open thread – February 28-29, 2020

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. 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.

my boss told his wife we had an affair but we didn’t, what does a fast rejection mean, and more

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

1. I worked for a married couple and the husband told his wife we had an affair — but we didn’t

I quit my retail management job two years ago over work/life balance issues and started working as a private home chef for a wealthy married couple. Long story short, the wife caught the husband having an affair and rather than admit who it was with and have to stop seeing her, he lied that it was me! She fired me. He apologized to explain himself and tried to give me money, but I was furious and told him off. So I’m on my own now. I need to look for a new conventional job, but I have no idea what to say about this last position on my resume especially because I can’t get a reference from them. But if I don’t list it, then how do I account for the last two years?

What a jerk — not only cheating on his wife, but getting an innocent person fired in order to cover his tracks?

Don’t leave that entire two years off your resume! Leave it on, and if employers ask about it, you can explain the couple’s marriage imploded, you were caught in the crossfire despite being scrupulously professional, and the situation between them was so volatile that you wouldn’t suggest them as a reference. (Also, if seeking “a conventional new job” means that you’re not looking for work as a private chef, employers may not even care about contacting this couple, which will make things easier.)

Alternately, the fact that the husband offered you money might indicate he (rightly) feels guilty and might be open to other ways of trying to make you whole — like being your reference, which is the least he owes you. I know you told him off, but there could be room to contact him, say you’re having trouble finding a job because of the lie he told about you, and tell him you need him to be a reference for you for that job (which you presumably did well) or even just be willing to verify your employment so you can list it on your resume. You might not be comfortable doing that, but it’s an option to throw in the mix too. As is having a lawyer explain defamation to this couple, if you want to go that route.

2. How to bring up experience at an interview that I forgot to mention on my resume

I’m returning to work after doing a postgraduate degree. I’ve got an interview coming up, and in the course of prepping for it I realized that one of the projects from the job I had before going back to study is in a really closely related area to the role I’m interviewing for. The problem is that I hadn’t mentioned that project in either my cover letter or my CV when applying. Obviously I want to bring up this relevant experience in the interview, but what’s the best way to frame it in a way that is more “this candidate has useful experience” and less “this candidate didn’t fully think through their application”?

Just be matter-of-fact about it! “I realized one of the projects I did at Job X might be relevant here. It’s not on my resume, but (details about the project).” No reasonable interviewer is going to think not including it originally means you’re flighty or thoughtless. Interviewers know lots of people use the same basic resume for all the jobs they apply for, and they also know humans will not always instantly realize precisely how relevant something might be to a job they’re not terribly familiar with yet.

I’ve interviewed many candidates where I thought, “Oh! That’s really relevant — I’m glad you mentioned it.” Sometimes I’ve even thought, “Oooh, you should include that on your resume! It’ll help you!” But I’ve never thought, “What kind of doofus didn’t write this down originally?”

3. Does a fast rejection mean I did something wrong?

I’m a freelancer who’s been struggling to transition back to more traditional employment. I have a lot of anxiety about my employability —my field is very competitive. But I’m proud of the work I’ve done.

I recently applied to a dream job. It’s for a company I’ve done freelance work for. I have a good relationship with the person I’ve done work for there. I know and respect a lot of people at the company. I know I’d be great at the job. I asked around to make sure it wasn’t a job they already had someone in mind for but had to post an ad for anyway. It’s not the first time I’ve applied to this same company — it’s somewhere I’d really like to work. So I thought I’d covered all of my bases.

I got a rejection email three days after submitting my application. The job posting only went up less than two weeks ago, and it’s still up. I’ve gotten a lot of rejections over the years, but this was by far the fastest. The position didn’t get filled.

I feel like I must have done something horribly wrong to have been rejected that quickly. I have no idea what it could be. Is there some way I could find out? A rejection is a rejection — I have no interest in challenging it. But if I did something in my application bad enough to warrant such an immediate response, I don’t want to do it again. Does this mean I shouldn’t apply to the company again? What can I do? What should I do?

Some rejections do get sent that quickly and it doesn’t mean that you’ve done anything wrong or that you’re horribly unqualified. Sometimes there’s just a particular qualification they’re looking for where you’re not as competitive, and that’s not always clear from the ad. Sometimes the person doing the initial screening isn’t as aligned with the hiring manager as they should be about what they’re looking for. Sometimes they’ve screened you previously and determined you weren’t quite right then, and are sticking with that decision now even if they shouldn’t. And sometimes it can even be a mistake. (But on its own, three days doesn’t mean anything. Employers typically know if they’re rejecting you within about a minute; rejections take longer simply because they’re not reviewing applications daily or they wait a polite amount of time before sending the notice.)

But since you know people there and have worked with them before, there’s no harm in sending a note to a contact who you’d talked to about the job, saying something like, “I wanted to let you know I did end up applying for the X position. I got a note pretty quickly saying I wasn’t being considered, which is disappointing but I’m sure you have lots of great candidates. In any case, thanks for talking with me about it!” That way, if the person feels strongly you should be given more consideration, they have the opportunity to raise that internally.

4. How do I keep a client out of my personal space?

I am a legal professional and deal face-to-face with clients on a daily basis. I usually greet them in our reception area and seat them in one of our conference rooms, which is right next to my desk. I have never had a problem with clients staying where they are directed, but the other day I had a client stop by my desk right after a meeting. She was in my personal space and kept nudging me with her elbow to emphasize her point. She coughed at one point and did not cover her mouth, spittling all over my desk and keyboard. I also have a lot of sensitive client information at my desk, so it’s really not ideal to have clients at my desk in the first place.

I was so uncomfortable and did not know how to politely ask her to step back. I do not want to be too blunt and damage the attorney-client relationship or my firm’s reputation. My boss walked by as this was occurring, but did not say anything. She was a new client, so I expect that she will be at our office for more meetings. Maybe I should just make myself scarce while she is in the office? Could you please let me know how you would handle this situation?

One option: When the person first stops by your desk, stand up (which on its own signals “we’re not staying here long”) and say, “Let me take you into a more private area,” and then just start leading her there. You can say this in a way that sounds like it’s for her benefit — she gets your full attention, her private business isn’t overheard by others, etc. — but it also carries a suggestion of “I don’t want to disturb others.”

That’s harder to do if someone just stops by to say hello — but even then, you can stand up to greet them and then subtly move the conversation a few feet away from your desk.

5. How managers can help during the coronavirus crisis

I’m in public health, and therefore I’m acutely aware of the anxiety people are feeling about coronavirus. What I’ve been telling people among my family and friends is: we’re on it, but you should be extra diligent in taking the precautions that you would normally take for flu- stay home if you’re feeling sick, wash your hands with soap and water, cover your mouth with your elbow if you’re coughing (or wear a mask if you’re coughing- but no need to raid the drug store, the elbow works too).

I was thinking about this, and realized that managers have even more latitude to help in a health crisis. Creating a plan that allows people to work from home easily, to take as many sick days as they need, and doing things like- making hand-sanitizer stations available to staff and making sure that the bathrooms are stocked up on soap… They’re all good public health measures, and something that managers can do to help out in an anxiety producing situation. A local health department will likely have other suggestions, and would be a good resource to reach out to.

Just as important: Communicating measures like this, in a calm way, to staff can also mitigate a lot of the anxiety people will feel about this situation. Tell people what you plan on doing, why you’re doing it, when you’re going to implement it (for instance- if/when your area gets its first coronavirus case), and that you’ll tell them when the new policies will go away after any potential implementation.

Thank you.

I earn more than my peers, and they’re not happy

A reader writes:

Five years ago, I was hired in an entry-level role. During the initial employment offer, the company offered their base salary for a starting amount. Since I did my homework on the average salary of the role in this area, I countered with a number closer to the average. The company agreed and I began my job.

After four promotions in five years, I’ve grown in my roles and compensation. Between high turnover and firm growth, my coworkers have similarly risen through the ranks as I have — we all started within a year of each other. Two are now managers, one two levels above me.

Then The Bomb went off — a manager printed a budget document and forget to collect it before others noticed. This form contained salary info on my department peers and clearly showed I’m now the highest paid member of the team. Working backwards, it’s likely that as fresh grads my coworkers never negotiated their starting salary — and after half a decade of collective career advancement, what was a few thousand dollars difference five years ago has now magnified.

There’s a perceptible social distance between us all now, what with me taking home $10,000 per year more than the next highest paid coworker in the department ( who’s a manager two layers above me!). Obviously I’m not responsible for the pay scales and compensation policy of my employer, but short of taking a $10,000 pay cut I’m not sure how I can repair the sudden social distance this new information created. Before this revelation, we were a tight functional team.

I don’t wish to make an obviously sensitive topic worse by appearing patronizing, entitled, or insensitive. Viewing it from their perspective, I can understand why they’d see it as profoundly unfair they’re doing more work than me for far less money. How do I repair this social rift?

You’re right that you’re not to blame for this; your employer is. Your colleagues’ ire should be directed there, not at you.

But it’s human nature for people in your colleagues’ shoes to look at you, getting paid $10,000 more and with less responsibility, and think, “What exactly is so great about that person that they deserve $10,000 more than me?” And that can pretty easily turn into resentment, even if intellectually they know it’s not your fault.

What you can do is look for ways to be your coworkers’ ally and their advocate. Tell them you were as taken aback as they were, tell them you think (based on your own experience) there’s room for them to negotiate more, tell them you think this stems from negotiation that you did at hire, and tell them specifically what you negotiated and how. Share as much info as you can about your salary history at this company — starting salary, raises, all of it. That will arm them with context around the pay disparity and with insight about what works at your company so they can construct the strongest possible cases for their own raises. And if you’re willing, tell them they can reference that information when talking with their managers about their own pay. (If this would be a big political misstep at your company, you might not be up for that — but give them as much permission as you’re willing to.)

If you’re worried your company wouldn’t want you sharing salary info, know that the National Labor Relations Act protects your right to “engage in concerted activities,” which includes the right to discuss your wages and working conditions with coworkers. Employers aren’t allowed to prohibit you from discussing your salary, and any attempts to do so violates the NLRA (although it’s incredibly common for employers to have policies that run afoul of the law). However, it’s important to know this protection only applies to non-supervisory employees, so it may not cover you — although there’s advice here about how to push back on that if you need to.

If you’re a man and the coworkers earning less than you are women, you should also tell your coworkers about the Equal Pay Act if they don’t already know about it and tell them you’ll support them in pushing the company to follow it. (By the way, in case you’re worried about your own pay getting lowered in the name of salary equity, know that the Equal Pay Act specifically says employers cannot lower one employee’s wages to make them equal with another’s.)

Beyond that, ask how else you can support them. It’s a lot harder for people to resent you if you’re actively offering help … in addition to that just being the right thing to do.

the Leap Day employee finally gets her birthday off this year

It’s Leap Day on Saturday, and that means we must revisit this letter (and its update) about an employee born on Leap Day who isn’t allowed to have her birthday off except every four years.

Telling an employee born on Leap Day she can’t have her birthday off (the original)

One of the perks provided by my workplace is a paid day off on your birthday (or the day after if it falls on a weekend or holiday) provided by the firm and not taken from your own vacation days, and a gift card which works at several restaurants in our city. Once a month, a cake is also provided at lunch for everyone as an acknowledgement of everyone who has a birthday that month.

There is an employee on my team who was born in a leap year on February 29. Since she only has a birthday every four years, she does not get a day off or a gift card and is not one of the people the cake acknowledges. She has complained about this and is trying to push back so she is included.

The firm doesn’t single out or publicly name anyone that has a birthday. People take the day off and that is it, nothing is said. The gift card is quietly enclosed with their pay stub. The cake is put in the lunchroom without fanfare for anyone that wants some. There is no email or card that goes around and no celebrating at work. If there was I could see her point, but since everything is done quietly/privately, she is not losing out on anything. My manager feels her complaints are petty and she needs to be more professional. I agree with him.

She has only worked here for two years and was hired straight out of university. I want to tell her that she should be focusing on work issues and not something as small as a birthday. If she had a complaint about a work issue it would be different. How do I frame my discussion with her without making her feel bad or like she is trouble? Her work is good and I am sure the complaint is just borne of inexperience and I don’t want to penalize her for it.

What?! She doesn’t only have a birthday every four years — she has one every year like everyone else. (Surely you don’t believe that she only advances in age every four years, right?) She might need to celebrate her birthday on February 28 or March 1 in non-leap years, but it’s not true that she doesn’t have a birthday and it’s absolutely unfair and wrong for your office to give her fewer days off than other people because of this. She should get the day off, she should get the gift card, and she should be acknowledged with the other birthdays at the same time.

It makes no sense to demoralize someone over something so easily fixed, and it’s very odd that you and your manager are digging in your heels on this. It’s not about her being inexperienced or petty, and it’s alarming that you and your manager think that! This is about you and your manager not looking logically at what you’re doing (and, frankly, being petty yourselves). You two are wrong, she is right, and you should remedy this and apologize to her for mishandling it.

And the update (originally here):

I just wanted to give an update and to clarify a few things. I am the employee’s manager. For some reason some people in the comments thought I was a “coworker” or “team lead.” 

One person guessed I was not American. I don’t know why they were jumped all over but they were correct. I am Canadian. I live and work outside of North America.

Some people mentioned Jehovah’s Witnesses and not being allowed to celebrate birthdays and the legality of this in the comments. This is not relevant to the situation with my employee. Also, it is considered a cult here and is banned. No one who works here is a Jehovah’s Witness.

People seemed to be unclear on the policy even though I stated it. Employees must take their birthday off. This is mandatory and not voluntary. They are paid and don’t have use their own time off. If their birthday falls on a weekend or holiday, they get the first working day off. There is no changing the date. They must take their actual birthday or the first working day back (in case of a weekend or holiday). People love the policy and no one complains about the mandatory day off or the gift card.

She had worked here for 2 years. She did get her birthday off in 2016 as it was a leap year. She did not get a day off in 2017 as it is not a leap year and didn’t get this year either. If she is still employed here in 2020 she will get a Monday off as the 29th of February is on a Saturday. This is in line with the policy. Some of the comments were confused about whether she ever had a birthday off.

The firm is not doing anything illegal by the laws here. She would have no legal case at all and if she quit she will not be able to get unemployment. She is not job hunting. She has known about the birthday policy since February of 2016 and has been bringing it up ever since. She has complained but has not looked for another job (the market is niche and specialized). Morale is high at the firm. Turnover among employees is low. Many people want to work here. Aside from this one issue she is a good worker and would be given an excellent reference if she decides to look elsewhere in the future.

Alison here. I don’t usually add anything of my own on to updates, but I want to state for the record that this is insane.

when is it OK to approach a colleague about a possible medical issue?

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

I have a coworker — let’s call him Joe — who recently moved to our office from another office (same company) hundreds of miles away. He’s still very new to our city and doesn’t have a network outside of work.

A few weeks ago, I noticed something distinct about Joe’s appearance had changed (his skin and eyes turned very vibrantly yellow — it later turned out to be jaundice). I didn’t say anything because I feel like it’s impolite to bring up a colleague’s appearance, even out of genuine concern. And because the change was so noticeable, I figured he had to have noticed too. I asked him if he was feeling alright and he said he was a little tired but otherwise okay.

A colleague from his old office visited last week and bluntly brought it up right away (think “what’s wrong with your face” level of bluntness). Joe had no idea that his appearance had changed; he said the lighting in his apartment is very dark, so when he looked in the mirror, he didn’t see it. Still, he brushed it off and said it would probably go away. At this point, the whole team began gently encouraging him to see a doctor. He finally did after a few days and was immediately hospitalized for the next four days. Going forward, he has to see a specialist weekly.

When Joe came back to work, he said he wouldn’t have gone to the doctor if we hadn’t encouraged him to, and he thanked us for that.

I feel guilty because if our other colleague hadn’t said something, I’m not sure the rest of us would have spoken up, and I worry about what may have happened if we had waited much longer. I’m also sure that if he was still living in his old city, it would have been caught sooner as he has a large network of friends and family there and no one outside of work here. Joe is a great colleague, but notoriously — usually humorously — bad with basic life skills and we joke that he needs a whole office of mothers to help look after him.

But I also feel like it’s crossing a line to bring up medical issues/appearance with a colleague. Do you have any advice on how this situation could have been handled differently, and how to work with a colleague with Joe while he’s still new in town and doesn’t yet have the friend circle to help guide him with regards to some of these more personal issues?

I think this is an interesting question because on one hand it’s easy to think, “Your coworker’s face is vibrantly yellow! It’s okay to ask if he’s okay!” But it’s also true that it can be exhausting and intrusive for people who are aware of and treating a medical issue to get constant inquiries about it, particularly when they’re trying to work and particularly from people they’re not close to — and typically you wouldn’t assume someone kept their home so dark that they hadn’t noticed they were bright yellow.

In this case, it seems pretty clear that bringing it up was the right thing to do, and Joe’s “I’m bad at basic life skills” persona makes that more so. But I think there’s an interesting discussion to be had about how to navigate this generally. Readers, what are your thoughts?

I don’t want coworkers to call my cell phone, managing a boyfriend, and more

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

1. I don’t want coworkers to contact me on my personal cell

I manage a small team in a global organization. All of my direct reports are in the same physical location. I have given my cell phone number to my team, as well as to my boss. A couple of other work friends have my number for social reasons.

For whatever reason, people have seen fit to give out my cell number to others without my permission, and now several people in other time zones who don’t respect working hours have my personal information. Some are using it as a general contact for me, either because they prefer to text or because they can’t get me at my desk since I’m frequently in meetings. Some people are using it after hours if they send an email after I’ve left for the day and they just want an answer before they leave. Urgency varies, but it is rarely something that they shouldn’t have been able to take care of earlier in the day, given that they know what hours my team works, which are not particularly different from the rest of the people at my location.

Do you have any advice on how to deal with this, especially during my off hours? Usually I try to just ignore it, but I almost always have my phone on me so this becomes difficult at times, especially when I get texts.

I also need to know how to address it with those who share my personal information (especially those above me). I’ve told off a couple of people at my level or below for giving out the number, but I’m not really sure what to do about my grandboss (who coincidentally I did not actually give my number to).

Try this: “Would you mind removing this number as a contact for me? This is my personal cell and I try not to use it for work.” You could add, “It’s really easy for me to miss messages sent here. Please email me or call my work extension instead, where I will definitely see it.” If someone uses your cell for something non-urgent after you’ve said that, feel free to ignore it (unless doing so would truly cause a problem); you’ve given them fair warning that you may not see it.

Or for texts after work hours: “I’ve left for the day, but if you email this to me, I’ll see it in the morning and handle it then. Also, would you remove this as a contact for me, since this isn’t my work number? Thank you!”

But I wouldn’t tell anyone off for giving out the number! It’s really common for people to share their cell number with colleagues — because many people do use it as a communication method at work — and the people you gave it to probably didn’t realize it wasn’t to be shared. By all means, let them know you don’t want them to — but don’t lay into them for it!

2. My friend will be managing his boyfriend at our non LGBTQ-friendly company

I work at the same company as one of my close friends, Mark, albeit not in the same department. About two months ago, he entered a relationship with one of his peers, James. I am very happy for them and Mark is very invested in this relationship. However, in a few weeks, Mark is going to be promoted to a manager role, where he will be supervising James. At our company, managers and direct reports cannot enter a new relationship and pre-existing relationships must be reported to HR.

This situation is complicated by the fact that neither Mark and James are out, and our company is not particularly LGBTQ-friendly (it pays lip service but the company policies do not reflect that). Mark has told me he is planning on continuing the relationship without informing HR, and I am concerned about the potential repercussions. While I don’t think Mark would blatantly favor his partner through promotions or anything, they do eat lunch together and I worry about the optics of that once Mark is promoted, or any unintentional biases. Additionally I worry about what would happen if they went through a messy breakup or if they become very serious and the relationship somehow gets leaked anyway.

My internal opinion is that it would be best for one of them to switch jobs but I don’t know if that is the best course of action or if I even have a right to weigh in on this since I would essentially be advocating for Mark to fire his boyfriend.

Ooooh nooo. Mark cannot manage his boyfriend. That can lead to huge abuses of power and conflicts of interest (even if he doesn’t intend it to), or the appearance of them, and it will be terrible for their relationship! You can’t have a healthy relationship where one person has power over the other. Nor can you manage effectively when you’re dating an employee — it generally means that the employee’s performance isn’t assessed appropriately, they’re not given adequate feedback, and favoritism affects others on the team. It also can open up your company to charges of harassment down the road (“I wanted to break up with him, but he implied it would affect my standing at work”). Most companies have a no-dating-subordinates policy, and if it ever comes out that they’re dating, Mark is at high risk of being fired (and rightly so).

Ideally Mark would disclose his relationship with James to the company, but if that’s not a safe option, then yes, one of them does need to leave (or move to a different team internally). That doesn’t mean advocating that Mark fire James though (that too would be an abuse of power) — this should be something they do voluntarily.

3. Should I write employee evaluations in the first person?

It’s review season at my company and I’m currently working on reviews for my team and trying to be as personal and specific as I can be. As I re-read a few, I noticed that I started writing them with First Person + Third Person pronouns. For example, a statement in the written review may be phrased like: “I believe that Fred has made improvements in his accuracy identifying bird songs.”

There’s a few other ways I could imagine writing this same statement with different pronouns/names:
– “This reviewer believes that Fred…”
– “I believe that you…”
– “This reviewer believes that you…”
– “Steve believes that Fred…”

Do you have any advice for what version of these might help to make sure the feedback is written in a way that my employee is most likely to read it as objectively as possible? My feeling that I’m second-guessing is that by using “I” for my pronoun, it communicates that I’m owning the feedback and using “Fred” allows the employee to externalize the feedback by making it less personal. But I’m not sure — maybe it’s too impersonal! Maybe this isn’t important and it’s all about the content! Thoughts?!

I’m a fan of just writing like you’re writing directly to the person, like it’s a conversation — so first person for you and second person for them: “I was impressed with the approach you took to bird songs this year.”

A lot of people do write them in first person/third person though (“I was impressed with Fred’s lobbying of the bluebirds”). That’s always struck me as artificially impersonal — the main audience for the review is the person being reviewed, and there’s no reason to add artificial formality to it. I mean, yes, evaluations will also be part of company records and other people may read them, but ultimately they’re a management tool between you and the employee and it’s okay to speak directly to them.

4. Can I bring in my own desk chair?

I work in a nonprofit. The budget for furniture is nonexistent and relies primarily on in-kind donations. When I say nonexistent, I mean our furniture is broken and the newest couch we own is from the mid-1980s and the support bar is broken so you basically sit on the floor. This means my back and hips are in pain from crappy, lumpy half-broken desk chairs. I bought a fancy pillow for my butt and one for my head, but it’s not enough. My workplace should accommodate and buy an adequate desk chair, but they just offered me a series of equally terrible chairs and said they don’t have a budget for furniture. I had a non-broken desk chair for about 10 days once and then someone else in the office took it. Their argument was they are here every day and I travel between several sites so I don’t need it.

Can I just bring my own dang desk chair? I’m pretty much willing to do anything to relieve this pain that makes it difficult to sleep and work comfortably. I know that isn’t ideal. I know the place I work for is not doing the right thing and should budget for some stupid chairs. If I brought my own chairs, I would label them, I’d consider bike-locking/chaining them to my dedicated desk spaces (kidding, maybe). Would the optics of this be really bad? Especially as other people don’t have nice comfortable desk chairs and if I’m gonna do this, I’m going to bring my quite obviously nice one from my home office and buy an extra equally nice one.

You can bring in your own desk chair. If anyone asks about it, say it’s for medical reasons (which is true). I’d probably give your boss a heads-up — something like, “Since our chairs have been causing me back pain and the organization can’t afford different ones, I’m bringing in one I can sit in more comfortably. I’m going to label it so it stays at my desk and just wanted you to know.” You’re not doing that to ask permission; you’re just giving her a heads-up since she’ll probably notice it at some point.

Just don’t bring in a chair you’d be upset to lose. Even if labeled, once it’s in the office it’s out of your complete control, especially since you’re not always at that site, and who knows what could happen to it. Plus, if you ever leave the job unexpectedly — are laid off, quit in a huff, etc. — it might be easier to leave without the chair. So pick one you’re willing to give up if you have to.

(And here is a PSA to say that plenty of nonprofits buy their employees decent office furniture, particularly chairs! I don’t want anyone’s takeaway to be that this is an unavoidable fact of life at nonprofit organizations.)

5. Taking time off to travel before a move

I’m early in my career (still at my first job) with a little more than two and a half years of experience. I’m planning to move cities sometime between May and July. However, I don’t know for sure where I’m moving to — it’s dependent on my partner’s grad school. This has obviously made it a bit more difficult to job search, and so while I would have likely started looking by now otherwise, I won’t know for sure where I’m going until May. The other complicating factor is that I didn’t have the opportunity to travel after college, but now I’m very fortunate to have some money saved up and the ability to do so. I would love to take a month or two to travel and explore. If we traveled for a month, we’d wrap up in our current city, put everything in storage, and then move to our new city immediately on returning. I would start job searching (unemployed) in the new city.

Can I do that? Is it going to look weird to employers to see that gap on my resume? Will it make it more difficult for me to get hired?

It can be easier to get hired while you’re currently employed, but it’s also significantly easier to get hired when you’re local than when you’re long distance … so kind of a wash in that regard. My biggest question would be whether you have enough money saved to support yourself if your job search takes longer than you think. You don’t want to be in a position where you haven’t found a job X months into the move and are regretting spending the money on travel.

But I wouldn’t worry at all about a gap of a few months. If anyone asks about it, you can easily explain it by the move and getting settled in your new city anyway — though really, that kind of gap isn’t a big deal at all.

how should I respond when my boss coaches me on something basic and obvious?

A reader writes:

I’m not infallible, but I am a high performer, and my manager has always marked me as exceptional during performance reviews with an above average raise.

My question: I have been working under the same manager for just over 10 years and yesterday I was coached via email on something so basic it was downright offensive. All I could think was, “No shit, Sherlock.” Clearly I would never say that, but geez. Is there a way to respond such that my overall shock is conveyed along with a professional response?

Context really matters here.

If your manager generally respects your skills and doesn’t condescend to you, this could have just been a weird fluke that you don’t need to read much into — they weren’t thinking clearly, or they got oddly micromanagey because they’re feeling anxious about something else, or so forth. Sometimes it’s the better part of grace to let a generally good manager have that moment, figure it’s about them rather than you, and not worry much about it.

But if you find yourself really bothered by it or if you’re wondering if there’s been a serious miscommunication somewhere, it’s fine to ask about it. You could say, “The other day you sent me detailed instructions on how to close out the llama file. I’ve been closing out llama files for a couple of years — I thought successfully! — and so I wondered if you had a concern about how I’ve been doing that or if there was other context that I didn’t realize.”

Note that with this language, you’re not approaching it with shock or offense. Your framework is, “This seemed weird so I wondered if there’s something one of us didn’t realize — and if so, let’s solve that.” That should be your real framing in your head too, not just externally — because if your manager generally treats you respectfully, that really is the place your thinking should start. It’s “hmmm, weird miscommunication?” rather than “how dare you.”

On the other hand, if your manager regularly condescends to you or micromanages, then this is in character and your problem is the pattern, not the one incident. In that case, you’d need to figure out if the pattern is worth addressing or not (here’s some advice on how to do that).

what to do when candidates don’t respond to interview invitations

A reader writes:

When I’m hiring, I email the applicants I’m interested in with an invitation to set up a phone interview. That usually works fine, but some applicants simply never respond to the request. After what I think is a reasonable amount of time (at least one week), I have been sending an email that basically says that due to their lack of response, we’re now moving forward with other applicants. Being responsive and communicative is incredibly important in my field, so if people aren’t responding, I doubt they would be a good fit.

However, what I’m finding is that upon getting this rejection, many of the applicants reply that they would like to interview if I have time now. I don’t generally take these requests because I can’t help but think: if they really wanted to interview, why wouldn’t they respond before this? Why would they wait until they get a rejection? Should I just use a generic rejection that doesn’t recognize that the applicant was previously invited to phone interview? If not, is there some verbiage that would work better than what I’m using?

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

my boss has violent tantrums and punches holes in walls

A reader writes:

I’ve recently started in a new company. It was a particularly exciting job to get because my division superintendent (think great-great-grandboss) is known industry-wise to be a genius, and being part of his team, even with such separation, makes a big difference in a resumé.

Well, I started working two months ago, while the Big Boss was on vacation followed by a month-long work trip. He came back last week and the first time I saw him at work was, literally, when he exited a conference room and proceeded to a table close to mine, picked up a coworker’s keyboard, and hit it against the table till it broke.

Worse, nobody batted an eye at this. My supervisor later told me, very casually, he usually breaks a keyboard or two per month, usually his but not always. Oh, and he might also punch holes in the drywall sometimes.

I am now feeling unsafe (even though he supposedly never attacked anyone), and worried that it might begin to affect my performance. I have some childhood traumas, and start to shake whenever I see him. Should I talk to my supervisor about this, or just try to stay away from him? Should I just leave and find a new job, even though this one could be such a great career boost? Any tips at all?

It is 100% reasonable for you not to want to work in an environment where someone — anyone, but especially someone in a position of power — regularly engages in displays of violence against objects. Repeatedly slamming keyboards against tables until they break and punching holes in walls are serious acts of aggression, deliberate attempts to scare and intimidate, wildly inappropriate for a workplace (or for any place, except perhaps a martial arts studio), and legitimately frightening. I’m not surprised you’re feeling unsafe — someone who behaves that way is (a) showing their anger is outside of their control and (b) behaving in a way so far outside the social contract that you’re got to wonder what other ways they might be willing to violate it.

(Also, what is up with this guy that he’s getting this angry so often? Even one instance of this would be shocking — but regularly? That says something scary about his general state of being in the world.)

What might be even more disturbing is that this workplace has normalized his behavior. People shouldn’t be nonchalant about this. They should be urgently meeting about it and insisting on addressing it. It’s a terrible display of how working in dysfunction can severely warp people’s norms and what they’re willing to accept as normal.

As for what you can do … possibly not much, unfortunately. This is someone multiple levels above your own boss, someone who is revered as an industry genius, and you’re new and junior to him and thus probably don’t have the standing it would take to get this truly stopped in an office that seems convinced it’s no big deal.

You can certainly express your alarm and unease to your manager, and to HR, and to other people around you. Sometimes having someone new come in and make it clear this is Not Normal And In Fact It’s Horrifying can shake other people out of their acceptance of it, in a sort of Emperor’s New Clothes way. But a likely outcome is one where people say appeasing things at you and try to convince you it’s not that bad and then you’re forever seen as high-maintenance and why is she making such a thing of this and ugh, is she going to be uptight about everything and … I’m not sure it’s worth it in the long run. I mean, there’s real value in being the person who stands up and says “this isn’t okay, and we shouldn’t be okay with it,” and sometimes that has reverberations far past what you see personally, but at the end of it I think you’re still going to be working in an office with a man who breaks people’s keyboards and punches holes in walls.

If this is a deal-breaker for you — and it is a very reasonable deal-breaker to have — I do think you’ll end up needing to leave. You can try to live with it, but you’re shaking around this man. Are you going to do your best work in that environment? Is anyone?

It sucks and it’s not right, but your best bet may be to be very clear with your manager and HR about how alarming this is (in case it does spur some action), then work on finding a new job (at whatever pace you’re comfortable with — if you want to stick it out for a year so you can parlay the experience into something else, go for it — and if you don’t want to do that, that’s okay too), and clearly tell people why you’re leaving when you do.

intern signs emails with “stay gold,” can I wear black jeans to a job interview, and more

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

1. Intern uses “stay gold” as her email sign off

There’s an intern at my office who signs off all her emails with “Stay gold.” For example, an email from her might read, “Thanks for sending me the TPS reports! Stay gold, Jane.” I asked her about it and she confirmed it’s from the quote “Stay gold, Ponyboy” from the book The Outsiders. We work in a pretty casual industry so it’s most likely that people will write it off as a weird quirk, but I’m afraid that if she tried using that sign-off in a more formal industry or office that people would think it’s unprofessional. Should I encourage her to start using a more common sign-off?

First, this is hilarious.

But yeah, that’s going to come across weirdly in many (most?) offices, and as an intern she won’t have the capital built up to make it read “amusing quirk” rather than “inexperienced worker who doesn’t take work seriously / has no sense of professional norms.”

If you’re her manager or oversee any of her work, it would be a kindness to talk to her about professional sign-offs.

2. Can I wear black jeans to a job interview?

I have worked for most of my career in a very casual industry, where people wear Chaco’s, jeans, and flannel in the office 95% of the time. I have recently applied to a job (in the marketing/creative department) in a much more professional setting, a municipality/city government, and am unsure how to correctly gauge how professional my attire needs to be for an interview, given my last few years in perma-Casual Friday Land. Specifically, I’m wondering if clean, non-ripped black jeans are acceptable in place of slacks or other women’s business casual pants? I haven’t had to wear those kinds of pants in years, and don’t have any on hand. Can you give me some insight on this?

No, don’t wear jeans, even black ones. There are some fields where that would be okay, but they’re the exceptions to the rule and city government isn’t usually one of them. As a general default, jeans of any color are still a no for job interviews.

In a workplace with a professional dress code, more often than not you’re expected to wear a suit to a job interview (even if you wouldn’t be wearing suits every day while working there). There are some fields where you can go one step down from that, meaning a professional dress or pants or a skirt with a professional top. Even then, though, that clothing still needs to be business-y, meaning no denim or other less formal fabrics.

3. What’s a reasonable comp time policy?

I’ve recently been promoted to executive director of a quasi-governmental agency with around 40 employees. I’m struggling with our policy on compensatory time for travel. For years, every waking minute from departure to return has been counted as work time, with staff receiving comp time for any time over eight hours per day. For example, an employee leaves at 8 am to drive five hours to conference destination, participates in an evening event ending at 10 pm. Employee counts a 14-hour day. Important to note that this employee is exempt, a division head, and earns in excess of six figures.

I would contend that conference attendance is a perk, and that she is not an hourly employee, so this should really be an eight-hour day. What is a reasonable policy here? Is there a distinction between a conference (often at the coast or other desirable destination) and required travel to perform ordinary work tasks?

If you’re awarding comp time on an hour-for-hour basis to exempt employees (which I don’t think you should do — more on that in a minute), then it depends on the reason for attending the conference. If the employee needs to attend as part of her job, then all of that is work time, regardless of whether the destination is a desirable one. The driving is for work and the event is for work; it’s work time. If the reason for going isn’t so clear-cut (like it’s mostly personal desire, but there’s some benefit to the employer to her being there, etc.), it gets murkier. You’d need to lay out clear, consistent rules for when something is eligible for comp time and when it isn’t, so everyone knows what to expect and you’re not deciding it individually every time.

But the bigger issue is the way you’re awarding comp time to exempt employees on an hour-for-hour basis. Typically with exempt workers, the understanding is that their workload may ebb and flow; some weeks their work may take more than 40 hours a week and some weeks it may take less. If you award an hour of comp time for every hour over 40 in a week, you’re treating exempt workers as very close to non-exempt, just paying them in comp time rather than cash. More typically, comp time for exempt workers would be for times when a person’s workload is heavier than the normal ebb and flow. It’s intended to provide a break after someone has gone above and beyond what’s normal, not be strict hour-for-hour compensation. You can do it that way if you want to, but it’s not in the spirit of what exempt work is supposed to be.

4. Company wants advance approval of all personal vacations to Asia

I just received an email from the president of my company stating that due to the coronavirus outbreaks, any travel to Asia must be approved by management, including personal vacation travel. I have been planning a trip to Japan for March. I have been monitoring the situation in Japan and intend to go unless the outbreaks escalate considerably. Can my employer actually forbid me to travel where I wish on my personal vacation time?

They can’t forbid you from traveling wherever you want on your personal time, but they can make your continued employment contingent on getting their sign-off first. (So, in effect: Yes.) That said, that’s an awfully broad policy — all of Asia? And are they actually going to tell people they can’t go, or just ask them to self-quarantine after returning?

If it’s so they can learn more about your plans and figure out if there are precautions they’ll want to take (like having you work from home for two weeks upon your return), that’s pretty reasonable. But if they’re genuinely considering withholding approval for the entire Asian continent, that seems like an overreach.

5. Non-reciprocal networkers

How do you recommend dealing with non-reciprocal networkers? In a previous job, a colleague with a similar background moved to a great startup during my maternity leave. When I returned, I wrote her a message on LinkedIn wishing her well and saying it’d be great to keep in touch given our similar paths. She never responded.

Recently I moved to a great startup and she reached out over LinkedIn to say there are some jobs she’s interested in and she wants to meet for breakfast to talk about the company — and presumably get a referral from me. I want to ignore it but I realize that is petty. More likely, I’ll respond, get breakfast and begrudgingly refer her because she has a good track record and unless someone was truly terrible, job referrals tend to be a win-win for everyone involved. But in this scenario I feel like I’m being used. What to do that tows the line between being a good corporate citizen and not being a pushover?

Well, you’re not obligated to respond or help if you don’t want to! But I’m not sure she was non-reciprocal here because you hadn’t really asked her for anything earlier. When you messaged her to say it would be great to keep in touch, she didn’t ignore a request from you. She may have thought, “Yes, it would be great to keep in touch” and figures she’s doing that now by contacting you. Of course, it would have been better for her to respond at the time — but I’d be more concerned if you’d asked her a direct question or for a favor earlier, she had ignored you, and then she asked for help now. In that case, she’d come across as much more cynical and rude.

I could be entirely wrong and she could be a user! But I wouldn’t assume that just based on this.