what items have made your life at work easier or more pleasant?

A reader writes:

Last week’s post about the modesty panels on desks made me a) thankful my desk has a modesty panel, when I’ve never given it any consideration before, and b) think of a possible post idea. I would love to know what office supplies/office items commenters have purchased or have been given that made their work much easier. With the new year starting, I have supply money that I want to use to buy great things that make my work easier, more efficient, more pleasant, etc. In the past, one of my best purchases has been a really nice pair of over-the-ear headphones!

Readers, have at it! What items have made your life at work easier or more pleasant? Share in the comments.

coworker was fired for a Facebook post, restricting access to a kosher kitchen, and more

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

1. My coworker was fired for an inflammatory Facebook post

I started working at my first job after college seven months ago. One of my coworkers was just fired over something that happened in his personal life. This coworker is engaged to someone he met through a pen pal program for individuals serving life without parole in our state prisons. What happened was that he posted about his upcoming wedding to her on Facebook, and in the post he called the family members of his fiancée’s victim’s family “victim’s rights scum.” Someone took a screenshot and shared it with the local press and on social media. My coworker was identified as an employee here and after that happened he was fired and escorted out by security.

Our work has nothing to do with anything that could be affected by this (prisoners, crime victims, vulnerable persons such as children, personal or financial information, etc). He was only fired because the company didn’t want to look bad in the press or with the public. He’s had to move out of his apartment because his neighbors protested him living there and he didn’t feel safe anymore. No one knew about his relationship and lots of his family and friends are mad at him now. I don’t agree with what he said and think it was wrong. But I don’t think he should have been fired for something in his personal life that has no bearing on work. Can people really get fired for what they do in their personal lives if it doesn’t hurt anyone, isn’t illegal, and doesn’t affect their work? Should I be speaking up or advocating for him if I don’t think his firing was just? I’m really upset for him, it seems like an encroachment on people’s personal rights.

People can indeed get fired for this kind of thing, and sometimes do when companies are concerned that being affiliated with someone will harm their own reputation. I can certainly see why they might not want to be known as the employer of someone who attacked the family of someone who I’m guessing was killed in a violent crime (based on the life sentence without parole). If you’re being horrible to people publicly, your employer is allowed to be concerned that you’ll drive away business and cause problems internally as well, and to decide they don’t want to be associated with you.

Often when this comes up, people ask whether that means it’s also okay for an employer to fire someone for other types of speech they don’t like — for example, someone speaking out for gay rights or racial equity. I’d argue that publicly attacking family members of the person your fiance killed is different than normal political discourse, and it’s reasonable to treat it differently.

2. Restricting access to a kosher kitchen

We are a family-owned business with 20-25 employees in our main office. The principals of the company and seven other employees keep kosher. We have a common area kitchen and a kosher kitchen. Due to the growth of our company over the past few years, we have many more people working here who do not keep kosher. While we keep the kitchen unlocked, we do have a sign on the door that states “Stop Do NOT Enter. Kosher Access to Authorized Kosher Coworkers Only.”

Is it against the law to put a lock on the kosher kitchen and further restrict access by only giving the code to employees that keep kosher?

It’s fine to require the kitchen itself to stay kosher and thus require that any food that’s brought into it must be kosher, but you’re on shaky ground not letting non-kosher people enter it at all. It would be better to make the policy about food, not people.

Updated to add: I’m not convinced that this arrangement here wouldn’t be legal, since there’s second kitchen. It’s possible the kosher kitchen would be considered a reasonable accommodation for kosher staff, and it’s not a separate perk that others don’t get since everyone in this scenario does have access to another kitchen. This is complicated, and you should talk to a lawyer who specializes in this area.

3. What should I call my mom when she starts working in my office?

I’m a senior-level employee in a small-ish community human services organization (and in my 40’s, if it matters at all). My mother was the former director of another organization in our community for many years and recently retired. She’s very well known here and was absolutely brilliant at what she did. After her retirement, my boss offered my mom a part-time position in our office working directly with her on some special projects where her expertise and network of contacts will be really valuable.

She’ll be starting at our office soon and I just realized I’m in a bit of a quandry about what to call her when she’s here. It feels really weird to me to call her “mom” at work — but it feels equally weird to call her by her first name! Given the work she’s done in our community over the years, a lot of people know we’re related even though we have different last names. All of my colleagues know she’s my mom so it isn’t that. And my boss and I have made sure to be thoughtful about when and where our work overlaps, which won’t be much. She won’t report to me, and most of her day-to-day stuff will overlap more with my boss and another department, but given my role in the organization we will interact regularly. And really, our office is just pretty small so we’re going to see and talk to each other when she’s here.

Am I over thinking this? Is there some kind of office etiquette around how to handle this kind of situation? I don’t want things to be unnecessarily weird, but I don’t want to be unprofessional either. What do you think the smartest option is here?

There is indeed office etiquette around this! You should call her by her first name — both when addressing her directly and when referring to her to others. You’re probably going to feel incredibly weird doing it in the beginning, but that weirdness will fade, and it will be nothing compared to the weirdness other people would feel if you called her “mom.” Look at it this way: In the office, you’re relating to her as a colleague, not as your mom — and you want the way you speak to and about her to reflect that.

4. Helping to hire my replacement

I am the only employee at a very small, volunteer-run organization. When I handed in my notice, I told them that I would be happy to train their new hire, recognizing that there would most likely be a gap in between my leaving and my replacement starting. Also, since my board is not at all technologically savvy, I offered to post the job listing on several sites, which were then linked to my account.

Initially, all I was doing was forwarding resumes to my supervisor, since I felt that I had no business commenting on applicants. However, as the resumes came in, my supervisor started asking me for feedback on them – essentially asking me to verify that his instincts on applicants qualifications were correct. Since I know the field, and he doesn’t, I offered my opinions, which was verging on the limit of what I felt comfortable with.

Now that he’s picked applicants to interview, he wants me to sit in on the interviews! And not just observe – he wants me as one of the interviewers! I obviously want him to pick a good candidate who has knowledge of the field, but I feel slightly skeevy interviewing candidates to be my replacement. If nothing else, I feel that it would be hard for me to be unbiased, since they’d be taking over my work.

What should I do? Am I worrying over nothing, or should I recuse myself from the interviews? If it helps, there’s no one else with my knowledge of the field in our organization, and I don’t want to burn any bridges.

It’s not weird or unethical to help interview for your replacement; that is pretty common. So if you want to do it, go ahead and do it! But if you don’t have the time or just don’t want to be involved to that degree, it’s perfectly fine to explain that you don’t have the time to do that. In fact, you can set any boundaries here you want — which means that if you don’t really want to be giving input on candidates at all, it’s fine to explain that you don’t have time to keep doing that either. Basically, you can have as much or as little involvement here as you want.

5. Interviewing with the same company for a lower title than they’d interviewed me for previously

I have recently been scheduled for an interview with a group that I have already interviewed with four months ago. I was very close to getting the offer four months back and the hiring manager said I would hear back from HR soon on the background checks. Unfortunately I never heard back, even after one thank-you/follow-up email and it was a dream role and title for me. Now, I have been called for an interview with the same group for one level down (in title and salary). I am going to attend the interview to give them the opportunity to speak more about the role.

However, due to the title I am feeling a bit demotivated. I was wondering if it is a good idea to bring this up in the upcoming interview. If yes, I was going to say something along the lines of “I had interviewed with so-and-so group and was in discussion for this title as it speaks closely with my expertise and the direction I would like my career to go with. Is there anything I can do to help you understand how I qualify for that level?” Is this fair to ask in an interview?

It’s a bad idea. They’re not interviewing you for that role; they’re interviewing you for a different one, so they’re not going to be enthused about hearing you talk about why they should consider you for another job instead. If they offer you a job, at that point you can certainly ask about coming in at a higher-level title if you think you have a good case for it.

But if you’re too annoyed to feel good about the job you’re interviewing for, you’re probably better off declining the interview. I’d only move forward if you’re genuinely interested in the job they want to discuss, and if you could imagine taking that job without resenting it.

I don’t have enough work and my boss is too busy to give me more

A reader writes:

I was recently brought on as a permanent employee at a nonprofit where I had spent nine months as a temporary data entry assistant. In my previous position, I always had a stack of papers to verify or enter into our database, and could ask my coworkers if there was anything they needed help with if I found myself at a loss for something to do. In my new position, however, my supervisor doesn’t want me doing any of the work I had previously been doing as that’s a “waste of my time” (and presumably because they’re paying me too much to type stuff into Excel all day now).

The issue is that she often has meetings throughout the day both on and off site, including two-hour lunches almost every single day, and I always feel like I’m interrupting her when I ask what project she wants me to work on next, so I end up sitting in my office doing nothing or walking past her door hoping to catch her in a free moment to ask what I can do. I’m doing less work now than I was as a temp! How can I ask for direction from someone who’s not even in the office half the time?

It sounds like you’re approaching this project by project — you ask for a project, you get one, you complete it, and now you’re stuck with nothing to do again until you get the next one. Both you and your boss will probably be far happier if you talk to her about getting multiple projects all at once — preferably some long-term that won’t be completed for a while and some ongoing responsibilities (things that you’re in charge of forever) so that you’re not constantly dependent on her to tell you what to do next.

Ideally you’d propose what some of these projects and responsibilities could be, but if you don’t feel you’re in a position to figure that out yet, ask if you and she can meet to brainstorm what would be useful to her and others. But I bet that after temping there for nine months and talking to coworkers about what you could help with in the past, you’ll be able to come up with some things to propose that would be useful to your office.

You could also say, “I definitely understand that you don’t want me doing data entry anymore, but when I have long stretches where nothing else is going on, I’d love to be able to do that as an alternative to doing nothing at all — would that be okay?” And that might help drive home the “doing nothing at all” point, which should nudge her to figure out what you should actually be doing.

People in your shoes often worry that if they take this approach, their boss will figure out that there isn’t actually enough work to keep them busy, and it could put their job in jeopardy.  That probably isn’t going to happen — they had a reason for hiring you — but if that’s a risk, it’s a risk that’s there whether you point it out or not. You’re better off taking initiative and showing that you’re actively looking for ways to be productive.

And if this doesn’t solve the problem — or for that matter, even if it does — try asking if you can set up quick weekly meetings to figure out your priorities for the coming week, so that you’re not trying to figure out when/whether to interrupt her to get more work.

Also, speaking of interrupting her: I think you’re being too hesitant about not wanting to interrupt her when she looks busy. She’s your boss, you need to have some amount of time with her, and it’s reasonable and normal to stick your head in her door and say, “Hey, do you have a few minutes now or later today to touch base on my work?” You can also email her and say, “I’ve completed X and Y. Can you grab me this afternoon when you have a free minute to talk about what I should tackle next?” But hopefully if you use the approach above, you’ll have far less of a need to do that.

my employee melts down when work is stressful

A reader writes:

I manage an employee who is smart, attentive, and dedicated to the work she does. Overall, she’s amazing and has a strong work ethic, the kind of driven personality anyone would love to have on their team.

Except for when she is stressed or feels pressure from difficult clients. Then all hell breaks loose. Her communication moves towards emails only and she comes off as being rude or dismissive. Her ability to pay attention to details disappears as well. She starts giving out wrong information to contractors, sending them to the wrong locations at the wrong times or not staffing them properly, leading to more upset clients.

We’ve had her work with different teams and she excels for a while but when she feels the pressure again, just collapses. I’ve tried stepping in to handle the situations with difficult clients and contractors to alleviate that stress on her, but it¹s hard to know when she is feeling stressed out since her communication all but shuts down. She is a strong employee otherwise and I feel like having someone directly supervising her every move may come off as insulting to her, but I don’t see any other way. How can I help her?

I answer this question over at Inc. today. (Unlike most of my content for Inc., this one is a brand new article, not a reprint.) You can read it here.

is my employee lying about using sick time for the Super Bowl?

A reader writes:

I just took over job duties for a departing manager (doing two jobs now – yay!), and inherited a new employee. He was my coworker until now, and does a generally good job, although I have had some concerns about his work ethic (that’s a different story entirely that I plan to address).

This employee is a huge football fan, and his favorite team is in the playoffs. They played this past weekend, and won, so they’re moving on to the next round. He had requested time off from his previous manager (the person I took over for, who I’ve spoken to briefly about this) for three Mondays this month and a Wednesday to the following Monday in late January/early February (which happens to be the time of the Super Bowl). When he requested the time originally, and later mentioned this to me, he described the time off for the Mondays as “for travel,” and for the longer request said that a family member is having surgery, and he needs to help this person, so he will be taking family sick leave (a separate PTO category, which is relevant later). The Mondays off made sense because, at the time, he didn’t know where or which day of the weekend they would be playing (and indeed, he ended up not taking one of them because his team ended up not playing then).

The Mondays don’t bother me — I understand that I don’t need to know what my employees are doing with vacation time. But when he mentioned the longer request to care for the family member, I believed him and didn’t think anything of it, until my other employee told me, as part of her own request for time off, that he was planning to go to Minneapolis if his team was in the Super Bowl. The number of days he requested around the Super Bowl could potentially give him time to help his family member, and then leave for the game a couple of days later, but I am suspicious that there is no surgery, based on how he framed the time off request to the former manager and me. I didn’t say anything to my other employee that what she told me isn’t what he told me.

Importantly, our unused vacation is paid out when we leave the institution, so there’s an incentive NOT to use it and to allow it to accrue. He made a mistake on his time card last month too, noting sick time for an obvious vacation day. I thought it was a mistake, but now I’m concerned that he did it on purpose, thinking that I wouldn’t notice. Also, if he took vacation time for the Super Bowl, he’d wipe out almost all of his accrued vacation balance.

My plan is to let him take the rest of the time off, and if he is lying, and his team doesn’t make it to the Super Bowl, I will wait to see what his excuse will be if he cancels the time off request (or maybe he’ll just stick with the original story). I’m now actively rooting for them to lose! Do you have any suggestions for whether I should try to find out if he’s lying? How do I approach the conversation with him if I find out that he is lying? Should I ask my other employee to elaborate on what she knows, without telling her why? Should I be doing anything else to investigate? If I don’t investigate, and they lose and he still takes the time off – do I drop it?

I should mention that some of the work ethic concerns are around the amount of time he spends during the work day talking about football, and possibly looking at sports websites. I haven’t fully investigated this yet, but when I was his coworker, I personally observed it having an effect on some tasks I had asked him to help me with. To give an example, he once told me he’d help me with a task before I became his manager, and when I checked to see the progress he’d made on the task, I saw him looking at an NFL website and NOT doing the task. I ended up having to scramble to get it done, and he could see I was visibly annoyed. It was early in the morning, so I know he wasn’t on a lunch break. This incident has stuck with me, and so whenever I hear him talking about football, I am more annoyed than I normally would be. So I could just be residually mad about this, and not thinking clearly about the time off.

I should also mention that we’re short staffed, and my other employee told me yesterday that he doesn’t offer to help with tasks when he’s not busy, and that she’s a little overwhelmed. So it’s a larger pattern of behavior that I need to deal with soon. But I also don’t want to accuse him of lying if there really is a surgery! That would be horrible. But I need to figure all of this out ASAP.

Well, as you note, he might really be going to Minneapolis to take care of a sick relative and plans to see the Super Bowl while he’s there, so it could be both.

But I can see why you’re wondering.

I’d start by asking him straight-out, “Hey, did I get your leave type wrong for February? I wrote down that it’s family sick leave, but someone mentioned you’re going to the Super Bowl then.”

But if that doesn’t clear it up … in general I think it’s best to believe people about this kind of thing, unless you have really solid evidence that they’re lying. That does mean it’s possible that he could get get a few days of family sick leave that he wasn’t really entitled to, but that’s better than the dynamic you’ll create if people feel like you’re cross-examining their honest claims for sick leave.

That doesn’t mean that you should turn a blind eye to the things that are making you feel uneasy, though. When you’re suspicious of something you can’t quite prove, it can be useful to take a closer look at other aspects of that person’s behavior — because often when someone acts without integrity in one area, they’re doing it in others too. So in this case you might make a point of more closely watching how he reports leave on his time card (in case that mistake last month is part of a pattern) and generally pay more attention to him in areas where you might normally not give a lot of oversight. If you find nothing, then great! That could clear his name in your mind. But if you do find more troubling things, you’ll have something more concrete to address.

I’d also pay more attention to how much time he’s really spending talking about and reading about sports during the day, and address that if it’s excessive, as well as talk to him about needing to do more to help your other employee when he’s not busy. And it’s okay to say, “I see you on sports websites a lot — what’s your workload like right now?” and “Let’s have you take on X and Y to help out Jane while she’s so busy.”

In other words, there’s a lot you can do here around your concerns in general, even if you don’t go on a detective hunt around this particular trip.

should I tell my boss her photo is terrible, my boss calls me a “baby,” and more

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

1. My boss is using a terrible photo — should I say something?

I work remotely as a part-time assistant for a former professor of mine from college. We’ve known each other for a few years now and have a very positive relationship. I am a younger man in my mid-20s and she is an older woman in her mid-40s. I say that because it’s important context for my question.

I recently noticed on her website that she updated her home photo to one that I think is very unflattering. The lighting and angle to me aren’t great and I think it’s not an accurate representation of what she actually looks like, and I’m afraid it may turn clients off.

Do I say something? If so, how can I without sounding like a jerk young guy suggesting my older female boss use a more flattering picture?

Nope. Say nothing.

Even with gender and age differences aside, it takes a very specific type of relationship to tell your boss that her photo sucks and she should use a different one. Throw in the gender difference and it’s just not a thing you’re well positioned to do. If you were in charge of marketing for her, then maybe — but otherwise let her decide this one on her own.

2. My boss calls me a “baby”

I just started my first full-time position after college and I’ve run into a problem with my supervisor. She is about six years older than me and keeps referring to me as a “baby.” We work in a corporate setting mainly but occasionally meet with clients and she has told multiple clients that I’m a baby as well. I’m still in training but eventually I will be meeting with these clients on my own and need them to respect my opinion (many of them are much older than I am).

I’m not sure why she feels the need to call me this. We aren’t terribly far apart in age in my opinion and, even though she’s been in the workforce longer, we have almost the same amount of experience in our current field. How can I ask her to stop without causing tension or offending her?

I’m sure she means this as “Jane is brand new to the world work — she’s still learning!” and doesn’t mean “Jane is a helpless infant” — and I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s especially focused on it because at only six years older than you, it wasn’t that long ago that she was in the same spot herself and she sounds quite conscious of that (or quite pleased with herself for no longer being there).

But regardless of her intent, it’s still really undermining to you. There’s an element of “look, how adorable!” and that’s incredibly unhelpful when you need people to take you seriously — let alone when it’s coming from your boss.

And yes, you can ask her to stop. I’d say it this way: “When you refer to me a baby, it makes it harder for people to take me seriously. I know you just mean that I’m new to the field, but can I ask you to stop calling me that?” If she’s resistant to that, try saying, “I know you don’t mean anything by it, but I think it’s undermining me with people who I’ll need to respect me — and it makes me pretty uncomfortable.”

3. Is it okay to use conference rooms for personal use?

Is it okay to use meeting conference rooms for personal use? I started learning a new language over the holidays using an app on my phone. Because of the app features — it speaks out a prompt and I respond — I’ve been booking empty conference rooms during my lunch hour to go through lessons and eat lunch. I work in an open bullpen, which doesn’t allow for audio privacy and can get loud even at lunchtime. I look for empty rooms before going to lunch, so I’m not reserving in advance, and try to leave early if I know there’s another meeting afterwards for any set-up prep. It’s a large building, and rooms are open to everyone. My worry is that if someone walks in on me accidentally, the visual from their perspective is a woman fiddling around on her phone while eating a salad. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m using these rooms as my private lunch suite. I just want somewhere that I can listen to the app and talk without interruption.

In a semi-related aside, we have a large copy room on our floor. For as long as I’ve been working here (5+ years), a group of men use it daily to play ping-pong. They close all the doors, set up screens to block off people trying to cut through the room and to corral loose balls, yell loudly and leave the room smelling of sweat. (The room has four entrances so it’s not inaccessible, but it can be annoying if you need something in their game area). In my mind, if they can take over a room like that to play ping-pong, then I can use a conference room to learn French. Thoughts?

This really comes down to your office culture and whether anyone else uses conference rooms for personal use — and in your case, it sounds like they definitely do. So as long as you have plentiful conference rooms and the one you’re using isn’t in high demand, I think you’re fine. (If people are walking in on you a lot, though, take that as a sign that the room might be more in need than you think, and it would be worth checking that with whoever manages the space.)

I wouldn’t be terribly worried that people will think you’re just looking for privacy while you eat and play on your phone — they’re at least as likely to assume that you’re eating while you take a work call. But if you’re in doubt, you can always check with your manager: “Hey, I’m using an empty conference room to eat lunch in because I’m learning French and using that time to practice without disturbing others. So far finding an empty conference room doesn’t seem to have caused any issues, but I wanted to mention it to you in case there’s something I’m not thinking of.”

4. Asking for time off to recover from jet lag after an international trip

I am traveling to India for a third time for my company. I will be gone two weeks this time. I will be crossing 10 time zones for my travel. The company provides me with 23 PTO days for the year. Having said that, i will be returning on a Sunday. Previously I was able to take Monday off without using PTO and was then able to work from home on Tuesday. This was not nearly enough time to get my body acclimated to the new time zone. Is it feasible to ask my employer for the entire week off without having to use my PTO days?

A week is a long time to ask for, especially if you didn’t negotiate it in advance when agreeing to do the travel. I think you could ask for two days, and possibly shortened hours for the remainder of the week, but I think asking for much more than that is going to raise eyebrows. I know this might sound unfair, especially since the standard advice for getting over jet lag is to assume it’ll take you one day for every time zone crossed (which would be 10 days in your case). That said, I’m interested to know what others who do a lot of international travel for work (especially across this many time zones) think.

5. I had five titles in one year at the same employer

I am updating my resume and I realize that I worked in five different titles last year. My employer was very gracious when I needed to make a career change and gave me lots of projects to explore new roles. Even before the career change, I was often taking short-term roles with increased responsibility. Does this look like I’ve been job-hopping even though I was with the same employer for almost nine years and I was hand-picked to fill most of these short-term assignments? I prefer to highlight those accomplishments since the permanent titles I held were not very prestigious. I’m trying to level up!

Nope, having lots of different assignments at the same employer doesn’t raise job hopping concerns the way it would if those were all at different organizations. This isn’t job hopping! It might be assignment hopping, but (a) that’s often at the behest of the employer and (b) it doesn’t raise the concerns about flightiness or inability to stay at a job that it would if those five titles were at five different companies. (And to be clear, if it were at five different companies but those assignments were designed from the start to be temporary/short-term, that would be fine too. Job hopping becomes a concern when you keep leaving organizations that intended for you to stay longer.)

And since we’re talking about five titles in a 12-month period, this is one of the rare occasions where it might make sense to skip all the titles and instead list your accomplishments during that period under one overall descriptive umbrellas (like Special Projects or whatever makes sense — just make sure your employer would consider it accurate).

my boss is a notorious liar, and he yells too

A reader writes:

My boss is a notorious liar. All staffers are aware of this, and, in fact, it’s become somewhat of a running joke around the office. Some of this takes the form of exaggeration (“Five different people told me…” means one person he doesn’t want to identify, or sometimes just that he overheard something, but wasn’t directly told). Other things are flat-out invented.

Most recently, he came into a meeting where he felt we were being too loud and screamed at us for being off-task (we weren’t) and for gossiping about something that had happened earlier in the week (again, we weren’t). He had heard us mention the name of a person involved in the earlier incident, assumed we were gossiping about the incident, and came in yelling. While we apologized for being loud, offered to keep it down, we did clarify that we were actually following the preset meeting agenda, and that we weren’t talking about the aforementioned incident at all. He got silent and awkward, then started chewing us out for being behind on our work, saying that he had already given us extra time to complete it. Again, this was untrue. There had never been a set deadline for what we were meeting about, and him saying that there had been only made him look irrational and petty. We politely told him that we’d already completed the first half of the project and given it to the person we report to (directly above us, directly below him). Then he decided to start lecturing us about latenesses to work in the morning and people who were coming close to using all their allotted PTO.

The yelling isn’t something that happens all the time, but it does happen. It happens more often with people who are less inclined to walk away or stand up for themselves verbally. The lying IS something that happens all the time, and trying to get the truth out politely, only leads to more lies. For example, he said he had heard us word-for-word gossiping about the incident. When we clarified what actually happened, thus revealing the truth that all he had heard was a name and then made his own assumptions, he started lying about us missing deadlines. When we said that we hadn’t been given a set deadline, and that in fact half the work was already done, he looked for some other reason to justify his yelling.

My question, I guess, is this: Is this typical stressed-out boss behavior? I feel like it’s not, but maybe I’m overreacting. There are other issues at this workplace, but is the yelling, lying boss enough of a reason for me to quit?

The fact that your boss is an asshole is reason enough to quit. Not walk-out-today quitting unless you are super in demand, but find another job and quit? Yes.

This is not typical stressed-out boss behavior. Decent bosses — even most bosses who aren’t that decent — don’t yell at people or look for reasons to berate them. And he seems to be yelling at you cavalierly — he’s not even saving it for particularly serious occasions (when it still wouldn’t be acceptable), but is yelling and berating you over really minor things. And it’s particularly remarkable that he’s doing it in such a casually abusive way, like it’s just part of his day — he’s walking down a hallway, overhears something minor, and decides to duck in and scream for a while.

If it were just a matter of him occasionally exaggerating to the point of lying (saying “five people told me” when it was only one), that would be annoying and unprofessional and even, I’d argue, incompetent. But this is far beyond that. He sounds like he’s looking for reasons to berate people. At best he’s a tyrant. At worst he’s outright abusive (my vote’s on this one). Either way, he’s a jerk, this isn’t normal, and you’re not overreacting.

I don’t want to share my personal life with nosy coworkers

A reader writes:

I work for a small company on a project with a major client. Recently, I had a family member become sick and hospitalized. Because I knew that I would more than likely would be taking some time off, I was sure to talk to the client and my immediate supervisor in my company to let them know upfront that my family member was sick and I would be taking time off to help, just to give them a heads-up in case I had to shift responsibilities to someone else or needed to request additional telework days beyond the two per week I already had. I’m an intensely private person and while cordial with my coworkers, I’m not very comfortable talking extensively about my personal life outside of a few safe topics. When speaking to the client and with my immediate supervisor, I tried to keep things clear and to the point, with little additional detail.

While the client and others at the client site have been very respectful of my situation by giving me space and not prying further, the people in my small company have been continuously pushing me for more detail and constant updates. The company CEO is one of those types that believes the employees of his small business are a “family” and that everyone should be open about their lives – something that makes me extremely uncomfortable. I’ve had two coworkers, my immediate supervisor, and the company CEO pry about my family member’s health status and, on occasion, bother me about my health too since I have several chronic illnesses and had to take time off for a recent terrible stress-induced relapse. At first, I responded in short replies, then deflected the conversation. But a few of them have seemed offended that I do not want to discuss details with them. My immediate supervisor once asked me point blank what my family member’s diagnosis was and continued to prod me for the exact details of their situation, and it honestly threw me off-guard. I just couldn’t believe that someone would feel entitled to intimate details like that. I told him that that was private family information that I was uncomfortable discussing.

There’s an upcoming mandatory “team-building” event that I’m dreading because all of them will be there and will probably take this opportunity to pile it on and team up with showing me their “concern” over me and my family member’s health. How do I get them to back off? I’m already dealing with my own health and then on top of that, helping my family member with their medical problems, not to mention trying to keep up in my full-time job, which has been a big challenge. I also don’t want to be coarsely blunt – which has happened with past relapses of my chronic illnesses when I’m high on pain and low in patience – but I also want to get them to stop.

Also note, said company also does not have an actual HR department, as the CEO chooses to wear multiple hats, including HR Director.

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

why didn’t I get a full-time offer after my internship?

A reader writes:

Something has been bothering me for the last few months. I worked at a financial company as an intern over the summer. My job dealt with computer programming, so my assignments were based on that and a big group project presentation at the end of the summer. I was assigned to a good manager. On the other hand, I had a mentor who was very blunt, treated me like I was mentally challenged at times, and talked down to me often in front of some of my peers. I worried that this would impact my work, so I asked to switch mentors. Unfortunately, I couldn’t switch mentors, so I stuck it out the best I could. It made me dread coming in to work for the first month.

At first I struggled to make a good impression in the first two or three weeks of the internship. After that, I greatly improved and my manager complimented my work from time to time. I was also invited out to eat one time with my team, which turned out to be better than I expected.

At the end of the internship, I was given an evaluation by my manager. She told me that I improved greatly, started good relationships with other members of the team, and was a good intern. But she also stated that I could improve in my web development skills since I had no prior knowledge of it before starting the internship. She also said that I met expectations, but needed to learn to exceed them and ask for more work. I believe this was because I’m not really the ambitious type of person who goes after roles like being the CEO of a company. I would be happy working a 9-5 job with headphones on and performing menial tasks. I found working in a financial company to be unrewarding and boring. She also said that I seemed to not be as passionate about the work I was doing during the first half of the internship, but that I improved a lot on that as well. She said I would be a great auditor since I’m detail-oriented.

Several weeks later, I received a call from one of the recruiters who told me that I didn’t get an offer because of lack of space within the IT department. A lot of other interns I talked to received full-time offers, though. I didn’t really want the job, but I feel disappointed in myself. I feel like I worked really hard even though I didn’t really like the internship. Even months later with another full-time offer in hand from a different company, it still bothers me. Several people from my last internship asked me if I got a full-time offer from the financial group, and I just told them I chose to go in a different direction with another company. I’m ashamed to admit that I am the only former intern (that I know of) that didn’t get an offer. This financial company was downsizing as well when I was interning there, but they still hired a sizeable amount of people to come back.

I tried asking the recruiter who I talked with throughout my internship to get feedback so I could do better with interviews. She stated that it’s against company policy since it could open up a lawsuit case, so I just didn’t ask anymore. I feel like I need more clarity, because I’m scared that I was really a crappy intern. I’m the kind of person who likes honest answers, and I’d just like to know why exactly I didn’t get this particular job and what I can do to get more offers in the future?

The thing is, you didn’t want this job offer. You didn’t really like the work, and you didn’t want the job. So this actually worked out pretty well.

The fact that you didn’t like the work much is probably directly related to why you didn’t get an offer from them. They’re not looking for people who find the work they do there “unrewarding and boring.” They’re looking for people who find it engaging and fulfilling and are motivated to be there. That’s not you, and that’s perfectly okay — but in light of that, it makes sense that they don’t want to bring you on full-time.

They’re looking for someone who goes beyond the minimum expectations, takes initiative to find more work, and shows ambition. You’ve said that don’t want that kind of job.

Overall, it sounds like they thought your work was fine, but that you don’t have the drive for this work that they’re looking for. That’s pretty much identical to your own self-assessment. So there’s no slight here! You both agree that it’s just not the right match.

There’s nothing shameful about not getting a full-time offer at the end of an internship, particularly when you wouldn’t have wanted the job anyway. That’s part of the point of internships — to figure out what kind of work you do and don’t want to do, and to learn more about what types of companies are and aren’t the right fit for you. By those measures, this sounds pretty successful (especially since you have an offer from somewhere else).

Or at least it will be a success if you reflect on what you learned here and figure out whether the things that make you happy or unhappy are aligned with the types of jobs you’re going after, and make sure you’re clear-eyed about the trade-offs you’ll be making. For example, if you go the “9-5 job with headphones on and performing menial tasks” route that you mentioned in your letter, that’s going to limit what you can earn and what kind of opportunities you have access to later on — which you might be totally fine with, but make sure you’ve thought it through before you decide. If you’re not okay with that, then it might mean coming to terms with the reality that you’ll need to push yourself to approach work with more initiative and drive. It’s up to you how to calculate all this and what trade-offs you’re willing to make.

But I don’t think you were a crappy intern. It sounds like you were an okay intern. You weren’t stellar because you and the job weren’t well-matched, not because you don’t have the potential to be stellar at something that fits you. And this is part of figuring out what that is.

telling a rude candidate we’ll never interview him, someone is going through my trash, and more

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

1. How can I tell a rude candidate that we’ll never interview him?

I am pretty used to giving feedback to rejected candidates. I know how terrible to have a great conversation with a recruiter and never hear back. I do my best to maintain relationships, especially if I like the person but just don’t have the right role yet. That isn’t the case with this candidate, let’s call him “Joe,”

I had spoken with Joe about a role on a project in a small town my company just won. He seemed nice enough, a little quirky but that’s common in IT, so I sent his resume to the hiring managers. There was some interest, but then the PM heard from a very reputable source that this guy has made a very bad reputation for himself in the local industry — angering coworkers and pissing off clients. The managers had no interest after hearing that, and he immediately went into the reject pile. I had a short call with Joe to let him know we were not going proceed for any of our open roles and left it like that (which has been 99.9% effective with my other candidates).

He’s reached out a few times since then to see if anything changed, and I let him know they hadn’t. His emails have gotten more and more aggressive, but I have remained friendly and firm that there isn’t an opportunities. Fast forward to today, he emailed me again asking if I had updates and I let him know I didn’t (I really don’t have any priority roles). He responds with the note, “Oh really? You don’t have any openings?” attaching a list of every job listing in his area (all of which are different and don’t fit his background — i.e., he has no cyber security background but wants to be the team lead).

I do see why this guy has a bad reputation! At this point, his persistence is beyond annoying and downright frustrating. How do I tell this guy (without getting sued) that he will never be hired by my company?

Eh, I wouldn’t. You’re better off just not engaging with him. You don’t have to respond to his messages, and he can continue applying and you can continue blandly rejecting him. If he sends you more messages demanding to know why, you can ignore those or you can send back a bland “we’re focusing on candidates who are more strongly matched with our needs.”

I used to think it was worth being more explicit with candidates about how their bad behavior had removed them from consideration permanently, but there’s so little to be gained by doing that — and potentially a whole lot of hassle. I totally get wanting to say something on principle — I want to, too — but there’s really no business advantage to doing it.

If you really want to try to get him to stop applying, you could say, “We’ve considered your candidacy in the past and don’t think the match is right for the roles we hire for so I won’t be able to offer you an interview in the future.” But this guy sounds likely to argue with that (and you can just ignore the messages at that point, of course, but given his rudeness, you really don’t owe him this kind of explanation).

2. Someone is going through my trash every day

The level of petty and micromanaging at my office is getting absurd, almost comical. After I leave for the day, someone has been going through my trash and taking out things they feel should be recycled and putting them in the recycling. I get it. Recycling is really important. But I’m talking SMALL things like used Post-Its, receipts, the paper that a roll of stamps comes on, etc. I know this sounds really insignificant, but on top of other micromanaging that goes on and generally feeling like I’m working a job that is far below my capabilities, it feels like whoever is doing this doesn’t even feel that I’m throwing my trash away correctly. For reference, I come in and leave earlier than my colleagues and we don’t have the luxury of cleaning staff, so I know it’s a colleague who is doing this. (I’m 99% sure I know who, and the person’s I’m thinking of is senior to me.) Is this just someone’s weird quirk that I need to let go of?

Probably, yes. And really, the bigger issue is that you feel like you’re being micromanaged and working at a job below your capabilities, and this is rubbing salt in that wound — but it’s not a totally outrageous thing on its own. Annoying and strange, yes, but not an outrage. If the person who’s micromanaging you is the same person you think is doing this, I can see why it really grates — now she’s micromanaging your trash? But really, the broader micromanagement is the much more important issue.

That said, if you really want to address it, you could certainly say something to the person you suspect. You could say, “Hey Jane, this is a weird question, but by any chance have you been sorting small recyclables out of my trash can? I’ve noticed things like used Post-Its are being pulled out there and put in recycling and I wanted to touch base with the person who’s doing it.” If the answer is yes, you could say, “Would you mind leaving it to me? I feel strange about having someone going through my trash every day.” But of course, you risk this leading to a lecture about separating recyclables better, and if the person is senior to you, it may not be something you want to use up capital on.

3. Is it appropriate to not tell employees that a coworker’s child has died?

I worked for a small company with about 50 employees. I was in an employee support role. One of the employees in the producer area had several children, and while I worked there he and his wife had another child with a severe birth defect. The support team talked about it often and discussed ways to help the family. We were all emotionally invested in this family. They all came to company functions, we all held the adorable baby, and so on.

After a few months, the poor baby passed away. No one told me and I only found out the day of the funeral. My manager and the owner of the company went to the funeral, as did several of the production employees, but no one spread the word. I only found out because I saw on an employee’s calendar that he was attending “XX employee name funeral.” I was aghast because the next time I would have seen that employee, I would have asked how the baby was, as usual.

When my manager came back to the office, I was teary and mentioned that I would have wanted to go to the funeral to pay my respects. He told me I was being “way too emotional” and that it wasn’t his information to share.

What are your thoughts on this? Obviously it was a super sensitive topic and of course an employee shouldn’t have to talk about it if he doesn’t want to, but should management have given the support team a quiet heads-up?

In general, managers do let people know news this devastating, unless specifically asked not to — if for no other reason than that helps people avoid innocently asking “how’s the baby?” the next time they see their bereaved colleague.

It’s possible that your coworker asked your manager not to share the news. But it’s probably more likely that your manager isn’t very skilled or experienced around handling this kind of thing and genuinely did think that it wasn’t his to share.

4. Explaining to people why I’m revoking their coworker’s remote work privileges

I’m new to management — I was initially hired as a peer to my coworkers and was unexpectedly promoted to be their manager a few months ago — and your site has been absolutely invaluable in helping me figure out how to be an effective manager.

For some background, I am a project manager on a contract with a government agency and I have several direct reports. The agency has a generous telework policy and allows us to telework several days each pay period.

The government employee who supervises our contract has asked me to discipline a contract employee by cutting their telework privileges significantly due to some performance issues. Normally I would keep disciplinary consequences and performance issues private from other employees, but it’s going to be immediately evident to others that this person is in the office a lot more (and I have a strong suspicion that the disciplinee will complain to their coworkers about it). What do I say if my other reports ask me what happened?

“Working remotely doesn’t make sense in every case, and we reserve the right to ask people to work from the office if their work requires it.” That’s true, it avoids getting into details that people don’t need, and it provides some context for the decision.

By the way, I wouldn’t present this to your employee as a disciplinary step, or think of it that way yourself. It’s reasonable to decide that someone who’s having performance issues should be in the office more where they can be more closely supervised, and it’s reasonable to treat remote work as a privilege that you aren’t entitled to if your work isn’t up to par. But you don’t want revoking it to be a punishment; you want it to be a logical consequence of the work issues. (In general, you rarely/never want to punish people; you want to your actions to be logical outcomes, but not designed to be punitive.)

5. Looking at an organization’s tax filings before an interview

I’ve applied for a development job at a nonprofit. I’ve never worked expressly in fundraising before, but my skills are a fit and I’ve got an interview lined up. I looked at the organization’s tax filings from the last few years to get an idea of their budget and growth, because I’d like to have a strong conversation in the interview about my vision for the position. Is this going to come across as intrusive or weird? Or is it normal with development gigs for people to come in with this kind of research done?

Totally normal with nonprofits and not at all intrusive or weird. I don’t think I’ve ever talked with a good senior-level development candidate who didn’t do it. (For anyone who doesn’t know how to do it, you can look up nonprofits’ tax filings on guidestar.org.)