how to negotiate remote work once you get a job offer

A reader writes:

I completed final interviews for a fantastic job and I believe I have a good chance of getting an offer soon.

My conundrum has to do with remote work: when people return to the office post-COVID, my commute would be more than an hour each way. This is not possible for me to do very often.

During the final interview, I casually asked the hiring manager about their remote work culture in non-COVID times. She replied, “Work from home is fine sometimes, but not all the time.” I didn’t want to press at that stage, so I didn’t find out what “sometimes” means to her.

This is an individual contributor role, the work can easily be done remotely, and another of this manager’s direct reports works remotely full-time from another state. Also, presumably I’d spend the first six months or so working remotely due to COVID, so I’d have that time to prove myself as a remote worker. And I have worked remotely full time in all of my past jobs and have been continuously praised for my work quality, speed, responsiveness, and dependability.

If I do get an offer, I’d like to focus my negotiation not on salary or vacation time, but on the ability to work from home most of the time. Can you give me an idea of what language to use when I ask? How much of the above context should I include to back up my request? Also, would it help to include options, such as “I’d be open to either working in the office one day a week, or one week a month — whichever you prefer”?

This is the language I’m considering: “I’m really interested in the work, but the commute is giving me some hesitation. Would you be open to allowing me to work remotely, post-COVID? I’d love to come into the office once a week, or one week a month — whichever you prefer. I have worked remotely full time in all of my past jobs and have been continuously praised for my work quality, speed, responsiveness, and dependability. I would agree to make any long-term work-from-home arrangement contingent on my performance as a remote worker during my first six months in the role. If you’re able to allow a remote work arrangement, I’d be thrilled to take the job.”

If I can’t convince them to agree, I’ll have to walk away from the offer, so getting this right is very important to me.

Your proposed language is good!

It’s smart, too, that you’re addressing this head-on, not hoping it’ll somehow work itself out after you’re hired. With so many positions having become temporarily remote, I’ve heard from a lot of people who are considering taking a remote-for-now job without disclosing that they’d want to remain remote long-term and instead are just hoping/assuming it’ll be allowed once the office reopens. In some cases, that might work! But in others it won’t, and it’s dangerous to count on it. Plenty of employers will bring people back at some point, and while we probably won’t see quite as much opposition to remote work as we saw in the past, there will still be managers who want people in-person. (And sometimes that’s legitimate! You can’t always tell before you start a job how challenging it really might be to do the role fully from home.)

When working from home is a nice-to-have perk but you’d still take the job without it, sometimes it can make sense to just see how things go — demonstrate that you work well remotely and then try to negotiate continued remote work later on. But when it’s a deal-breaker for you — as it is in your case — it’s smart to address it directly during the offer negotiation and try to come to a clear agreement.

Your proposed language is good because it covers these bases:
– You explain why you’d like to stay remote (the commute).
– You offer to come in sometimes, and you’re specific about what that could mean.
– You’re clear that you’ve done it successfully in the past.
– You offer to make the arrangement contingent on performance (which it likely would be anyway, but spelling it out signals you’re comfortable with explicitly linking the two, and that you’re likely someone who at least strives to be conscientious).
– You make it clear that if they say yes to this, you’ll accept the job — they don’t need to worry that you’re going to try to negotiate for a bunch of other things they don’t know about yet.

Do be aware that, assuming you don’t have a contract (most U.S. workers don’t), whatever is agreed to won’t necessarily be binding. The employer can change their minds in the future or a new manager can come in who doesn’t like remote work or so forth. But having a written agreement significantly strengthens the likelihood of an employer sticking to it; if nothing else, it avoids mistakes and misunderstandings and people forgetting conversations a year later.

Good luck!

where are you now? (a call for updates)

At the end of each year, I publish a slew of “where are they now” updates from people whose questions I answered here in the past. In past years we’ve had several hundred each December and it was amazing (and has let me take most of the month off, so thank you).

If you’ve had your question answered here in the past, please email me an update and let us know how your situation turned out. Did you take the advice? Did you not take the advice? What happened? How’s your situation now?  (Don’t post your updates here though; email them to me.)

Note: Your update doesn’t have to be positive or big to be worth submitting. We want to hear them all, even if you don’t think yours is that interesting.

And if there’s anyone you especially want to hear an update from, mention it here and I’ll reach out to those people directly.

what’s the most Machiavellian thing you’ve seen or done at work?

We need a distraction, preferably one full of intrigue and drama. So let’s talk about the most Machiavellian thing you’ve ever seen done at work — self-serving schemes or manipulation that you watched being carried out (or carried out yourself!). We’re looking for stories of underhanded machinations, double-dealing, and conniving.

Share in the comments!

taking work calls on my honeymoon, traveling after graduating, and more

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

1. Do I really need to take calls from work on my honeymoon?

I’m getting married this weekend! Yay! I’m taking two weeks off for the honeymoon. The original plan was to go to Hawaii, but due to the times, we are staying put. I thought about cancelling or shortening the time off, but I decided that I had few enough opportunities to celebrate so I needed to take advantage of the one thing this year that is an absolute good in my life.

However, some big changes are looming at my company that’s all very hush hush right now. I only know because of my position. I wear a lot of hats at work (small company) — IT, budgets, office management, contracts, vendor management, marketing, etc. I am very involved in this hush hush big change, and I know that things can’t just be put on hold because I’m not there.

I’ve done everything I can to prepare for the two weeks: given account access to other senior people, written up detailed documentation, talked through items that might occur until I’m blue in the face, etc. But my boss is not satisfied. She wants me to promise I would be available if “something came up.”

I’m going to be on my HONEYMOON! I have had this time off planned and approved since January! I have been struggling this whole year (started working with a therapist and was prescribed antidepressants because my mental health was deteriorating), and I really want to unplug and recharge. But with everything going on with the business, I don’t know how hard of a line I can draw. All information that would be needed is filed so those with access can see it, so I am not needed to actually access any info, but I am likely to know more easily and quickly what that info is or where it’s located or which vendor to reach out to.

Do I tell her that if it’s an emergency they can text, and I’ll get back when I can? Do I say I won’t be available at all? If I were going to Hawaii as planned, I really would be more out of touch, but it’s harder to convince people when you’re staying home.

You’re going on your honeymoon and the time off has been approved since January. Say you won’t be available at all. If it helps it go down easier, say you and your fiancé have promised each other for months that you’ll turn off all devices and be unavailable during this time. (You shouldn’t have to say that, but sometimes that kind of thing can help.) You can also say if it were anything other than your honeymoon you’d find a way to be flexible but it’s not possible for this.

If you anticipate a lot of pushback, it might be more effective to be vaguer: “I can’t promise anything, we’ll probably have our phones off most of the time…” and then keep yourself unavailable. Change your outgoing voicemail message to say, “I’m on my honeymoon and unavailable until (date) and will get back to you then.” And then just don’t respond.

This doesn’t sound like a situation where you’re the only one who could help in an emergency; it sounds like it would just save them some time and energy, and that doesn’t meet the bar for making you work on your honeymoon.

2. Traveling after graduating

I am a third year college student and I’ve been reading your blog for years. It’s helped me avoid bad resume advice and feel a lot less anxious about the world after I finish school. Right now I have a more long-term question. I am very disappointed that I will be unable to study abroad due to the pandemic. I had been looking forward to it for years. However, now I have the opportunity to graduate a semester early. I am considering using the savings I had set aside to study abroad to travel instead for a few months after I graduate (assuming it’s safe by then). My parents are concerned that having any period of time between when I graduate and when I start working will be a blemish on my resume that I will have to explain for the rest of my life. I understand that if I waited to travel until after I had been working for a few years that wouldn’t look great to employers, but do you agree that I need to start work immediately after I graduate? Is it really going to be that harmful in the long run to wait a couple of months before applying for jobs?

Here’s the advice I would have given you before Covid: Nah, you’re probably fine. There are a handful of industries that hire graduating seniors on a fairly strict schedule — like they’ll have a class of new hires who graduated in the spring, and if you miss that it can be hard to get in the door with them as an entry-level hire. But they’re the exception; most employers don’t hire that way. Traveling for a few months before you start your job search isn’t likely to be a big deal.

Here’s the advice I have to give now: I don’t know! None of us really know how the job market is going to shake out right now, but one thing that’s clear is that there’s a lot more competition than normal because so many people have lost their jobs this year. New grads will be competing against people with more experience who are wiling to work for less money than they used to be, so I’d be more cautious than usual about doing anything else that would put you at a disadvantage. Traveling for a few months after graduation probably won’t do that, but look at the state of the job market your senior year before you decide anything for sure. (And to be clear, that’s not about employers caring that you took a few months off to travel — they won’t — it’s about how long your job search might end up being. Your degree is just as fresh in August as it is in May … but if you don’t start searching until August and then your search takes months because the job market is bad, at some point it is going to seem more stale, and employers interested in new grads will be focusing on the class after you.)

3. How can I explain declining to recommend a former friend?

Someone I was very close to in college, but have since drifted apart from, has had a career change and is entering my industry. We used to be nearly best friends for our early years as this person was very charismatic, but I stopped contact after I realized they were actually quite manipulative and vindictive. Perhaps somewhat relevant, I saw them working at their on campus job regularly, and they were not a reliable employee.

We have not spoken in about three years since graduating, aside from the occasional birthday wishes. They’ve since requested a referral to an open role at my company. I’ve reviewed their portfolio, and even if we were on good terms, I don’t feel like it’s up to the standards my team would expect. It covers skills we are looking for, but there were multiple errors that I noticed immediately.

To be honest, I don’t even want to give them advice on why their portfolio is lacking, and there’s no way I’d actually refer them to my company. Still, we share a lot of mutual connections from college (again, they’re very charismatic and still fairly popular in our circles), and I’m concerned about burning bridges. Is there an elegant way out that won’t give them much reason to go scorched earth and badmouth me to our mutual connections? Am I being too harsh on someone whose work ethic may have changed in the past few years?

You’re not being too harsh. Of what you know of this person, they’re unreliable, manipulative, and vindictive — each of which on its own is a reason not to recommend someone. And yes, it’s possible they’ve changed in the last three years, but you also know they have errors in their current work. You don’t owe anyone a recommendation or referral; in fact, you owe it to your company to not vouch for someone who you have a negative opinion of.

One option is to say something like, “For this role, I know we’re really looking for X but I’d be glad to tell you if that changes,” where X is something they don’t have (a strong background in Y, more years of experience, or so forth). But if there’s no plausible way to do that, another option is to just be vague — “Let me see what I can do!” or similar, without any promise to take a specific action.

4. Our bad manager is driving away all our staff

I work for a small company of about 25 employees and no HR. We’ve got two managers and a semi-retired owner. Since the pandemic started, one of our managers basically forced the other out of his position and now he’s a regular employee, allowing her to unilaterally make decisions. Unfortunately her handling has been extremely reactive, and she works from home a lot, meaning she is very out of touch with her employees’ experience living with her decisions — reopening without consulting staff to figure out their comfort levels, abruptly changing schedules and job descriptions, and more. Recently we lost three long-time staffers due to her — two to extreme abuse at the hands of customers that could have been prevented had a manager been there instead of at home, and a third to overwork. The third is a sad case of our manager stomping on her boundaries and repeatedly calling her on her days off to cover shifts and answer emails, even though she was told to stop by that employee. We’ve got another staffer about to quit for that same reason.

How do I tell her that she needs to back off a bit before we lose the rest of our staff? The rest of us are afraid to say anything because she has a habit of ignoring unpleasant truths, especially since she was explicitly told why those people quit and she changed nothing.

If she has a habit of ignoring unpleasant truths and she’s already been told why the other people quit, do you have any reason to think speaking up will change anything? Unless you have particularly strong influence with her, it doesn’t sound like it’s likely to make much difference — especially because it’s not one lone thing she’s doing (potentially easier to stop) but rather is a pattern of bad judgment and poor management skills (much harder to fix). If you’re going to talk to anyone, it sounds like it needs to be the owner, who may not realize that the three recent resignations were due to this manager (with a fourth on the way).

5. How do I figure out work-from-home expenses?

Our small office shut down due to Covid in March. I now go in once a week to do work I can only do in the office but work from home the rest of the week. At home I use my personal laptop and home printer. Although I took home a ream of paper for my printer, I’m beginning to realize that much of my printing is work-related and I’m replacing my ink cartridges more frequently. And I haven’t been keeping track of whether or not I’ve used more than a ream of paper so far. (Most likely, I have.) Also, I’m using my computer much more each day due to work. Recently, its charge time has gone down by half and I’ll need to replace its battery. When I first started working from home, my boss tried to load the Windows Office Suite on my laptop. It didn’t load and my personal version of the Word Suite disappeared. To get it back, I’ll need to buy a new copy. We think it was because she tried to load a PC version on my Mac but we’re not sure what went wrong. Since I can use the Apple versions (Pages, Numbers, etc.) instead, we haven’t really addressed this.

My productivity is much higher higher at home since I have so many fewer interruptions. So, my boss agrees that working from home can continue until the pandemic is over and possibly longer. She’s talked about budgeting for a laptop to replace my office desktop computer which I could also use at home. Although that would solve my computer costs, I’m much more comfortable with my Mac—I’d just like a Mac version of Windows Office loaded on my laptop. Or is that a bad idea? (I don’t save anything work related onto my computer, only on USB sticks to keep work and home files separate. And I use Chrome only for work and other servers for my personal use.) And what about the other expenses—battery life, printer ink and printer wear and tear, etc.? How do I determine what I should be asking for in terms of home office expenses? Or should I be itemizing home office expenses on my taxes instead? (Although I don’t pay that much in taxes right now so I wonder if I’d really recover the expenses in the first place.)

The basic principles are that doing your job shouldn’t cost you money and your employer should cover its own costs of doing business. That means they pay for your paper, ink cartridges (if you use them for personal stuff too, figure out a rough percentage for work use), computer, and whatever else you need to do your job. I’d avoid using your personal laptop if given the choice; even if you prefer working on a Mac. Using your own computer as your main work machine blurs the lines too much, and it’s hard to figure out (much less get) appropriate compensation for wear and tear. Until/unless that happens, they should cover the cost of your new battery since if you don’t get it, you can’t do your job. They also should reimburse you for the app your manager deleted if indeed you need to buy a new copy (but make sure you really do; normally you’d be able to just re-download it unless you had a very old version).

Don’t rely on itemizing home office expenses on your tax return; that deduction went away for almost everyone but the self-employed last year.

my frustrated employee is unlikely to advance

A reader writes:

I have a direct report, Jill, who has been on my team for a few years now. When I started out as manager for the team, we had an initial one-on-one partially to get a sense of where she saw her career going. (We had worked in the same department before, but different working groups.) She expressed that she was frustrated with her lack of upward mobility and felt like she was one of the best workers on the team but was not given any “good” projects or moving up.

Once I started working with her, I understood why she was having this issue. She is super challenging to work with. Any time she is given instructions, it almost seems like she is purposefully interpreting it wrong. As a hypothetical example, if I were to tell the team that the CEO is walking through the office tomorrow and we should all dress up a bit and throw out the example of wearing a blazer (a step up from out normal office wear), Jill would show up to work in PJs and an blazer, and then act like anyone could have gotten confused over what was said the previous day. It is like this any time she is asked to take on anything or do anything out of our typical day to day, and the result is I find I cannot trust her in meetings or project work outside our group.

The core focus of our department is a job that is very repetitive and straightforward. Jill does exceedingly well with this work. The issues only crop up when she is working on a higher level project or with people outside our working group. I have told her bluntly multiple times that this behavior is holding her back from advancing. (There is no opportunity for advancement with the basic task that is the bulk of out work.) While she still claims an interest in promotion, she has not taken me up on any offer of help or coaching on these issues.

From my point of view, while I would ideally like to see Jill meet her personal goals, I am totally fine with her continuing to do really good work in her current (entry-level) position. From time to time, she will tell me that if she does not get promoted or moved onto other projects soon, she will leave the company. When this happens, I always explain the behavior that is holding her back and tell her that I am happy to work with her on it but I understand if she decides that a different role elsewhere would be a better fit. So far she has not left, and this just seems to be a cycle of having this conversation every once in a while. Which to me is fine, because at the end of the day I have a team member who continues to do good work at the job she is currently employed in.

My previous boss seemed to think this status quo was fine, but I now have a new boss who is worried this is going to become an issue. He has cited just a general concern that it’s not really fair to know that someone is unfulfilled in their job and considering leaving and not either fire them or see them move into a new position. From my end, I guess I am not really sure what I should be doing beyond what I am. I don’t see the point of firing someone who is good at their job (we have a large enough team that there’s not a issue of needing to make room for someone who might reasonably advance, or being overloaded with work if someone quits). And I am not going to promote someone just because they have longevity or would like to advance. My new boss is really pushing me to put Jill on a PIP and get moving in one direction or the other.

At the end of the day, he is my boss so I will go along with his call on this, but I was hoping for some insight on if I am totally off-base with thinking our status quo is fine, and maybe there are some pitfalls I am not thinking off or if it might be worth pushing back a bit more on his thinking on this one. For what it’s worth, he seems generally reasonable and this is the one area so far where we cannot seem to get on the same page.

You don’t put someone on a performance improvement plan or fire them just because they aspire to a promotion that you don’t think they’re suited for. If that’s really what your boss is arguing, that’s strange and it’s worth pushing back.

But I wonder if there’s more to it. In particular, I’m curious about how often Jill’s problems with understanding instructions come up. If most of her work is routine and she’s not misunderstanding things on the reg, then fine. But if she’s regularly doing the equivalent of your PJs-and-a-blazer example, I’d come down much more heavily on the side of “we’ve either got fix this or we all move on.” (What qualifies as “regularly” depends in part on the severity of the misunderstandings. If they’re minor, maybe it’s not a big deal if happens a few times a month. If they’re major, a few times a quarter could be a huge problem and a deal-breaker.)

Ultimately, you can’t keep someone on your team who you can’t rely on to understand basic instructions and if that’s happening frequently, that might be where your new boss is coming from. But then the performance management, and potential firing, would be about that — not about the fact that Jill would like to advance.

So it’s worth pushing with your boss to clarify exactly where he’s coming from. Is he mostly concerned about Jill’s unmeetable aspirations or is it more about what sound like real issues with judgment and critical thinking? If it’s the former, I’d tell him that you don’t feel comfortable firing someone because they want a different job than the one they have, that you worry about the message that would send to the rest of your staff (who’s going to feel comfortable sharing their professional goals with you if they’ve seen a coworker fired for doing that?), and that your strong preference is to keep Jill in her job as long as she continues to do it well, while continuing to be transparent with her that she won’t advance without real changes. You could also point out that everyone will leave for a new job eventually and it’s not weird that you know Jill wants to move on at some point. That’s true for any job, but especially for an entry-level job.

It also might be worth having another serious conversation with Jill about what is and isn’t possible for her at your company. I know you’ve done that already — but you’re also dealing with someone who doesn’t comprehend information in the expected way, and that might be happening here too. In the past, you’ve told her what she’d need to do to be promoted, and she’s seemingly ignored you and then asked again later on. Maybe it’s time to stop focusing on “you’d need to do X to make that happen” and instead level with her that it’s probably just not going to happen. (Because based on what you’ve written here, it really sounds like it won’t, and probably shouldn’t.) It might be a kindness to tell her, “I know you’re interested in moving up. I want to be up-front with you that I don’t think that will happen here. If that means that you decide to leave for another job, I understand and fully support you in that. But I want you to have that info so you can make good decisions for yourself.”

I lied on my resume — now what?

A reader writes:

I recently applied for a prestigious company looking to fill a role that’s rarely open — and I lied on my resume. Specifically, I lied about where I went to school. The company hires people from top-caliber schools and I thought swapping the name of my college would help me get my foot in the door.

The company had already called me in for a series of in-person interviews with key players in the department. My interaction with the team has reinforced my confidence in wanting the job and guilt about lying where I attended college (at least two people have remarked what a wonderful place it is, so it hasn’t gone unnoticed).

My HR contact just reached out to me and asked me to complete an electronic application and-again-it prompts me to fill in my education credentials. Now that I’m in the final stages of consideration, I’m terrified of the background check revealing the lie and losing this job over it. What should I do?

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My former intern ghosted her new job
  • Telling freelance clients I’ve increased my rates
  • Are sandals now considered business attire?
  • Using up vacation time right before resigning

my coworker yells and is disruptive — and we’re afraid to confront her

A reader writes:

I work in a very small office with an open floor plan.

Most of us are friendly enough and get along well, with the exception of Jane. Jane is one of the unhappiest, most negative people I have ever met. She complains almost constantly about anything and everything — and the complaining itself is very loud, often to the point of yelling. She gets extremely worked up over things that most people would feel are a minor annoyance. She also has very strong opinions and often goes on a one-sided rant about things, but goodness forbid anyone have a different opinion and they express it.

My coworkers and I are getting sick of it, but no one wants to go to HR and no one wants to confront Jane about her behavior out fears of how she might react. Jane has said she hates being told to “calm down” and more than one coworker has expressed concerns about her “going postal.” I myself dread working with Jane and often lose sleep on nights before we are in the office together.

To make things worse, we are still on a rotating schedule because of Covid, so our manager, Fran, is rarely in the office at the same time as Jane and has no idea just how bad things are. And even if Fran did know, she is very non-confrontational and refuses to ever do anything to address employee problems (I think she might actually be afraid of Jane).

What advice do you have on how to handle this situation? Working with Jane is causing me so much unnecessary stress but I feel like there’s nothing I can do.

Well … you feel like there’s nothing you can do because you’ve preemptively ruled out all the possible solutions!

When a coworker is being this disruptive, you have two options: You can address it with them directly or you can address it with someone over their head. But you said you and your coworkers don’t want to do either of those things. That means someone has to change their mind about that, or you’re all going to be stuck living with it.

I can understand why you’re writing off Fran as an option. If she has a history of refusing to ever address problems, you have good reason to think she won’t address this one either. That said, sometimes with a very non-confrontational manager, you can push them to act by making not acting an even less attractive option. That might mean that you all meet with Fran as a group and insist she do something about Jane’s behavior … and then meet with her again when she doesn’t do it … and continue to push her on it as a group until it becomes easier for her to speak to Jane than to have to keep talking to the rest of you about why she won’t. Of course, if she does finally speak to Jane, it might be so wimpy and watered down that it won’t do much good … but it could be worth a try.

Normally this would be a manager job and not an HR job (it’s Fran’s team and she’s the one charged with managing it), but if Fran isn’t an option then HR is a decent runner-up. As we discussed yesterday, HR won’t necessarily get involved in the way you want, but they might — even if it’s just relaying to Fran that she needs to actually do her job and manage. When you talk to HR, it will help to explain why you’re coming to them for help and not Fran — but it will also help to say that you tried Fran first, if possible.

Also: Are people genuinely afraid of Jane? I wasn’t sure from your letter if the “going postal” comment was hyperbole or not, but if people genuinely fear violence from her, you absolutely must go talk to HR right now, today. It’s not an option to choose the comfort of not making waves over protecting people’s physical safety. I’m going to assume for the rest of this answer that this is not the case, but if it is, stop reading right now and go talk to HR about what’s going on. But assuming that’s not the situation…

The other option, of course, is to speak to Jane directly. I get that people are afraid of how she might react, but unless you’re afraid of actual violence, getting this to stop might mean risking her wrath. If the worst thing that will happen is that she yells or sulks or is angry — well, that’s not really worse than what’s happening now, is it? And even if she reacts badly in the moment, the message might still sink in. It’s worth a shot. Things you and your coworkers can say:

* “Jane, please stop yelling. This is really disruptive.”
* “Can you please keep it down?”
* “Whoa, this is so negative. Can we not do this today?”
* “I don’t want to hear this while I’m trying to work. Can you please take it somewhere else?”

If all of you are committed to pushing back when Jane is disrupting your shared workspace, it might have an impact. That’s not guaranteed, but it’s the logical thing to try. You’re allowed — even expected — to assert reasonable boundaries to defend your workspace and what you need to focus on work.

But there are no other options. You and your coworkers need to be willing to talk to someone or this isn’t going to change.

my company wants me to Photoshop our customers, managers uses our meetings to vent, and more

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

1. My company wants me to Photoshop our customers

I am in my early 30’s and have floated from job to job my whole life. I finally have a career that I love, pays well, and offers room to grow. Part of my job consists of editing photos in Photoshop, and my boss has even paid for online classes for me. My company pays for an ad in an online magazine and each month we take photos of my boss’s boss with different customers of ours. My boss’s boss has given his full permission to make him “look great” by editing the photos however we see fit.

But my boss also makes me edit the customers in these photos, who have not given permission for this. The edits are mainly removing wrinkles from their face, making their teeth whiter, thinning out their face and neck, fixing their hair, etc. I am good at what I do and make the edits with the subjects still looking natural but I have some moral discomfort with them not knowing they are going to be edited. I have brought this up to my boss before and she is of the mindset that since we pay for the photographer and the ad, we can do whatever we want. I have suggested taking a release form with us for the subjects to sign giving us permission but she brushed it off, saying that’s not necessary and that if anything ever comes up, she will take full responsibility and blame. But still … I am the one editing the photos. I like my boss and job very much and don’t want to cause problems. Is this wrong?

Yeah, it’s not great. It’s one thing to fix a flyaway hair, correct lighting imbalances, or fix red-eye, but removing people’s wrinkles or changing the size of their face or neck is problematic. Some people might appreciate it, but others will not — and to the latter group, it’s going to come across strangely (and insultingly) that your company decided they’d be more pleasing if they were slimmed down or younger.

Can you just … not do those things? If your boss questions it, can you plausibly say there’s no way to do what she’s asking without it looking unnatural to the person? If you can’t, you can’t, but I’d try just pulling way back on the editing you do of customers and see what happens.

2. My manager spends our meetings venting about her job

I started a new job about a year ago, transitioning from a contractor into a full-time employee. My manager was my champion throughout this process and we have a great working relationship. I came aboard during a massive transition in the department and the team was dealing with high work volumes and stress from all sides. I learned to lay low and listen as my coworkers vented about the situation.

Unfortunately, these stress rants have bled into my 1-1s with my manager, with her spending a considerable amount of time de-stressing about her job or explaining in detail situations that don’t relate to my current tasks. These meetings are an hour long every two weeks and they aren’t really productive. I don’t receive any feedback except “you’re doing great” or “I’d let you know if you’re doing something wrong” but since she also expresses frustration with my coworkers in some of our meetings, I’ve considered she might be doing the same in their 1-1s.

At this point in my career, I would really like some critical feedback on how I am doing, especially since I’m new to corporate life (I previously worked at small businesses). How do I stop my manager from using our 1-1 meetings from being her personal stress valve and move towards receiving useful and critical feedback?

You’re right that it’s the wrong place for her to be doing that. I’d try being more assertive about how the time in those meetings gets used. For example, you can send her an agenda ahead of time with the topics you want to update her on or get input on (or if that would be weird in your culture, do it out loud at the start of the meeting — “I’m hoping we can talk about X, Y, and Z today”). A lot of people sit back and let their boss drive their 1:1s, but it can be really helpful to take more control of them yourself — think ahead of time about how it would be most useful to spend the time and then be clear at the start of the meeting about what you’re hoping to cover. (That assumes your boss is cool with that approach, of course, but lots of managers will be glad to have you be the one thinking through how to best use the time — and they of course can redirect things if they need to.)

Also, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback that’s more specific than “you’re doing great.” Sometimes you can get more useful input by asking, “If I wanted to focus on improving in one area, where would you recommend I focus?” or by asking to debrief specific projects — like “do you have thoughts on what we could have done differently on X to have gotten better results?” or “I’m not sure that meeting went as well as it could have — what was your take?” You can also talk about what your career goals are and ask for her advice on what you can do to position yourself to move in that direction in the future. (More here and here.)

3. Will I look like a job hopper?

In 2018, I left the company I had worked at for 12 years (during which I was promoted twice) to relocate out of state with my husband. Unfortunately, less than a year later, we returned to our home state due to family health issues back home. I took a similar job in the same field with a different company (there were no openings at my previous employer). A year later, my “dream job” opened at my previous employer and I happily took the offer. (So two jobs — one lasting nine months and one lasting one year). While I did know there was new leadership in place, I didn’t recognize that the culture at my old company had significantly changed. The new leadership is fostering a toxic work environment and restructuring of teams (since I was hired) has made my job duties significantly different than I had expected.

I really want to look for something else but I’m worried about a third change in three years (I’ve been in my current position about one year now). Do I need to stick it out? If so, how much longer? If I can start my search now, do you have any suggestions for how I address this on my resume and/or during an interview?

Well … it depends on how unhappy you are. It would be helpful to stay another year, but if you’re miserable, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to start looking now. Your most recent job history is 12 years, nine months (because you moved), one year, and one year. The last three aren’t great, but one is explained by a move and you can cite leadership changes to explain the current switch (which won’t sound like BS, since you’d previously worked at the same place — apparently happily — for 12 years). That said, you’re going to want to stay at the next job for a solid length of time (ideally not less than three years) as a counter-weight to that pattern, so make sure you really do due diligence on the next job before accepting it.

4. Company said they’d hire me … then nothing

I have been dealing with a recruitment company for the last four weeks They told me the company loved my resume and I did not need to do a formal interview. It has been four weeks — no contract. I called the firm and asked about my contract and get crazy answers — the company is redlining the contract, oh the contract is signed, oh they are restructuring the groups, and it ends with oh you should get something the end of the week, but the end of the week comes and than nothing. I am still interviewing elsewhere. I have been scammed, have I not?

Probably not scammed (unless you gave them money for some reason), but certainly strung along. Sometimes when that happens it’s because things are just taking far longer than anticipated on their side (hold-ups from decision-makers, bureaucracy, higher priorities, or other moving pieces). Sometimes it’s because they aren’t as sure about you as they originally indicated (maybe another strong candidate emerged). Sometimes there’s something going on they don’t want to share outside the company (like potential cuts). In your case, the fact that they said they wanted to hire you without a real interview isn’t great — it says the decision might have been hasty and now that it’s time to make it real, there’s hesitation somewhere. (Which would make sense! They should interview you, and you should have a chance to interview them too.)

The best thing you can do is to put it out of your mind and assume it’s not happening unless  an actual contract or start date appears.

5. Planning for parental leave with the uncertainty of foster parenting

My spouse (he/him) and I (she/her) are beginning the process of becoming foster parents. We haven’t had a home study yet or anything — but we could be within six months of being eligible for placements if everything works out. I have done a bit of diving into my work’s (academia!) parental leave policies and they require 90 days’ notice – something that doesn’t seem like it exactly aligns with foster placements. I mean, we could get a placement right after we’re licensed, but we may need to wait months. I’m not worried about my team – we’re a pretty understanding bunch — but my organization as a whole is big and I don’t want to mess anything up. My spouse is in a bit more of a precarious employment position than I am, which can also complicate things (he doesn’t get PTO).

I’m always not sure how much time we’ll want to take. It looks like some foster parents take a week of vacation and delay parental leave for a few months. This is all new to me and not as clear cut as the normal path to parenthood seems to be.

When would we tell our employers? How does one request parental leave when we don’t exactly know when it will happen or for how long? Are there other insights you and the readers might have of balancing work and foster parenting?

Ideally you’d figure out what you’ll want to ask for, since otherwise it’s not really actionable for your manager — they won’t know if they need to plan for you being out for a week (not a big deal) or a few months (a bigger deal that will take a lot more planning). So I’d try to figure that out first — possibly by talking to other foster parents about what they’ve done. If it’s impossible to know until closer to the time (like if it will depend on the specific needs of the child), I’d explain that to your boss and ask about the best way to proceed.

But we’ll get better input from readers who have navigated this themselves. Readers who have fostered kids, how did you handle advance planning for leave?

how do I change my attitude toward my needy, frustrating employee?

A reader writes:

I have a staff member who I’m just over, and I really need to change my attitude.

In general she’s good at her job, but she’s just so needy. I’ve worked to address some of that, like not walking around the office talking with everyone and keeping them from work, how to be better at reading body language when people are trying to stop her talking with them, things like that. But I just find her exhausting and it’s really showing in my ability to manage her. I mostly believe this is a ME thing and I’d love some ideas on how to adjust my attitude.

Other things that annoy me, that really shouldn’t be as annoying as I find them:
1. If I give her instructions via email, she has to write back a minimum of three times asking the same thing. I’ve addressed this by asking her what she needs in the original instructions to make things more clear and she basically says,”Oh, I just want to make sure I’m fully understanding” so not answering the question.
2. In our team meetings, we each provide three nuggets of something that you did last week, something you’re working on this week, and if you need assistance on something. She will drone on and on to make sure EVERYONE KNOWS how busy she is. I’ve addressed this individually several times (give three, no more) and as a team, I’m asking for three, no more and finally stopping her — “that was three, let’s move on.” But then she’s extremely hurt that I interrupt her and I don’t do that to others (because they’re giving three things).

These are little things, but I’m over her and that’s not a place that a manager should be. Do you have advice for me to get over myself and adjust my attitude? I know my exasperation is showing, and that’s not who I want to be and it’s not helping her any, either.

I don’t think this is a you thing. What she’s doing is legitimately irritating and distracting.

I mean, yes, it’s true that you don’t want to sound exasperated with someone all the time. As a manager, you should stay relatively even-keeled when you’re talking to your team. But you’re allowed to feel frustrated when someone’s behavior is frustrating and they’ve ignored direct feedback about it.

That said, I’d argue that when you’re so frustrated with someone that it’s coming out in your voice or body language, that’s a sign that there’s more management work you need to be doing — usually having a more serious conversation, giving clearer feedback, or even making a decision about whether they’re right for the role. (Obviously that’s not true if you just hate the person’s screechy voice or that hideous shirt they keep wearing. Stuff like that is a you problem. But disrupting team meetings, repetitively asking the same questions, keeping other people from working — those are work problems, and you need to address them as work problems.)

In some ways, letting frustration show is similar to what I’ve written in the past about managers who yell: It’s usually a sign that the manager hasn’t realized they have more effective tools available to them.

In your case, I suspect you need to be more direct than you have been. For example, with the repetitive emails, you’ve asked what she needs from you originally to make things more clear, but have you said, “You are writing back multiple times to ask me the same thing. I need to cut down on the amount of back and forth we’re having; please do not ask the same question repeatedly. After the first time you ask, if my answer isn’t clear enough, pick up the phone and call so we can figure out where the disconnect is. But if you’re repeating what you’ve already asked, I need you to stop doing that.” And then if she does it again, address it right in the moment (not through email though — call her or talk in person) by saying, “This is what we talked about. What’s going on?”

With her lengthy updates in team meetings, you’ve directly told her to limit herself to three — but have you called out that she’s not doing that and asked why? When someone is disregarding clear instructions, you don’t want to just get annoyed; you want to create accountability by naming it and asking what’s going on. For example: “I’ve asked you a few times to limit yourself to three updates in team meetings. You’ve continued to give more, even after reminders, and you’ve looked upset when I’ve cut you off. Is there a reason you’re not following that rule?” (You’re asking because it’s helpful to understand her perspective — who knows, maybe she’s genuinely bad at figuring out what people need to hear and could use some guidance on that). And then from there, you use the tools that are available to you as a manager, like cutting her off when she’s derailing your meeting.

You’ve been doing that, but you sound bothered that she looks hurt every time. As long as you’ve been clear about the rules and what she needs to change, I think you’ve got to decide to be okay with her looking hurt. You’re not doing anything hurtful — although if that response continues more than a few weeks, that’s a sign that something is really wrong. At a minimum, it would indicate that you’ve got someone who’s really out of sync with your team norms and not adjusting to new information about what you expect of her, and that’s a problem in itself.

But what you’re responding to here is about this person’s work habits and her impact on you and your team. Those things are squarely in the realm of things it’s okay for you to care about — in fact, they’re things you have to care about and things you have to manage. So I think you’ll be best served if you take your focus off of your irritation and instead focus on managing her to operate in the way you need. (In fact, see my advice to another manager who thought she simply didn’t like her employee, when there were real work issues to address.)

If you are very, very direct about these issues — giving clear directions, not suggestions or requests, etc. and calling it out when those directions aren’t followed — and the problems continue, then at that point you’d need to decide what to do about it. Is the rest of her work good enough, and the impact on you/your team minimal enough, that it makes sense to keep her on regardless? Sometimes the answer to that might be yes. If so, are there other consequences it makes sense to impose, not punitively but as a natural result (like changing the types of projects you give her)?

Even if that’s where you end up, having actively managed the situation will probably make it less irritating. If you’ve been as clear as you can be, she knows where you stand, and you’ve chosen to keep her on for Reasons that you’ve thoroughly considered, simply knowing that can stop it from getting under your skin so much. But when it’s still actively agitating you, it’s often because there’s more you still need to do.

is it worth going to HR about a bad manager?

A reader writes:

I’ve always been told by colleagues at various employers that if you have difficulties with your supervisor, you shouldn’t bother going to HR. People have told me that it’s HR’s job to protect the organization and your manager, even if he or she is a bully or violating policies and laws. I’ve been told that if you go to HR with a problem with your manager, it will be your word against your manager’s word and HR will take the side of your manager every time. Is this true?

I have a manager who has been abusive for a long time. I sought help, including help from HR, to no avail. The HR rep I spoke with told me to work it out with my boss and that I had to change my approach with my boss. Even though I have plenty of evidence of bullying in the form of hostile emails from my manager, the HR rep would not comment on my boss’ behavior at all or, from what I can tell, address the problems with him directly.) As a result of having this conversation, now I’m pretty much persona non grata with my boss.

In the end, is it all on the employee to get problems like this fixed via a lawsuit if things are really that bad? Is HR pretty much expected by top-level management to take the company’s side and act as a sort of attorney defending them?

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