weekend open thread – June 12-13, 2021

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand.

Here are the rules for the weekend posts.

Book recommendation of the week: Last Summer at the Golden Hotel, by Elyssa Friedland. As two families who own a historic Catskills resort gather to decide whether to sell it, family drama, dysfunction, and secrets emerge. It’s funny and includes a lot of enjoyable old-timey Catskills nostalgia. (The author’s The Floating Feldmans is also good.)

* I make a commission if you use that Amazon link.

updates: the nosy coworker, not oversharing as a manager, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, when I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. My colleague won’t leave me alone after my former employee died

I want to start with a huge thank you to the AAM community. The messages of support and advice were very helpful in reframing things for myself moving forward.

Myrtle has not texted me at all since I wrote to you, but she did try to bring up my former employee’s death in our next meeting. When she asked if I had heard anything else, I responded “I am upset about [employee’s] death. Out of respect for her and her family, I think it’s important not to contribute to the rumor mill. Now what do you need from me for the X project?” Myrtle seemed a bit flustered, but did refocus and has not brought it up again.

Alison, you were right about their being a much larger pattern of boundary-crossing behavior from Myrtle. In the past, she has brought her children to work events and left them for me to babysit (ignoring my shocked “No! I cannot watch them!”). There’s more, but other details would be too specific for anonymity. Unfortunately, Flitwick and several key managers in my organization also ignore boundaries. The more time I spend in this and similar roles, the more I get the sense that overly-personal work relationships are not abnormal for my current industry and are a fact of life in my geographical area. Hopefully I can use some free resources in the next few months to train for an entirely new career, leave my current organization for good, and move somewhere else in 3-5 years.

In the meantime, I have politely declined any one-on-one meetings with Myrtle without a clear work purpose, thus severing the mentor relationship. We are having to work closely on a special project Flitwick assigned us, but as it is new for both of us it has been easier to maintain an assumption of equal footing. Flitwick and Myrtle are both on information diets – I have been practicing using your past scripts when asking for leave (sick and annual) without providing details that could be used to question my health/state of mind/need for time off. Some of the comments helped me realize that I am not nearly as good at setting (and maintaining) boundaries as I want to be, so I am going to do some self-improvement reading and see if I can find a new therapist to assist me.

2. Not over-sharing as a manager while trying to de-stigmatize mental health

I wanted to write with a very quick update, first to thank everyone for the thoughtful comments and feedback, and also to say that my anxiety level about these issues went down about 5000% when I formally changed my first name and pronouns to reflect my nonbinary gender identity. :)

I realize the gender stuff wasn’t really the focus of my question, but since coming out and changing my name, everything just feels, oof, so much easier. It’s honestly hard to explain, but it’s like a lot of things I used to really intellectualize – “how do I be exactly the right amount of honest/authentic but not uhhhh so much so that it causes problems??” – just don’t require strategizing about anymore. I just am myself and it’s out there and everything else follows from that.

(That’s not to say navigating manager-employee boundaries for the first time isn’t a challenge! It just doesn’t feel like this totally intractable mess anymore.)

Sending all my love and encouragement to any other readers who are on a gender-nonconforming-in-the-workplace journey. I believe you, and believe in you!

3. My employee gets their work done but has a terrible attitude (#2 at the link)

After reading the response and comments, I took the course of action most people had recommended: laying out the specific behaviors I’d like to see changed. I met with Jan, discussed the behaviors that were causing challenges, and shared a very brief, straightforward list of the specific actions I wanted to see as follow up. As many of the commenters suggested would happen, Jan begrudgingly agreed to it and almost immediately failed to meet the actions laid out in it.

Unfortunately, while I had initially received encouragement on developing this plan, my boss did not back me up when I went to him with this update. Instead, he directed me to pull back the plan. Going back to Jan with that had the effect of undermining whatever respect they had for me in the first place, so the situation has just gotten worse. Since it’s now clear there will be no consequences, Jan pretty much does whatever they want, including ignoring asks from me unless my boss is involved somehow. At this point, it feels like my boss should take over managing Jan, but he isn’t willing to (despite Jan asking).

Although I like my job outside of this, I am starting to explore other opportunities. I feel defeated and alone trying to navigate this situation, and I can’t see any positive outcome. I appreciate all the advice from the AAM community. Wish I had a happier update for everyone!

4. Friday good news (#1 at the link)

This is a good (but chaotic) update to the good news that I sent in in August 2020. I was the OP whose organization (Organization A) gave me a 30% raise because 1) I was extremely underpaid for my industry and 2) the need for my role (professional support staff at a nonprofit-type organization …. think IT) expanded greatly due to the pandemic. My plan after that raise had been to quit my contractor role (in a related area, but more specialized) at another organization (Organization B) so that I would have more time in my life. Well, a few months after my raise, two things happened at essentially the same time:

• Organization A drastically cut their benefits to all employees. They had “paused” employer-sponsored retirement contributions back in May 2020, but still have not outlined a plan for putting them back in place… I should note that although this organization has had to make large investments to accommodate the pandemic, they have NOT lost revenue, and I know that they got a large PPP loan. So morale in that department was already a little low, and then they rolled out a plan to eliminate the employer-provided group health insurance (during a PANDEMIC!) and instead provide “individualized health benefits counseling” where they contracted with these consultants to advise employees about joining their spouses plan, getting an ACA plan, or… and this was the real problem … getting a Christian health-sharing plan. Organization A is ecumenically Christian, but employees come from a broad spectrum of beliefs and many were not on board with the idea of having something that is explicitly not health insurance and requires signing a conservative statement of faith. During the rollout of this plan, HR and the higher ups kept emphasizing that the goal was for each employee to have equivalent or better coverage for less money, and the idea was that employees would choose an “individualized” plan, and then Organization A would pay a certain percentage of the premium. However, it eventually became clear that Organization A would only contribute to the cost of health insurance if the employee chose the plan that was recommended to them by the consultant. And, of course, many employees were recommended to get the (very inexpensive, very limited coverage) Christian health-sharing plan (including me). So, the organization effectively eliminated employer-sponsored coverage.

• One of the directors that I worked closely with at Organization B left their job somewhat unexpectedly. Knowing this, I reached out and essentially said that if they were interested in having me continue my role there, I would be interested in a full-time role. I have worked as a contractor with this organization for 2 years, and have great relationships with colleagues there. It took a few months, but eventually they offered me a full-time role with an additional 10% increase in compensation! Alison, this offer is AMAZING. I have never had good benefits before. I will be able to meaningfully save for retirement in the first time in my life.

So, here I am in 2021, soon to be making almost 40% more than I was a year ago and with 1 job for the first time since I was 16. Hopefully there are no more professional changes in my immediate future. I’ve given my two-weeks notice at Organization A and my immediate supervisor is upset, because he will be very overwhelmed when I leave, but he understands where I’m coming from. Every day I hear more complaints from other employees there about how there will be a lot of turnover (at a historically low-turnover organization) in the coming year.

it’s your Friday good news

It’s your Friday good news, with more accounts of success even in this weird time.

1. I’ve been reading this blog for years, usually on my morning commute. I just wanted to write in with some happy job news. I am a degreed librarian with a second niche MA and have worked in libraries in some capacity about 7 years total. My goal for many, many years was to become a specific type of librarian, and so I supplemented my library jobs with a handful of programming gigs directly related to this role. To be an “official” librarian, you need a Master’s in Library/Information Science, so I enrolled in a special library program specifically preparing students for the exact role I wanted. Extremely long story short, my grad progam absolutely killed my passion for libraries. When I graduated I spent months applying to anything-but-library jobs and was rejected or ghosted by most places I applied– and I don’t blame them! I spent my entire working life gunning for a hyper-specific career and my work experience showed it. I did have one promising interview outside the field (we’ll get to that later), and one disastrous still-in-libraries full-day interview (academia…), but that was it.

I ended up applying to one of those hyper-specific library jobs when it became financially necessary to just get a job, any job. I was offered that position, and –in the same week!– another completely unrelated to libraries position that seemed interesting and aligned with a lot of my interests. Faced with those two options, I felt like I had to pick libraries one last time, as I had never actually done the job I had spent so many years preparing for. At the time, I also couldn’t afford the lower salary. So, I accepted the position and made a lot of necessary and fulfilling changes to my department in my first six months. I didn’t magically start to love libraries, but at least I had a stable job with a decent salary. Then… the pandemic hit, and I was laid off exactly a year from my start date. As I know you’ve seen, libraries were, well, not the best places to work in a pandemic. I spent eight grueling unemployed months reading Ask a Manager, scrolling jobs-related subreddits, and sending out applications to all sorts of places. I had two interviews in that whole period, neither of which led to anything.

But then the non-library job I was offered when I first graduated was open again. I read all of your cover letter writing advice (including a particularly helpful post on career changes) and sent in a cover letter unlike any I have ever written. Looking back, I know the confidence hit from being unemployed for so long really showed through in this letter and in my first interview (!) with the company, but there’s no changing that now (I cringe at my use of the word “unconventional” TWICE). The hiring team remembered me, invited me to interview again, and I start in two weeks! I still can’t quite believe it– how often do we get do-overs?

Anyway, I really just wanted to say thank you. I’ve read so many helpful comments and posts over the years, and I’m happy to finally have something positive to show for it.

2. The pandemic really highlighted the weaknesses at my workplace (morale is non-existent as is effective communication, and favoritism runs rampant). I have been looking for a new job since last summer but even in normal times my area is over saturated with candidates for my industry. To say the least, my search has been discouraging. But, today I received an official offer for a new job! The pay is very slightly more but I’ll actually work less. From reading AAM, I’ve picked up great tips about assessing workplaces and bosses in interviews and I feel hopeful about my new employer. This position will also allow me to learn a lot more industry specific skills that I’m excited to explore. Between finally qualifying for a covid vaccine and this new opportunity, I finally feel like 2021 will be better than 2020.

3. I’m a long-time reader, occasional commenter and just wanted to give you a little bit of really good news about my job. So I’ve been working at my current employer since December 2018, and in 2019 I finally felt brave enough to come about about part of my queerness, and my Grandboss was so happy with this that I was invited to join the Employee Resource Group for LGBTQIA+ people in March 2019. Side note: I love Fergus, he is everything I want to be in a manager. Aside from being visible queer representation in a notoriously conservative industry, he’s fair and sound and really champions people from the ground up. But all that is by-the-by.

On to my more recent Good News. In aid of Trans Day of Visibility 2021 I was invited to attend a webinar by said LGBTQIA+ network that really helped to clarify some things that I had been pondering about my gender since Lockdown 1 in March 2020. I included my pronouns in my Zoom handle and was called out by the speakers as normalising neopronouns in a really positive way, and that made my mind up. I called my direct manager after the webinar and came out as nonbinary to her, and let her know that when Employer rolls out the Pronouns-in-the-email-signatures thing (hopefully HR will sign off on it in time for Pride 21) that mine would be Ey/Em/Eir as well as the She/Her that my colleagues are used to. And while she was taken by surprise she was incredibly supportive and told me she was proud of me.

I don’t know about others, but I’ve really felt like this job, which I stumbled into purely by accident, has been the best move of my life, giving me the support I needed to question both my orientation and gender and the security to come out and be supported and not fear retaliation.

I hope someday soon all employers will be as supportive and inclusive as mine.

4. Avid reader of yours and wanted to share a little good news. So throughout my adult life, I haven’t really had a solid career path that felt right. I graduated college in 2008 with a degree in Anthropology, worked at a school, did retail, and eventually got into an office admin type role which is where I thought I wanted to be. I soon felt bored and roughly a year or so into that job, my partner and I decided to up and move to BigCity nearby. I had gotten another job in sales which I hated, got back into an administrative role, got laid off from that, and then started another office admin role. I found myself bored once again but decided to use that time to study up on Excel and then on the CRM we were using. A year later, I got myself a certification for that CRM (a major, well recognized/respected certification). Eight months after that, this Monday, I accepted a role as the CRM Administrator at a different company. This came with a 44% increase in my salary which after years of struggling and undervaluing myself feels amazing (money isn’t everything, but it sure helps). Your site (and book!) have been instrumental in helping me to process through impostor syndrome, writing resumes, interviewing etc. I am so excited to begin this new chapter in my career with all the challenges and opportunities it will bring! Thank you!

5. A few years ago, I started working at a job that was a Perfect Fit for me. I loved every single day of work, I loved my director and teammates, it was everything that I hoped for. And then we got a new director, and everything changed. My job title across the company was eliminated and I was demoted, and then our team started to experience insane turnover (I was there for 4 years and had 5 directors) with most of the people at my level getting fired rather than resigning.

And then 2020 happened – I was diagnosed with severe depression and forced into a short term leave, which blew my mind. I was basically told that I needed to choose to take a leave or be fired, even though I begged them not to make me take a leave. After that happened, I polished my resume and cover letter and started to look, but given my field I knew that things were going to be tight. My profession is one of the first to get laid off/fired when the economy slides, so I knew my market was flooded with highly skilled and talented folks. I applied for a few jobs over my 3 month leave, and kept looking even as I busted my butt to keep my employment.

In February, though, a company that I’ve always wanted to work at posted a job opening that was literally a perfect fit for me. This company is one that I’ve applied at many times and never once got an interview (I was never qualified, but what’s the harm in applying, right?), are highly awarded across Canada, and a 10 minute drive from my home. So I applied, and kept my cool about it…. and they called me back! It was 3 weeks from application to offer, and I was able to negotiate an amazing total benefits package! It’s a total dream for me – everything that I love to do professionally, coupled with an amazing team!

Thanks for this amazing blog – I love the resources, I love the stories (and I’m so grateful that I’m not the only one who has experienced terrible jobs!) and I love reading your advice.

open thread – June 11-12, 2021

It’s the Friday open thread! The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on anything work-related that you want to talk about (that includes school). If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet*, but this is a chance to talk to other readers.

* If you submitted a question to me recently, please do not repost it here, as it may be in my queue to answer.

do younger managers still care about thank-you notes, I don’t want to hire my ex’s father, and more

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

1. Do younger hiring managers still care about thank-you notes?

I’ve been on a couple of job interviews for entry-level jobs in my field and have a question about post-interview thank you letters. My rule is to always send one if the interviewer is a bit older (40+) or if the interview process is very formal.

I recently applied for a job with a start-up; the process was casual and the people who interviewed me were all around their mid-20s. Should I be sending a thank-you email after these types of interviews? I always end the interview with a clear thank you and I feel that millennials tend to see these messages as insincere and purely procedural.

Also, what is the protocol when you’re not offered the interviewer’s email at all? Is this signal that they don’t want candidates contacting them directly?

It’s generally a bad move to assume all people of a particular generation feel a certain way about anything. There are plenty of younger managers who appreciate thoughtful post-interview notes. And millennials have received the same guidance to send post-interview notes that other generations have received, so even if they’re more cynical about them, they’ll know why you’re sending it and in many cases will have sent their own. There’s a greater risk of being at a disadvantage for not sending one than for sending one. (And you know, younger managers often have older bosses … although really, we shouldn’t be playing into generational stereotypes at all. It’s not great for prospective colleagues to assume things about you based on your age, in either direction!)

If the concern is that a note will appear insincere and purely procedural, then write a note that doesn’t feel that way. Everyone should be doing anyway, since perfunctory notes are crap no matter how old the recipient is.

If you’re not offered the interviewer’s email, it usually doesn’t mean much more than that they didn’t think to offer it. You should still send the note.

2. I don’t want to be listed on a company website for safety reasons

A situation that occurred a couple of years ago still bugs me, so I’d like your take on it. At the time, I had been in my position for five years when my past came back to haunt me. Long story short, I found out that a man who had previously raped, stalked, and threatened to kill me was asking around about how to contact me. Those events happened 10 years ago, but, for hopefully obvious reasons, some fear of him remains. I choose to remain unfound by him and, when I discovered he had renewed efforts to find me, I asked my employer to remove my information from their website — information that included my full name, picture, and the location of where I go to work everyday.

For context, I was in a client-facing position, but my role served only a specific pool of people who didn’t need the website to reach me, as there were internal contacts for that. Think, someone contracted out to work with just one company and clients didn’t come from anywhere else. I was also a trusted, hard-working employee who wasn’t known for complaining or making special requests. After some discussion, I was essentially told no. They would not long-term remove my information from the website without documentation proving the threat. I don’t have, nor can I get, such documentation. One of the reasons they gave was “anyone could come in and say this and it’s important that our website represents our employees.” Aside from the fact that insinuating a rape survivor is lying is just bad, am I right to be disturbed by their stance on this or is this an expected stance? I have since moved on from this job for this, and other, reasons. Is there a more effective way to approach this issue in the future or am I now limited to non-client facing positions (which is not really a thing in my career)?

No, this is super messed up. When an employee says having their info publicly available is putting them at risk of violence, responsible companies remove that information. That can get trickier if the position by its nature is a very public one (although even then they should try to work with you to figure out how to keep you safe), but that wasn’t the situation here. Your former employer handled this terribly, and I’m sorry they made a horrible situation even worse for you.

Going forward, if you’re considering taking a job with a company that lists its staff publicly, you could raise it once you have an offer — saying something like, “I’ve had a frightening stalking situation in the past and to keep myself safe from a recurrence am careful not to put anything online revealing my location. I know you list your staff on your website and I’d need to be excluded from that for safety reasons.” A good employer will make that happen.

3. Is it okay not to want to hire my ex’s father?

I’m the hiring manager for two new roles on my team which will report to me, and I’ve dove in to LinkedIn Recruiting to encourage potential candidates to apply. In one of my searches for people to contact, a familiar name appeared in the results — my high school ex’s father.

I went to high school in a different state than I live in now, and unbeknownst to me it turns out he entered the field in which I work and moved here. My relationship with his daughter in high school was fraught with problems. She emotionally abused me, manipulated me, and cheated on me, among other things. To make matters worse, her father was borderline abusive to her at the time and I had an almost non-existent relationship with him while I was dating her. My relationship with her caused me to carry substantial baggage into future relationships for decades.

Upon seeing his name and profile in the results, I did some quick Googling to confirm it was in fact him, and it was. His profile and experience honestly match what I’m looking for in my two new hires, but after sitting and thinking about it for a few minutes, I marked him as “Not a Fit” and added a note to my coworkers that I had a previous personal history with him and could not work with him (and also noted that doesn’t mean he couldn’t work with other people in my organization).

Did I make the right choice here? On the one hand, I feel like I should be trying to find the best people to work with me and my organization, and he could very well be a strong contributor. On the other, I’m not sure I see a path to being able to viably manage him, and I’m sure his mere presence would constantly remind me of his daughter — at least for awhile.

You’re fine. This guy didn’t even apply! You just declined to try to recruit him. You have no obligation to try to recruit people you have a history with just because they’re qualified for the job.

If he applied, it would get a little trickier — but even then it’s fine to decide that you can’t objectively manage someone you have a personal history with. It’s true that this person is fairly removed from you — he’s not the one you dated, and it doesn’t sound like you had much or any contact with him yourself — but if you know you couldn’t manage him effectively, you’re not required to ignore that out of some idea of fairness. (It also wouldn’t be particularly fair to hire him into a job with a manager who doesn’t want to be around him.) You wouldn’t be expected to hire the ex, and you don’t need to hire her father either.

4. How do I gracefully reject a former employee who keeps applying for a new job with me?

I am the hiring manager for a role that becomes available from time to time, and a coworker I used to manage has applied to it pretty consistently. I am not interested in bringing them on — they bring a good amount of drama into the workplace and are generally unreliable and difficult to train.

The first time they applied, we had an internal candidate express interest in transferring to this role and I let them know that. The second time, they applied a bit late in the process, and I already had some candidates I was interviewing and moving forward with. However, that might not always be the case, and like clockwork they have applied to my most recent open position.

Do you have some messaging that I can use that would communicate that this just isn’t going to be a fit? We had discussed their performance issues in their annual reviews, so it wouldn’t come out of left field to acknowledge that it’s an issue, but it seems a little inappropriate to give that kind of feedback when I’m not their current manager.

I’d just say, “Hi Jane, thanks for your interest in the X role. I know you’ve expressed interest in it a few times so I gave it some thought and unfortunately I don’t think it’s the right match. That said, I hope you’re doing well and wish you all the best!” If there’s something you can easily offer as a reason (“we’re looking for more experience in X / stronger skills in Y / etc.”), add that in — but otherwise it’s okay to be vague.

The two of you discussed your concerns with her work when she worked for you so she should be able to put the pieces together. But if she does ask why it’s not the right fit and, assuming there’s not an easy-to-provide explanation like the ones above, it’s okay to say something like, “You have a lot of strengths, but the performance issues we were working on when you were in the X role would be prohibitive for this job.”

5. Clothes for exercising during work breaks

Thanks to lowered Covid case rates and high vaccination rates in my state, I’m thankfully done with WFH and back in the office. Unfortunately, my gym hasn’t reopened yet, so I’m looking at a summer of running and biking outdoors for exercise, either on the way in to work or during my lunch break.

I do have the ability to change clothes and shower at the office, but I still have to walk past several colleagues’ desks to get from the entrance to the locker room. I’m a woman with an, ahem, Rubenesque figure. What can I wear to work out in during the heat of summer that won’t have me squirming in embarrassment while I dash to the showers to clean up and change? We have a casual office environment, but I’m not sure I want to stroll in in runners tights and a tank top.

I try not to ever engage in physical exertion, so I’m going to throw this out to readers for suggestions.

updates: I insulted my boss’s daughter, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, when I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. I accidentally insulted my boss’s daughter (first update here)

Professionally, I have little to update. I left that job and the workforce to raise my children. I am no longer a Christian, and strongly disavow my previous actions while recognizing that I still bear responsibility for them. I will never allow my daughters to be treated the way I was.

2. I received an email warning me not to take the job I was just offered

I asked about two things: your thoughts on a slew of negative reviews of a CEO on Glassdoor and an anonymous email warning me not to take the job I was just offered. I took your advice and called the hiring manager (who also conducted the interview) and told him about the email – he sounded surprised and informed the CEO who called me personally. I spoke with the CEO and brought up my concerns with the abundance of negative reviews on Glassdoor and the anonymous email. He explained they recently laid off their sizeable outsourced sales team, and the company was retaliating against him. That explained the negative reviews, but not the email. For that, he said he couldn’t imagine who would send that, but apologized and hoped I would give him a chance to prove that the person sending it was wrong, and that the company was a good place to work. The CEO upped the offer by $10k and included a $5k signing bonus to show how serious he was, and I was really excited about working with the hiring manager, so I decided to accept the offer.

My second month, the head of HR was fired in a tumultuous meeting, and IT found out she was sending a lot of anonymous emails from her computer to potential, current, and former employees trying to get people worked up against the CEO.

My third month, the head of customer success, our graphic designer, and our senior sales rep all left the company. I took over customer success and discovered we had basically no relationship with most of our customers who were waiting for us to reach out and teach them how to use our software and several were threatening to revoke their credit card payments.

My fourth month the CEO cancelled the contract with our sales development rep agency, so I took over sending cold emails (which he wrote).

After two months of completely rebuilding the communication strategy, marketing automation, customer success outreach, and sales cadences, my manager told me he put in his two weeks notice and recommended I take over his role.

On my manager’s last day, at the transition meeting the CEO announced that the company was almost out of money and even if we closed every deal in our sales pipeline, it wouldn’t be enough money to cover our monthly operational costs, so he and the board decided to close the company. So instead of a going away party, we had an out of business party and I walked out of the office that day for the last time with a month’s severance.

That was on a Friday, by Monday I had a job offer from one of my (former) company’s vendors that included a nice salary bump. I was only at that company for six months, but I feel like I got six years’ worth of experience. If the company didn’t close, I probably would have started looking to move on soon – in the end, the Glassdoor reviews were right about the state of the company but for the wrong reasons. That job was my first in tech, though, and it directly lead to meeting some of the smartest, most talented people I know – many of whom are now close friends!

So I guess bottom line, if you see a bunch of negative reviews of a company or CEO on Glassdoor and somebody is motivated enough to send an anonymous email warning you not to take the job, taken together those are probably more likely signs of a troubled organization than a healthy org with the odd bad apple.

3. Using “they” pronouns in a recommendation letter without confusing people (#4 at the link)

I am the high school counselor wrote the letter to you regarding the student who let me know they were non-binary and had selected the he/they pronouns. The new name was generally associated with a female and I needed to write a recommendation letter for college. Most of the advice I got from your readers echoed yours and suggested I ask the student. One of your readers who identified as non-binary was very helpful and indicated what I thought, that they did not think that it was OK to ask if they wanted to change it back to reflect the born gender. I had to write the letter and send it at about the same time I wrote to you because- deadlines -and I have a LOT of letters to write. Calling home was iffy because we were distance learning at that time and the student is really hard to reach, he generally will not answer emails and has other issues that make calling a sketchy proposition depending on his mood. I did not mention this in my original letter but the task was a bit harder because when I write letters I do ask the students for input (community service, awards, clubs, honors, noteworthy things, etc.) and this students big thing was involvement in Girl Scouts of America. Yes, he was still involved in high school to include mentorships with younger GS.

So what I ended up doing was a change in my first sentence that went something like this:

I have known Melody “Susan” Jones (he/they) since his freshman year as his school counselor.

I did it that way for a few reasons. The name change is not a legal name change so I do have to continue to use the legal name that matches the student application but I can refer to the person as “Susan” and use the preferred pronouns and the reader will know who I am talking about. I am not writing a letter about why they are non-binary, but rather about student who happens to identify as non-binary and why I believe they are a good candidate for a recommendation committees consideration.

4. Can I tell interviewers my weakness is that I burn myself out?

Thanks so much for answering my question about talking about weaknesses and burnout in interview , and thank you to all the people that commented. It really helped me reflect and realise how problematic the pattern was, and that I was minimising its impact on myself and others. Many commenters astutely recognised this was more of a life problem than just about working habits and interview answers as I had been looking at it in terms of.

As for my update, things got a lot worse, then a lot better. Though I thought I was trying seriously to address this pattern, I ended up having such a bad ‘bust’ period that I ended up hospitalised for 2 months. It was my lowest ever point, but also the start of things turning around. When I was in hospital I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and suddenly it was like the missing piece of the puzzle had been found and my lifelong patterns that had damaged my work and personal life made more sense. I realised that my issue wasn’t just work stress, and my working habits were both caused by but also perpetuating the disorder. I started on medication which has gone a long way towards reducing the extreme swings, but also I recognise I need to change my behaviour and really take this problem seriously. It also helped in that what was previously a bad personal trait became recognised as a disability, so I have a certain amount of protection in terms of reasonable accommodations, which for me meant being redeployed to a different role that was less conducive to overwork, and where my absences would be less disruptive than in my previous role. I am now more stable and doing better at work than I have ever been, I just wish I’d realised this all and got on top of it years ago!

updates: avoiding political talk, the feelings boss, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, when I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. How to avoid political talk from family when working in politics

Thank you so much for answering my letter about how to avoid political confrontation with family when working in politics! And thank you to the many commenters for their advice as well, I read and appreciated all of it (minus the person who assumed I was trying to force my beliefs on my family and that I lived in some progressive utopia). About a month after I wrote to you, I landed a paid full-time internship with a progressive political communications firm and loved every minute of it! I learned so much in the past four months.

My conservative grandparents who I was living with at the time were extremely supportive of my job search and so excited for me when I got the position. I used some of the advice from commenters and just kept the work I do vague, simply referring to it as “communications consulting work” and let my family fill in the blanks however they wanted. And though I did have to hear about 100 hours of Rush Limbaugh and OAN, my grandparents and I coexisted very peacefully and I was honestly so grateful to have spent so much time with them after having lived 7 hours away from them my entire life. Covid restrictions kept me from seeing some of my more argumentative family members but I’ll be moving in with my parents soon (the life of 2021 college grad) and now that all of my family is vaccinated I do think I’ll be making use of some more of your advice soon!

I’m also pleased to report that I received amazing feedback from my bosses and coworkers – so much so that they asked me to stay on as a fellow through the fall! I started my fellowship this week and I’m so happy to continue working with a team I love, doing work that I find extremely interesting and important, and gaining so much valuable experience w/ increasing responsibility! (They also mentioned we will “discuss joining the team permanently” at the end of my fellowship so *fingers crossed*). I’ve been reading your blog since my first manager recommended it to me almost 3 years ago and I honestly don’t know where I’d be without your advice!

2. My boss wants to talk about her feelings all the time (first update here)

Ultimately, a year later this terrible boss left the company. And earlier this year, I also left the company. The space has solidified for me how toxic the former boss was and how our workplace allowed it. I was recruited for a new job that was a promotion of responsibility, running a team and a big pay bump. (Not to mention, they made me the offer when I was 7 months pregnant and gave me 16 weeks of leave after I started, a workplace that really values families.) But the update today is that I got a call from another professional contact who wanted to recruit me for another job — being the terrible boss’ boss! I’m not interested in making a move, even though it too would be a great job. And the presence of the former boss definitely would have been a factor if I had been looking. But it was a little reminder, for me at least, that the tables can turn in a few short years.

3. We might have found a coworker’s suicide to-do list

Veronica saw the post and messaged me asking me if I knew about your blog, the post, etc. I feined ignorance, but she said that she knew I had written the letter and she wanted me to send the post to the owner. She wanted me to let the owner know that she was being bullied (I don’t think she was). Sometime after this, Veronica was let go (or quit?, I am unsure) and I was given her position. I think she is doing fine at another job.

4. Changing my name because of a complicated family situation (#5 at the link)

I thought I would send in a quick update and thank you to Alison and the commenters who were so helpful. I am relieved to say I was totally over-thinking it, like some of the commenters said! I told my boss and direct team members in our daily zoom check in, and everyone rolled with it pretty quickly. All I mentioned is that it is what I use socially and it came from my initials and no further questions were asked. Other colleagues immediately switched to my preferred name in emails without me having to even ask (after I changed my email signature and preferred name in our systems), and while there are a few slips of my old name people have either caught themselves or been reminded by other coworkers. I have barely had to remind anyone myself, which has been awesome.

I really appreciate the reality check that I was making it a bigger issue than it was due to my history with my given name. I’m not sure I can adequately say just how gratifying and life changing it is to hear a name that doesn’t cause me pain every time it is used. I’m proud of myself and so much happier.

I feel mediocre compared to our new hires

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I’m nearing two years in my first post college job and in the throes of a quarter life crisis. This job isn’t my passion, but it is a good paycheck while I figure things out. For context, I’ve struggled with mental health for most of my teenage and young adult life and have finally sought therapy and medication (diagnosed general anxiety disorder and panic disorder) in the last year.

Recently we’ve hired a bunch of interns for the summer and my company sent out little blurbs about them. They are all these amazing, capable humans who have done amazing things (one even did humanitarian work in Rwanda and Latin America), and I can’t help the stirrings of inadequacy in me, looking at their accomplishments. We’re in the research sector, and most of them have much more lab experience than I do, and I know any one of them could take my place and do a much better job, as I had been hired when they were desperate for people and were accepting anyone. I read their bios and am reminded of all the opportunities I could not (or chose not to) take because of my then-undiagnosed anxiety. I can’t help but feel like it’s my fault, that I wasn’t strong enough to overcome my anxiety to be able to accomplish the same things as them.

Do you have any words of wisdom or ways to be okay with my mediocrity when it feels like I’m being increasingly surrounded by smarter and more qualified people than I? I’ve never had a performance review, so I’m not certain of exactly where I stand, but what I have heard has been positive.

I don’t mean to sound like a drag or a mope, and I am really hoping our interns enjoy their experience, I don’t want to burden anyone with my own insecurities.

Readers, what’s your advice?

frequent bathroom visits, putting an out-of-state address on your resume, and more

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

1. Do I need to say anything about my frequent bathroom visits?

I recently started a new job. The people I work with are kind and supportive and it’s been great so far. My team has only three team members, the controller, a staff accountant, and me. We share an office. I take a medication for an endocrine disorder that causes IBS-like symptoms, and I am often running to the bathroom once every hour or so. My bathroom breaks take longer than the average pee break for obvious reasons.

My boss hasn’t said anything about the frequency of my bathroom breaks but I’m used to working on larger teams where my bathroom breaks were not as apparent. There are only three of us and the bathroom is right next to our office. I know everybody poops, but I’m starting to feel self-conscious about how many times I’m in the bathroom during the day because it’s impossible to conceal where I am going when I leave the office. No one has raised an issue with this, but I worry that over time it will give the appearance that I am avoiding work. Not taking the medicine isn’t an option and there are no alternative meds for my condition, so I’m stuck with these digestive issues indefinitely.

Should I proactively approach HR with a doctor’s note explaining the situation and that I need accomodations (for frequent bathroom breaks) due to a medical condition to head off any slacker perception? Or should I wait to see if anyone raises it? This is the first time I’ve worked in a team this small and I’m starting to get embarrassed by my condition, which has never been an issue for me in the past. I need this job and I don’t want anyone to think I’m not a hard worker. What say you?

You can talk to HR if it would give you peace of mind! You don’t even need to go the doctor’s note route yet; just explain that you’re on a medication that requires frequent bathroom breaks, you don’t want it to look like you’re slacking off, and you wonder if they’d recommend getting something official on file. Or you can say something similar to your boss; if she tells you it’s fine, that might be all you need to do.

Alternately, you can leave it alone unless your boss mentions it, but it sounds like you might get some peace of mind from having the conversation so you’re not having to wonder if it’s being noticed and if wrong conclusions are being drawn.

2. Am I overreacting to my coworker’s sexualized comments?

There’s a man who works for the same company, in the same building as me. We’re not based in the same actual office and we have different bosses, but we meet in common areas and he always initiates conversation because we used to work together.

My issue is that he often makes small but sexualized comments that I find distressing. He does rank above me but because we don’t work together, I’ve been brushing it off. For example, earlier today we ran into each other and he asked me about my apartment renovations. I mentioned I was turning one of the rooms into an office and he said I should turn it into a sex dungeon. It was said in a jokey way. Another time, I mentioned watching Bridgerton and he said he started watching it but there weren’t enough “heaving bosoms,” while looking at my chest.

I am aware that he has had two cases brought against him in the past two years for bullying and sexual harassment. I mentioned it to my line manager and she brushed it off, saying he was just a creep. Anyone I’ve spoken to — friends and coworkers — about this hasn’t seem very perturbed. I do have a history of sexual trauma, so I am oversensitive. Am I overreacting? How should I deal with this?

You’re not overreacting. It’s creepy and boundary-crossing for him to keep turning work conversations to sex, and the fact that he’s had complaints against him before says he knows exactly what he’s doing. He doesn’t misunderstand what’s appropriate for work or not realize how he’s coming across; he knows and doesn’t care.

Your boss is right that this guy is a creep, but he’s not “just” a creep — he’s someone who should be reported. Talk to HR — and mention that you initially reported it to your boss too, because they should be concerned that she brushed you off.

3. Should I put an out-of-state address on my resume?

I have been trying very unsuccessfully to get a job in my partner’s state. I work in medicine in a position that has a huge disparity in utilization depending on the state. His state is not friendly to my profession (but still has a few schools with the program so the competition continues to get stiffer). My work history is strong. The two areas I’ve worked in have provided me with a well-rounded and desirable (in most states) resume. But I cannot seem to get even an interview there. My friend suggested that I use my partner’s address when applying for jobs. While I’m sure a local address would help (and I’m up there for a quarter of each month), it feels like the wrong move (because, you know, it’s ultimately dishonest). It could be a problem with my resume, but when I have applied for jobs in my state, I don’t seem to have a problem getting an interview at the very least. I’m pretty miserable in my current job and would very much like to decrease the distance between me and my partner, so any advice is appreciated.

Use his address! You’re there a quarter of time; you’re basically splitting your time between the two states while you look for a job so you can move there permanently. Using his address should make your search easier.

Do be aware that if they think you’re local, you might be asked to come in for an interview right away (like within a day or two), and if that’s not feasible for you to do while you’re back in your original state, be prepared to say something like, “I’m in Texas right now — I’m splitting my time between Texas and Minnesota until I can make the move permanently — but I can interview by phone or video tomorrow, or if you prefer in-person, I’m planning to be back there next week.”

The other option is not to put a location on your resume at all, which has become increasingly common.

4. Cover letter plagiarism

I’m currently overseeing talent acquisition and recently noticed that many MANY candidates have taken lines verbatim from the cover letters you’ve shown as exemplars. I started to keep track and currently, for every 16 cover letters I get, I see this line at least once: “I’m not only used to wearing many hats, I sincerely enjoy it; I thrive in an environment where no two work days are exactly the same.”

I love that your reach is so expansive, but when I see this, it’s an automatic no. I know that you’ve encouraged readers to use their own voice and I just want to echo that. I’d hate for people to be missing out on opportunities because all of us hiring managers also follow your blog. :)

Yeah, every time I share a good cover letter here, I have to warn the writer that it will definitely be plagiarized and copied all over the internet and make sure they’re okay with that. It doesn’t seem to matter how much I warn people not to steal other people’s writing or that a cover letter only works when it’s customized to the writer; they do it anyway. I’ve even received cover letters from this site sent to me when I’m hiring. It’s ridiculous.

5. Dropping half of my last name while applying for jobs

My legal last name is hyphenated, but for family reasons I want to drop the second name and just go by the first. I’ve been using my preferred last name socially for a year but not in work contexts, and I’m not ready to change it legally yet. My first name and the first half of my hyphenated name are a bit unusual, but the second half of my hyphenated name is very unusual (imagine Janetta Forest-Googlesmythe and I want to go by Janetta Forest).

I’m in the process of looking for my first “real” postgrad job after having a few really great seasonal jobs in my field. My previous employers have offered to be references and connect me with people, and I’m so grateful but I’m worried about the logistics of my name change. Is it okay to email them using my old-name email address and ask them to refer to me by my new name, or should I switch all my communications with them to my new-name email even though that’s not how they’re used to hearing from me? Should I put on job applications that I have also gone by Forest-Googlesmythe?

Also, the email address I made for my new name includes my middle initial, which happens to be the same as the first letter of my last name. If I put the name Janetta Forest on a resume but then list the email as janettafforest@website, will they think it’s a typo and/or try to contact me at the “corrected” address? Should I put my name as Janetta F. Forest, even though I don’t want to be known as that?

1. Email your references and let them know you’re dropping Googlesmythe and going by Janetta Forest from now on. It doesn’t really matter which email address you use to do it.

2. If you want to cover all your bases, you can put a note on the list of references that you provide it to employers that says, “Some references may know me as Janetta Forest-Googlesmythe, although I’ve recently dropped the Googlesmythe.”

3. Your job applications don’t need to note that you’ve also gone by Forest-Googlesmythe (unless you encounter an application that specifically asks about other names you might be known by). You definitely don’t need it on your resume.

4. Don’t worry about the double F in your email address. Employers aren’t usually typing in your address from scratch; it’s already in their system from when you applied or they’re just hitting reply to your email. But even if someone does type it in themselves, they’re likely to use what you provided and not second-guess it. (That said, I can imagine that issue coming up in other situations, so if it’s not too late, it might be worth finding one without what might end up being a repeated nuisance to you.)

updates: the false affair rumor, the coworker ripping artwork down, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, when I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are five updates from past letter-writers.

1. My employee started a false rumor that two coworkers were having an affair

When Emily (manager) told me what had happened I did ask her how she wanted to handle it. We discussed our options and decided it was just time for Jane to go. She had gossip issues in the past that she was disciplined for. We knew it would take a bit of time to manage her out but that was the plan.

Because this was urgent, I spoke to Jane (the trouble maker) the very next day and said similar things to what Alison recommended. I don’t interact daily with Emily’s team as I have other locations I am responsible for, but I have a reputation for generally being easy going. I think when I spoke to Jane she was surprised at how matter of fact and assertive I was, there was no friendly banter. I told her that what she had done was completely unacceptable and that her behavior would not be allowed in the office. I discussed with her how rumors of this nature can destroy reputations and careers and Emily and I no longer trusted her. I did tell her that she had a long uphill battle of gaining trust back in the office and that all the effort in the world may never result in trust being restored. She was upset at this point, not angry (which is what I expected) but she was crying (not at all what I expected). I asked her if she thought she felt she could earn back the trust that was broken and if she felt she could move forward. She said she had been looking at other jobs and said that “maybe she should quit”. I told her that would be up to her but I encouraged her to do so. She decided that would be best. I wasn’t interested in having her work her last two weeks, so I had her write a letter of resignation, let her gather her things and that was that. I did process her out as though she gave two weeks so she wouldn’t lose all her vacation time that we pay out when proper notice is given. I thought for sure she would be combative in the meeting and I thought she would argue with me, I was surprised by the outcome but glad I didn’t have to go through the couple week process of managing her out officially.

I found out Jane got a new job a couple weeks later… as a manager. Maybe someday “Ask A Manager” will get a letter from one of her new team members about their less than stellar boss. No one ever called to ask for a reference so let that be a lesson.

After a couple of months, we heard from another staff member that Jane was telling people how angry she was that when she said she would quit that we didn’t try to talk her out of it. She didn’t understand why we just let her go.

2. My coworker is changing her appearance to match mine and rips my work off the walls when she’s mad

I have kind of a bittersweet update to my Therese saga, but I wanted to share it because you and your readers were so helpful and deserve to know: I was just laid off due to budget cuts, and won’t be back at my school next year.

I’m still kind of reeling because, up until the layoff conversation, my boss has implied that I would be safe. It was definitely a shock, but I guess that solves the Therese problem for me, so there’s a silver lining.

Thank you everyone for your advice and concern. Here’s to a new adventure.

Update to the update:

Luckily I did find something else, and have a contract at a district a ways away for the next school year. All’s well that ends well!

3. Can I pretend not to know who my old boss is?

We’ve been back in the office for a month, so I’ve finally talked to some of my team about our old director. There is a big AAM style red flag and some updates:

I saw the resume she gave when she applied. It was bad. Like 2.25 pages long with 10 point font and 6-12 bullet points under every job she had had going back over 15 years. She had a pop-out section for her skills that was just different non-branded icons labeled as apps like “Outlook. It took up like 20% of the first page. I said that I probably wouldn’t even interview someone who sent in that resume, and my coworkers who interviewed her were like “yeeeeah, it’s now a pretty obvious sign she was a bad pick.”

Apparently, I am just about the only person who didn’t go to HR to file a complaint about her! The only other people who didn’t were her favorites who she had secret end of day calls with, which they hated but didn’t know how to get out of. The HR complaints started within her first two months and continued until the end. Also she badmouthed us to other teams all the time for her entire tenure. At first, our colleagues were like “wow? I always liked your team, that’s surprising!” and then after a few weeks they were saying, “hey, if they’re so bad at their jobs, why don’t you help them because you’re their director?” All her peers and managers also thought she was incredibly ineffective and manipulative. She would lie to people constantly and get caught! And keep doing it! The kiss of death was probably her trying to suck up to our CEO and then trying her bad behavior on his wife’s team. That is an instant three strikes where we work.

I’ll probably learn even more when the whole team can be in one room, but it sounds like our antipathy was entirely reasonable.

By the way, I loved that the comment section was so split between “this is so terrible to do” and “this is so meaningless to do.” Sometimes when you get a split reaction I think it means you’ve found the perfect middle ground. I’ve still never seen her in person, but I’ve been cc’d on emails with her in passing. If I ever meet her… we’ll see what happens.

4. My job search after grad school has been soul-crushing

So I ended up not getting offered the job, and I’m not going to lie, I was a little bitter! Even though it definitely wasn’t my dream job, it was a job I could have honestly done in my sleep, and I was annoyed that I didn’t get an offer. Writing it out it sounds presumptuous, and I know I’m not owed anything, but it was definitely frustrating. Maybe I shouldn’t have jinxed myself so publicly by writing in with my question :)

HOWEVER, I did find out while waiting to hear back from that job (and right around when you posted my question) that I was a finalist for a very well-regarded and competitive fellowship program! I ended up accepting a position through the fellowship and started this past week.

It’s so cliché, but as many commenters said, things really did work out for the absolute best. The fellowship program is an amazing opportunity, the position I have is something that I’m really interested in, and I get to take advantage of my degree and actually challenge myself. I will be doing really cool, impactful work that will give me amazing experience, in addition to the boost that the fellowship will give my resume. I also get to be remote for the foreseeable future even though the job is based across the country, so no uprooting needed mid-pandemic. Had I been offered and accepted the other job, I likely would have left very quickly for this opportunity, which is probably a no-brainer for me but wouldn’t have looked great to my other professional contacts locally (it’s all very tight-knit and word travels fast).

All in all, I’m thrilled with where I ended up! It feels disingenuous to say “don’t give up, everything works out eventually!” to people who are in the same position I was in very recently, because I know exactly how hard and miserable it is to be financially struggling and demoralized during a recession/pandemic/global crisis. But between my job success and vaccines becoming more widely available, it does feel like there is a faint light at the end of the tunnel. Here’s hoping other people will start to see it soon too.

5. I think my coworker is job searching — should I tell our new boss? (#2 at the link)

I wrote in a while back after realizing that a coworker, Toby, was job searching, and my nervousness about my department’s ability to manage through the workload if he left. Some commenters (correctly) pointed out that my frustration was from being understaffed and needing more resources. So, this problem shouldn’t be Toby-specific, departments need to be prepared for employee turnover, and I shouldn’t be a tattletale.

I chose to keep all of the Toby information to myself; I didn’t let Toby know that I received a recruiter email with his info on it (I thought it would make things awkward between us, plus either no one else received it or the damage was already done), and I didn’t tell anyone else.

Fast forward to today; Toby is still with the company and seems more engaged than ever. He’s volunteering for extra projects and has really taken on quite a bit. However, our workload increased even more, to the point where it became unmanageable with my personal obligations (working 7am-8pm, plus weekends, several weeks per month). I started to look for something else and took an internal opportunity in another department. I am SO happy with my move. I worked with my former boss along the way so he had a chance to plan for the change as much as possible, but my former department is understaffed, scrambling to meet objectives, and working very long hours. I do not envy their predicament, and it’s what I expected to happen if Toby had left. So basically, I became Toby.