging us to date one another…?

You can go if you’re attached, but you have to bring a single friend as chattel (my words, not theirs). Here’s the actual invite (names and locations changed):

Love is in the air….

Valentine’s Day is around the corner, and this year Dunder Mifflin is celebrating with a special evening at Poor Richard’s.

On Tuesday, February 14th, bring one single friend with you to the event for mixing and mingling with your Dunder Mifflin colleagues!

Whether you are attached or not, grab a friend who’s looking for love and join the fun!

· Valentine’s Day

· 6pm – 10pm

· Poor Richard’s

· Appetizers will be served

· One drink ticket per person

Please be sure to register yourself and your friend HERE.

Also, they’ve provided color-coded nametags to differentiate the single from the “happily attached.”

Um, yeah, if there’s one thing your employer should stay out of, it’s the attempted orchestration of romance.

I mean, it would be fine to do a casual Valentine’s Day happy hour, with no more to it than drinks that happen to fall on February 14 and maybe some heart candies passed around or something.

But “bring one single friend … who’s looking for love”?

It’s a little pimp-ish, no?

Obviously, though, you should go and report back to us.

dealing with customers is making me miserable

A reader writes:

I wear many hats at my job and manage various areas such as office administration, finance, customer service and special events. Customer service is probably the least favorite part of my job, but I do fairly well because I am friendly, personable and at least appear to be patient (even though on the inside this may not be the case!). It’s not so terrible year round because we have slower times where I don’t communicate with customers all that often. However, we are in the midst of our busiest season and I am finding myself getting quickly burned out by the demands of our customers.

My organization has pretty strict policies and unfortunately this sometimes results in frustrated customers with few solutions available to pacify them. I have grown tired of receiving the same complaints day in and day out, and I no longer feel empathy for these people who are contacting us about their various issues. What’s worse is I will receive a particularly nasty, mean-spirited email or phone call and I find myself feeling personally attacked. I stress over confrontation with customers and often feel upset about negative interactions long after they have ended. I know the simple answer is to not take these things personally and to just let go of the emotions I am feeling, but I have not been successful at detaching myself.

This job has many benefits that I am constantly trying to focus on. I am paid very well, the vacation and sick time is fairly generous, my commute is easy and short, the office environment is laid back and I have learned so much in the short time I have been with this organization. I feel like I can really grow and potentially move away from customer service, but there’s no telling how long that will take. Lately I have found myself feeling exhausted and dejected whenever I leave the office, and I wake up a good hour or two before my alarm goes off every day, already dreading the work day and unable to fall back asleep because I am so anxious.

I feel myself sinking into a depression related to my job and I am not sure what to do. I have been seeing a therapist 1-2 times a month for the past year and a half, and while she has been helpful I find myself feeling uneasy and sad about work in between our appointments. My boss is sympathetic but her general response is something along the lines of “I get that this sucks sometimes but unfortunately that’s just the way it is.” If you have any advice for my situation I would so appreciate it.

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